+ Very comfortable over long distances
+ Great interior layout
+ Engines include plug-in hybrid options
- Not as engaging to drive as rivals
- Air suspension isn’t great
- Smallest boot of its rivals
Verdict: Looking like a baby S-Class, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has loads going for it; a great interior, comfortable ride quality and a broad choice of engine options. Choose wisely and you’ll bag yourself an excellent used buy.
Among the Teutonic triumvirate of executive saloons, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class does a solid job of splitting the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. While each of these German cars has its individual traits, the C-Class does the best job of playing it down the middle.
Its styling apes that of the flagship S-Class which is no bad thing. This is a car that looks handsome in almost any specification going, but opting for the sporty AMG Line shows it off in the best way. The design is one that has also aged very well, so with a personalised plate few will know quite how old your car really is.
The premium looks continue inside where the C-Class demonstrates just how good Mercedes is at creating top-notch interiors in its cars these last few years. A clever layout of the dashboard helps to add to the sense of space inside. As with its other models, Mercedes moves its automatic gear shifter to the steering column to free up space in the middle. Some might find this odd, but you quickly become used to it.
A large infotainment display does look a little like an afterthought in how it’s fixed onto the dash. The system works quite well and useful functions like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on newer models. Using the rotary controller is easy and is quite similar to systems used by Audi and BMW. Interior materials such as an open-pore wood effect on the fascia look distinctly premium. At night the ambient lighting looks fantastic — far more impressive than what is available from its rivals.
Go searching around the lower regions of the cabin and in the rear, and you will begin to find cheaper, harder plastics, but this is to be expected in this segment of the market. Overall the build quality is reasonably good. Rear passengers are unlikely to find much cause for complaint when it comes to head and legroom.
The Mercedes C-Class does have a smaller boot capacity than its direct rivals, which is something to consider if you tend to fill yours regularly. A more capacious C-Class Estate is also available, and it looks every bit as attractive as the saloon. Be warned; the plug-in hybrids get a reduction in boot capacity due to the battery.
One thing that is consistent across most of the C-Class range is that it is a comfortable and mostly refined car to drive. While it isn’t as dull to drive as the Audi A4 is, the Mercedes can’t match the BMW 3 Series for involvement behind the wheel, but most versions strike a happy medium. Ride comfort is noticeably better in models equipped with the optional ‘Airmatic’ air suspension, though we wouldn’t consider this to be a deal-breaker. It’s worth remembering that this type of air suspension works best at higher speeds but isn’t as good at smoothing out sharper bumps and lower speeds.
What’s more important is finding the engine that you like the most and best suits your needs. The plug-in hybrid versions can be frugal, providing you show some dedication to keeping them plugged in. But if fuel saving is the least of your worries and you crave the idea of having a brutish performance saloon that doesn’t involve an M badge, the C63 S is a wonderful car to drive.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a broad range and there is something there for almost everyone.
Early versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class came equipped with a seven-inch infotainment display affixed to the top of the dashboard. The interface and graphics do look dated by today’s standards too.
As part of a model update in 2018 the C-Class gained a much-improved 10.25-inch display that added more functionality including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This update brought it more into line with its direct competitors. The C-Class also gained the option of a fully digital instrument display and a new multifunction steering wheel with new controls with touch-sensitive buttons.
The rest of the interior is the expected high quality from Mercedes, but you will find some cheaper plastics in less obvious places. Other nice features include an ambient lighting option that has 64 different colour choices. Audiophiles may want to consider a car that has the upgraded Burmester stereo too.
Mercedes does turn up the quality with the AMG models that feature nicer materials and cosseting sports seats up front and a steering wheel with carbon fibre and Alcantara that looks great and feels superb in your hands.
Thanks to how the layout of the dashboard in the C-Class, interior space seems slightly better than its nearest competitors. Less clutter and some decent storage ahead of the infotainment controller and beneath the armrest are positives, as are the door bins. The rear passenger space is also sufficient, but the middle seat is restricted due to a bulky transmission tunnel.
Due to the saloon body style, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class doesn’t have the most convenient boot. In fact, it’s the smallest of its nearest rivals, with both the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series offering 480 litres versus the 455 litres in the Mercedes.
Most people won’t find many issues with the slightly smaller volume. Still, if you’re usually loading in bulkier items like the kids’ buggy or golf bags, then it’s recommended you try this aspect out before buying. This boot becomes even smaller in the case of the plug-in hybrid model due to the hybrid battery.
Like any good German car brand, Mercedes did also offer the C-Class Estate and this bumps up the cargo-carrying capacity to 460 litres, and as much as 1,480 litres if you tilt the rear seats forward. Great for trips to the dump or a visit to Ikea.
There is a wide choice of engines to choose from with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It shouldn’t come as a surprise given the segment that diesel engines are the most common, but there are also several petrol engines, including those with mild-hybrid tech and plug-in hybrids.
At the entry point to the petrol range is the C180 with 156bhp. It’s a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers adequate performance, but the 2.0-litre C200 has a bit more go in it. Mercedes also sold a more powerful 258bhp C300 that slotted in below its higher-performing AMG versions.
Speaking of those spicy AMGs, there is a medium-strength C43 that gets a 3.0-litre 390bhp engine. A good choice if you want some usable performance without it being too silly. Then there is the C63 which has a 4.0-litre engine squeezed in under the bulging bonnet and front wings, producing 476bhp that’s as epic to drive as its soundtrack. If you’re after the whole habanero experience, then the C 63 S provides 503bhp.
On the more sensible side there is a C300h hybrid, a C350e plug-in petrol hybrid and the C300de, which is a diesel plug-in hybrid. All of these can deliver respectable fuel economy figures providing your drive them accordingly.
With the pure diesel engines there is an entry-level C200d with a 136bhp 1.6-litre unit and a better-rounded 2.1-litre C220d with 170bhp. A more powerful version of that comes badged as the C250d and there is also a 245bhp C300d.
Many of the gremlins that can affect the reliability of the C-Class tend to be electrical rather than mechanical, so it is essential to look for a good service history with the car. Be mindful to check for any warning lights and go through the car to make sure all of the controls and functions are operating correctly.
One of the positives of buying a used C-Class is that there is a broad choice of models with an engine to cover almost every task, including versions with 4Matic all-wheel drive. Even entry-level engines such as the C180 and C200d provide good performance, though choosing an engine with a little more power is worthwhile.
AMG-Line versions do get a sports suspension setup that, along with the larger alloy wheels, can result in a firmer ride that is less comfortable, especially if you’re frequently driving on roads surfaces that are less than perfect. The optional air suspension might sound like the solution, but that setup does its best at softening out motorway cruising and generally isn’t as good at absorbing things like speed humps and potholes.
The diesel-engined C-Class models prove themselves to be excellent long-distance cruisers, and the nine-speed automatic is quite smooth when switching gears. With a full tank of fuel you can expect some very respectable mileage from models like the C200d.
You will need to be more dedicated when it comes to the plug-in hybrids, and it’s only worth considering one of these if you can charge it at home or work or ideally at both. Take the claimed electric driving range with a pinch of salt and beware that you do lose out on boot space due to the battery.
The Mercedes C-Class doesn’t provide the same keen driving feel that a BMW 3 Series offers. Its steering isn’t quite as sharp, but it remains better than the Audi A4. However, the Audi does edge ahead of the Mercedes for overall refinement. Nevertheless, the C-Class is an excellent all-rounder and this is proven by its popularity over the years.