AS MERCEDES-Benz's biggest seller from its extensive range, a mid-life revision of its current C-Class is big news for the luxury German manufacturer and its compact executive rivals.
The new 2011 C-Class isn't an all-new car but a heavily revised version of the outgoing model, with updated exterior styling, cleaner engines and a better-quality cabin featuring a host of standard and optional technological goodies.
With stiff competition from the likes of BMW's 3-Series and Audi's A4, this C-Class modernisation featuring more than 2000 new components keeps the Merc a leading figure in this sector.
The new C-Class body design is hardly revolutionary, but its styling has been brought more in line with the rest of Mercedes' attractive luxury car range.
The headlights are of boomerang-type appearance, the grille is more prominent and the front and rear end are subtly more aggressive in style than the outgoing four-year-old C-Class design.
Throw in more sculpted body sides and LED tail lights for improved night visibility and the overall look is the typical blend of grace and sportiness you'd expect from Mercedes' entry-level executive.
The biggest changes are on show when you move inside. The instrument panel and centre console have been completely redesigned for a sportier and more modern feel, appearing more special than a 3-Series and on a par with interior masters Audi's A4 effort.
The C-Class's central colour screen is now integrated while a Nappa leather multi-function steering wheel with 12 buttons feels chunky and classy.
A standout feature is the optional internet connectivity, allowing passengers to browse the internet through the high definition screen while on the move.
On the road
At launch, the four-cylinder petrol and diesel sedan and Estate versions were available, with each engine featuring more power and greater economy than its predecessor.
All engines are classified as BlueEFFICIENCY units and are mated to a 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic gearbox.
A 3.5-litre V6 petrol and a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged diesel will arrive in June, with a revised mad dog C63 AMG following soon after.
The entry-level diesel C 200 CDI is a 2.1-litre, single turbo unit with 100kW and 330Nm of torque, returning 5.4 litres/100km, but labours somewhat to 100kmh in 9.2 seconds.
The pick of the range is the C 250 CDI with a 2.1-litre, twin sequential turbo system offering 150kW and a stonking 500Nm of twist. A superb 5.1 litres/100km is returned, and this great-sounding, revvy diesel helps propel the car to 100kmh in 7.1 seconds.
These refined diesel engines with big torque suit the nature of an executive cruiser, and are the sensible choice over the two four-cylinder petrol engines that are the same as introduced in the C-Class two years ago.
On road the seven-speed auto performs seamlessly, and the C-Class's ride and handling is as impressive on twisty, pot-holed back lanes as it is on the highway.
Steering is a tad light and driver feedback not the best, so the C-Class is no match for the pointier BMW 3 Series, but the overall drive experience is one of comfort, poise and just about enough fun, especially with the steering wheel-mounted gear-shift paddles.
The C-Class range now features a host of standard and optional technological safety and driver aid features depending on the model you go for.
Many have been available on the larger S-Class and E-Class variants, but your C-Class can now come with the likes of Parktronic with parking guidance, Pre-Safe brake system, Attention Assist, Lane Keep Assist and Blind Spot Assist.
The technology involved is sometimes overwhelming, but once familiar with the systems, most are appreciated.
Most entertaining is the Lane Keep Assist that uses a multi-function camera in the windscreen to detect if you stray off course. If the driver ignores the warnings, the ESP intelligently brakes one side of the car to steer you back in line.
Mercedes has nailed it with the C-Class's mid-life refresh in terms of comfort, refinement and just enough style, even if keener drivers shopping in the segment will still choose BMW or Audi for more thrills.
The C-Class's build quality, brilliantly efficient and smooth engines (especially the diesels) and peerless comfort, technology and equipment make this revised offering an even more appealing choice to fans of the Mercedes' badge.
C 200 CGI$58,900
C 200 CDI$60,900
C 250 CGI Avantgarde$67,900
C 250 CDI Avantgarde$67,900
C 300 CGI Avantgarde$84,900
C 350 CDI Avantgarde$94,480
(Estate versions are a $2000 premium over sedan models)
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