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2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class - First Drive by Henny Hemmes +VIDEO

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Henny at Speed - 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class - A Rising Star

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-300 (select to view enlarged photo)

MARSEILLE, France - March 24, 2014: Even before the new Mercedes C-Class was unveiled, in January, the Germans said to be determined to be number one in the compact premium segment. No big surprise, as Mercedes sold more than 2.2 million units of the outgoing C-Class since it hit worldwide markets in 2007 and is now well-prepared to attack its rivals BMW and Audi with the brand new C-Class.

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-200 CDI  (select to view enlarged photo)

Mercedes underlined its intentions with the unveiling of the next generation C-Class in Detroit. The new generation ‘C’ was instantly praised for its sophisticated design inside and out. An often heard comment at the show was that it is looking like a small S-Class. Even though Mercedes would not promote the term, it is no shame either. Anyway, the new C-Class made it also to the top three finalists for the 2014 World Car Design of the Year together with the BMW i3 and the Mazda3. Not bad company as the latter ended second behind the Corvette Stingray in the ‘North American Car of the Year’ election. Anyway, Mercedes has to be patient until April 17, when the winners will be announced at the New York International Auto Show.

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Besides the good look, also with the availability of quite some innovative driver assistance and safety technologies, the ‘C’ is almost equal to its big brother. I think it has been an excellent decision to offer the new C-class with two different noses. The first has the classic grille and the Mercedes-star on the bonnet. It is only available when you chose the Exclusive Line. The grille can close the louvers completely to optimize the Cd-value. If you want to have the bold star in the middle of the grille, then there is the Avantgarde Line or the AMG Line.

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H7 halogen headlamps are standard, while at the rear all variants have LED technology for the lamps and brake light. LED is available on all variants, which can be upgraded to the LED Intelligent Light System. This is the advanced system that was introduced on the S-Class, like other technologies, to which I will come back later. With the new styling, the C-Class does not only look longer, but it is also bigger. The wheelbase increased by 3.15 inches to 111.81 in., the length increased by 3.74 in. to 184.5 in. and the width by 1.57 in. to 71.26 inches. Also the trunk benefits the extra inches and has now a capacity of 16.95 cubic feet, which is 0.176 cubic feet more than before.

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Last week we could concentrate on driving the new C-Class in the Provence, the area around Marseille in the south of France. There, I started my test drive with the C 200 CDI BlueTec. This diesel model will be very popular in Europe and other typical markets where diesel engines are sought after. The C 200 CDI is equipped with the new, 1.6-liter four-cylinder unit with a single-stage turbocharger and generating 136 hp and 300 Nm/221 lb-ft. of torque.
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There is also a smaller variant, the C180 with 115 hp and 280 Nm/206 lb-ft. of torque. In both cases is the engine teamed to a new six-speed manual transmission, while the 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission is available as an option. The performance of the small diesel is good and it runs quietly. But on the mountain roads around Marseille you have to actively shift to meet the right revs, and have a good amount of torque available.

After the photographers did their work, we headed to the city center of Marseille, the second largest town in France. In order not to get stuck in a long traffic jam, they suggested I drove behind them. Well that was a challenge, as I had to leave not more than a couple of inches behind to prevent the daring French car and motorbike drivers to squeeze them selves in between. We sped through small alleys, narrow shopping streets and made our way from one lane to the other to make short U-turns on one way streets.

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There, I felt that the (standard) start-stop system is too much. When you have not stopped to wait, but just for a split second, the system stays behind, and… you cannot switch it off, unfortunately. But hey, why not opt for Mercedes’ excellent 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission? No doubt, I would always buy an automatic nowadays, except for a track car, and even then… some automatic sports transmissions are unbeatable by humans.

That said, the new six speed manual shifts easy en effortless and has also been tuned for increased fuel efficiency. In this case the fuel consumption of 3.8 liter/100 km translates into 61.8 mph (EU cycle), with 99 grams of CO2 emission.

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Of course, I drove one of the models that will be available in North America. It is the C 300, which is the around 25 hp more powerful variant of the C 250 in Europe. It was not available for a first drive, but the C 250 was. It has the direct injected turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 211 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque at 1,200-4,000 rpm, which works together with the seven-speed automatic transmission. The C 300 will be available with Airmatic air suspension and 4Matic, while the other model destined for the US is the C 400 4Matic. It gets a twin-turbocharged V6 engine with 333 hp and 354 pound-feet of torque. Indeed, it always comes with the Mercedes all-wheel drive. Also the C400 uses the 7G-Tronic Plus transmission and gets standard Airmatic.

The test drive with the C 250, as I will call it, was absolutely fun. We took the car on the freeway and through the villages and for a short spin up the mountain. Just like the C 200 BlueTec model, also the C 250 is agile, without losing comfort. The engine is willingly reacting to any push on the throttle, has enough power to merge with fast traffic and safely lets you pass slower driving cars. The electromechanical Direct-Steer system is speed sensitive in such a way that you hardly notice it, and that is as it should be! That also goes for the suspension: the ‘C’ stays planted in corners and offers a stable ride. There is only a slight amount of body roll when you drive fast through shorter bends. In other words, its handling meets the sophisticated looks. You are not pushed to be a race driver, but can show a very active driving style without looking silly.

The comfort in the cabin, the safety systems, the systems that assist you making your life between four wheels less complicated, it all helps to provide a feel-good atmosphere. The new C-Class has it all.

The new C-Class will reach North American dealerships in September. Prices will be announced closer to its market introduction.

I will tell more about those systems, including the new head-up display (finally) and the touch pad in the center console on which you can write your instructions with a finger or what allows you to move the apps, or images in the same way that you are used to do with your smart phone. Please stay tuned!

Watch The Auto Channel's exclusive Mercedes C-Class interview at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show