Updated: November 28, 2013
Mercedes is not normally associated with the middle class buyers. Even though it has the so-called smaller models available on the market, ranging through the first three letters of the alphabet, it is still a premium brand trying to offer a tad more above the usual stuff you would expect from a given car category.
This makes the choice of a Mercedes-Benz C 220 somewhat odd, because you can have a lot of two-liter turbo-diesel saloons, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox for about the same or less money. Then again, owning a Mercedes has its own glamor, possibly. In this short, 500-km review, I will try to answer the question that a friend of mine faced when he bought himself one of these.
Car in a nutshell
If you follow the automotive news, you will have read that Mercedes has suffered from some image problems a few years back due to unnecessary reliability fickles with its mid-range model, and since, it has vowed to restore its expected, almost legendary reputation with the buyers. I am not 100% sure where C 220 fits in, but it is a very decent car, inside and outside, with a definite feel of laid back quality, for the most part, even though it is not the most money efficient vehicle about. Being conservative also plays a part.
The C 220 loaned to me with a waxy smile on the owner's lips comes with a 2146 cc engine, mated to a single turbo, developing 136 HP and very respectable 330 Nm of torque between 1,600-2,800 rpm. You might find the engine power figure to be low, but people underestimate the real strength of turbo diesel. This relatively modest output translates into 8.4 seconds dash to 100 km/h, which is quite respectable by all standards, especially for a nice, posh family saloon. Anyhow, let's exteriorate.
Apart from some tiny banging near the rear bumper, the car looks quite pretty. Mercedes-Benz C 220 has a composed, familiar household look. You might think it's boring, then again, it is not. You get light alloys, twin exhaust, a hint of excitement in the car's lines. It's supposed to be a sophisticated brute, not a blatant thug thumping itself on a hairy chest. Oh, you can see my silhouette reflected in the car paint behind the rear arch wheel. Artistic genius or noob?
My friend's car comes with a pre-facelifted face, so it looks more serene and less angry, with no clashing of headlight brows. The engine hood is quite long, but it is nicely offset by the rear end, so there's no feeling you're about to board a battleship. In my not so humble opinion, the C class looks somewhat better than the more expensive E and S classes.
You would expect Mercedes interiors to include mandatory leather and wood trim. Not so. In the lower range, lower spec models, you get plastic, soft plastic, hard plastic and plain cloth, which does not respond that well to abuse. The driving position is decent, but there are a few niggles, which we will discuss a bit later. The steering wheel is a bit too large. I liked the central console, though.
It comes with a plethora of switches and buttons that do not look toyish, like for example the modern Fords or Opels. Instead, the chaos feels restrained and orderly, in the best German fashion, although the multimedia system is nothing spectacular. Dual-zone aircon, fine, a proper six-speed manual stick, a handful of less than practical cubbyholes and such, that's about it. There is no handbrake per se. Instead, you have a little toggle wheel thingie, plus a storage space with a drape-like cover, which feels too American for this kind of car.
All in all, the interior is surprisingly non-aristocratic for a Mercedes, and this kind of surprises you, if you go by the badge and honors only. It is not bad, but it is far from behind exciting, the most practical or the most equipped in the class. Then again, my friend likes it, specifically for these reasons, because he feels he get the right dose of quality without the shiny extras that are normally associated with premium cars. I still think Audi does it better.
Now, the most interesting bit. The engine is quite punchy, and it lets this fairly big, fairly heavy and fairly middle-age-driver saloon behave with a decent dose of flair. C 220 will do 0-100 km/h better than most family petrols, although the engine rattles a lot at high rpm. There's an almost painful metallic growl from the cylinders when you approach the red zone. However, if you keep it in the low thousands, it is quiet and composed, although noisier than, say, Audi A6. In-gear acceleration is also good, and the car is composed and stable on the road.
One of the classic qualities of Mercedes cars is that they cruise, like a maglev train. You almost have a feeling you're floating just above the asphalt, and that your car follows the curves holistically. This turbo-diesel is by no means a sports car, but it offers a surprisingly supple and confident ride beyond initial expectations. The handling is silky smooth, and you are always in control, regardless of your speed. In fact, at some point, you kind of lose the perception of how fast you are going, and you often think it's less than it really is. The high and airy driving positions adds to the illusion. But it's not just the matter of how elevated you are above the tarmac. Whether you're doing 30 km/h or 140 km/h, the Merc hardly twitches a muscle.
Another strong side of this car is its fuel efficiency. In fact, the engine is labeled BlueEFFICIENCY, and that
means it's very frugal. Again, the similar roadtrip to the one performed in Audi A6, under the same conditions,
ended with just 24 liters spent over a stretch of 400 km. That's just about 6 liters of fuel per 100 km stretch.
For comparison, I need to be extremely gentle driving the much smaller SEAT Leon 1.8 TSI to match the consumption even at lower highway
Well, C 220 is not without fault. For example the aircon leaves you with a sore throat for some reason, no matter what temperature you dial. The seats are comfy, but too hot. Maybe they were heated, and I have somehow missed the option to turn the feature off. The mid-serious niggle is that the gear lever is not always gentle, especially the reverse. You need to be somewhat brutal to get the cogs meshed.
But the biggest problem, in my book, is the foot operated parking brake, or foot brake. It is an old design taken from American cars, which normally come with just two pedals, so you don't expect to move your left leg off the foot rest. In a turbo-diesel with three pedals, including the clutch, placing the foot brake left and up is a nice way of making the driver nervous. While in theory you should never be able to slam your foot down on the parking brake while driving and causing an inconvenience to yourself and other cars around, you can't really shake the feeling that you might, just might, get too zealous and caress it.
If you're looking for a premium family saloon that is still affordable and fuel-efficient, one of the options before you is a range of Mercedes C class models. I must admit I am not 100% certain what the competition might be, but if it's the likes of Mondeo, Passat or Superb, then this little Merc needs to up its game, and fast. You cannot deny its cool, laid back style and the quality of build, but that's not enough. A frugal engine and composed ride are a plus, but they are also sort of a given with the rivals.
I think the biggest letdown is the interior, because it just is not modern and practical enough, even though it has been designed with significant forethought in ergonomics. The quality of material is good, but not as one imagines a Mercedes when they dream at night of owning one. Still, for some people, this is the optimal blend of price, performance, economy, and reputation, the interior gadgets notwithstanding. I congratulate my friend on his choice and the soul matching, but for me, I'd probably buy something else. That would be all. Grade: 7.5/10.