Boring No More | Mercedes-Benz C200 Avantgarde

BY Azfar Hashim

No longer dull and now satisfying to drive - someone did their research very well, and the end product is a far cry from its predecessor

Photos by Azfar Hashim

The few days leading up to my test-drive slot with the new C-Class, I've lost all ability to drive. I kept to the slowest lane, I forgot to signal, the concept of racing line was totally wiped out of my head and there was even one night while parking a test-car at the office, I nearly kerbed a wheel.

Even on the dinner table, I was caught using the chopstick to eat pratas and then, without a care of the people around, sipped soup straight from the bowl bypassing the creation called a spoon or even the engineering marvel known as a straw.

I searched the web and read some books (ok I lied; I dropped the book and swapped for a comic instead) to really know what is going on with me. The simplest explanation is scientifically known as “ageiscomingupitis”; in the greater scheme of things, it is apparently due to what a close banker friend called “you’ve reached the peak, my friend”.

He explained to me this great mystery in the most layman term. “Do you see how Tiger Woods was the greatest golfer, in fact the number one in the world, and one fine day he just slipped and fell, and now he is at number 15?” An interesting point to say the least. He continued with all the wisdom he could garner and went on saying how mentally you have had enough but your body is constantly telling you to move on faster; it’s this whole brain-and-body-not-cooperating that leads you to feel, in the words of Steven Tyler, “ja-ja-jaded”. Well I am no psychologist, but that sounded like the most just explanation.

Which is pretty much like the previous W204 C-Class. I’ve driven the C200 and C180; while both did the job well and works brilliantly as a tool to impress, it doesn’t have any other sort of character. Just like the A4 or 3 Series. They’re all in the market simply to give mid-level executive and Civic upgraders something to splurge on. I can bet with you, after several months of driving the C-Class/A4/3 Series, you’d start planning what car to get next.

If you’re in that bunch, well let me steer your attention to the new W205 C-Class then. Now hold on — before you click away, bear with me. This new C-Class impresses at first sight; sure, you may be hard-pressed to tell it apart from the bigger S-Class, but everything seems proportionate and the lines work really well. The face is highly detailed, especially the pair of headlamps; looked as though it took a battalion of Mercedes’s finest to design and make sure it works damn well (it does, by the way). The rear, unfortunately, just seem too boring; the same complaint I had with BMW’s 2 Series. And by the way, they should really consider making twin-exhaust standard here, rather than putting faux motifs at the bottom of the rear bumper. Oh, noticed the extensive chrome trimmings? Who agrees with me that it’s a tad over the top?

Inside, the C200 is swanky, swanky and swanky all over. At one glance, I reckon Mercedes-Benz took a million hours to put everything together brilliantly — if you want a class-leader, here it is ladies and gentlemen. Control buttons are all clearly laid out, they feel solid when touched; and then there’s the faultless cockpit with a perfect steering wheel matched to a seat that is so comfortable.

The rear bench is able to accommodate up to three average-sized adults, but looking at the intrusive transmission tunnel, it’s best to seat only two over longer distances; in this aspect, Volvo’s S60 seems far roomier. Air-con vents come standard though, and that is extremely useful for our climate.

A highlight in this cabin is the new COMAND infotainment system. In an attempt to be different (it seems), Mercedes added a rotary dial and a touch interface that looks more appropriate in the Death Star. Great, but sometimes it’s just best to stick to the basics — you need some getting used to this one.

Bootspace is relatively good enough for the daily use, and here is one surprise: a foldable plastic basket comes standard. At no extra cost, at all.

Powering the C200 is a turbocharged 4-cylinder 2.0-litre lump and mated to a 7-speed ‘box, it whips out 181 bhp and 300 Nm of torque; it somehow feels more refined and much smoother than an equivalent A4 and 3 Series, which is a good thing.

It is a willing worker, pulling all the way to the 6,300 rpm redline willingly. The transmission, although not the quickest shifter, does the job smoothly with minimal jerks while downshifting. All these characteristics are a significant jump over the predecessor, which also pushes the C-Class closer to S-Class territory.

But in terms of handling, it is still nowhere close to a 320i. You see, Mercedes know their target audience: the sort who place more emphasis on comfort over sportiness. That said in Sport, it remains sharp enough with positive feel from the steering; body movement’s good enough not to throw the car into unnecessary understeer. The anchors are surprisingly alert and do a good job of hauling all that sheetmetal to a complete stop even from three-figure speed.

The C200 comes with Agility Select, allowing you to drive in different modes namely Comfort, Eco, Individual, Sport and Sport+ (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). In Comfort, you do feel as though you are in the bigger S-Class; excellent at impressing the in-laws.

As a whole, the C200 is one executive sedan that has everything you would ever need. Sure, it’s not as sporty as a 3 Series or as grippy as a quattro’d - and aging - A4, but the refinement and swanky (excuse the repetitive use of word) cabin made up for it..

Suddenly, I remember how to drive again.