Mercedes-Benz C-Class (2014-2021) Expert Review
True to the three-pointed star on its nose, the C-Class is the most luxurious car in the small saloon segment. Whereas the BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE make a priority of handling balance and steering response, the Mercedes-Benz favours comfort and refinement. With a wide range of engines and specifications there's also a Mercedes C-Class to suit most requirements, from a frugal diesel to a tyre-roasting, twin-turbocharged AMG model.
- Four-door saloon
- Five-door estate
- Two-door coupe
- Two-door cabriolet
2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
The rivalry between Mercedes, Audi and BMW is fairly legendary, and in no section of the market is that rivalry fiercer than it is in the compact saloon market. For all three brands, their compact executive offerings represent one of company’s biggest sellers, so with cars like these, the stakes are high and the margins are tight. And with such tight margins, each car has to do things a little differently in order to stand out from the rest and attract buyers. And each firm takes a slightly different approach to this.
The Audi A4, for instance, sets out its stall with slinky styling, a sporty character and super-plush cabin quality. The BMW 3 Series, meanwhile, goes for an even sportier approach, with a largely rear-wheel drive offering (although some versions can also be had with four-wheel drive) that stays true to the company’s ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ ethos.
And then there’s the Mercedes C-Class, which goes its own way again. Rather than doing what the others do and trying to be the sportiest car of its type, the C-Class dials down the sportiness to concentrate instead of comfort, refinement and civility. As a result, you’ll notice suspension that’s softer and more forgiving, steering that’s slower and lighter, and overall, a driving experience that’s less frenetic and more relaxed. And for many buyers, it’s all the better for it.
Having said that, though, that doesn’t mean that the C-Class can’t impress when the road turns twisty. This fourth-generation C-Class – known internally as the W205 - is much lighter (up to 100kg) than the W204 car it replaced thanks to extensive use of aluminium in the body, and that body is also much more rigid, too. So, although not as overtly sporty as its rivals, it’s still the sharpest handling C-Class yet, and by some distance. Yet when the road straightens out or slows down, the plush ride keeps things settled and civilised.
There is one exception to this, that being the utterly bonkers C63 AMG high-performance version, which is about and frenetic and as frantic as sports saloons get. That version aside, though, the range includes numerous engines that major on fuel-sipping economy or strong, muscular performance, and everything in between, so there should be a C-Class to suit all tastes. By far the best-selling versions were the four-cylinder diesels (lots of folk chose these as a company car), meaning these will be in most plentiful supply on the used car market.
The car’s driving manners aren’t the only things that help the car deliver a feeling of class and sophistication, either. There’s also the way the car looks. Yes, it’s smart and suave when judged in isolation, but the fact that it also looks so much like the bigger – and more expensive – E-Class and S-Class saloon models immediately give the impression that you’re pushing on to the posher end of the scale.
The interior also plays its part in the C-Class’ upper-class feel. The materials are thoughtfully chosen and immaculately finished, while the high standard of fit and finish makes the car feel solid and substantial, if not quite as solid and substantial as an Audi.
Your level of luxury is also elevated by the impressive amount of luxury equipment on display, with all examples getting standard kit that includes leather-effect upholstery, climate control and an all-singing-all-dancing infotainment screen. It’s not the most intuitive system of its type in fairness, but it doesn’t take too much mucking about before its foibles become familiar.
The C-Class also has the ability to play the family car role with great distinction. There’s plenty of room in both the front seats and the rear seats – just as much as in its German rivals and a shade more than in other such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE – and the boot is big enough for a family’s clutter. And that’s if you choose the saloon. There’s a C-Class Estate version for those who need even more practicality, and for those who value glamour and style, coupe and cabriolet versions of the C-Class are also offered. There really is a C-Class to suit everyone, then. None of them come particularly cheap but they do feel worth the money you pay.
Three Things To Know
- You can have a manual gearbox in your C-Class if you insist, but very few were ever specced that way; less than 5%, in fact. The vast majority use a seven-speed automatic gearbox that actually suits the car better. It slushes through the gears smoothly and cleanly, and it usually manages to find the right ratio at the first time of asking when it kicks down.
- Air suspension is an option, and a very useful one if you’re planning to tow with the your C-Class given its self-levelling capability. The air springs also help to improve the car’s body control and ride quality, although the ride on standard steel springs is good anyway. Nevertheless, if you want your C-Class to be as comfortable as it can be, it's worth seeking out an example with the air suspension fitted.
- When it comes to trim levels, SE models are the entry-level ones but still come with leather-effect upholstery, a reversing camera, a DAB radio, cruise control and mobile phone connectivity. Sport adds satnav, heated seats and LED lights, while range-topping AMG Line models additionally get 18-inch wheels, sportier body styling, gearshift paddles and sports suspension.
Which One to Buy
- For motorway driving: If you spend your time hacking up and down the country’s motorways, look no further than the C220 BlueTEC diesel. With plenty of power and a mighty 295lb ft of torque it’ll reach 62mph in a reasonably brisk 8.1 seconds, but return upwards of 50mpg on long runs. That said, the 2.1-litre engine was rather noisy and rough, so if you can afford it, go for a C220d built after the 2018 facelift, which replaced the 2.1 with a new 2.0-litre that was smoother, quieter and more powerful.
- For the city: Introduced in 2015, the C350e is a plug-in hybrid with an electric-only range of 19 miles. That’ll be adequate for school runs and supermarket trips, saving you money on fuel and easing your conscience when driving in a polluted city environment.
- For cost-conscious petrolheads: The Mercedes-AMG C43 is plenty quick enough thanks to its 362bhp V6, but it won’t saddle you with harrowing fuel bills like the full-fat, V8-powered AMG. Four-wheel drive, called 4matic, also makes the C43 more stable in wet weather than the rear-driven C63.
- For true petrolheads: If massive straight-line performance, a thunderous soundtrack and lively rear-wheel drive handling are overwhelmingly important and fuel bills a trivial concern, the twin-turbo C63 by AMG is the C-Class to have. You can choose between C-Class Coupe, C-Class Cabriolet convertible, C-Class Saloon and C-Class Estate bodystyles, too, which can add extra style or practicality depending on whether you need a swish runabout, a family car or something in between.
Given the enormous breadth that characterises the C-Class line-up – from parsimonious four-cylinder turbodiesel to roaring twin-turbo petrol V8 – it should be no surprise that running costs can vary significantly. Mercedes claims the entry-level C200d, with its very modest 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine, will return more than 60mpg in mixed driving, although owners reports real-world fuel economy of around 50mpg. Meanwhile, the thumping Mercedes-AMG C63 S might manage only 15mpg when used like it should be.
The C350e plug-in hybrid is capable of a staggering 135mpg according to the official figures, but that says more about the way these things are measured than the efficiency of the car in question. If you can recharge it regularly and cover only short distances, the C350e will prove to be exceptionally affordable to run. However, if you can’t charge the electric motor's battery and you tend to drive longer distances, the plug-in hybrid simply won’t work for you.
A Mercedes Approved Used C-Class might suit you very well, though. Inevitably you’ll pay a little more for one of those than you will for a privately sold car or its equivalent from an independent dealer, but the one-year, unlimited mileage manufacturer warranty that all Approved Used cars are covered by could more than off-set that additional outlay. When it comes to servicing, meanwhile, there will be savings to be made at an independent specialist rather than an official Mercedes dealership, but make sure you pick out a highly-regarded specialist.
If you prefer to keep it in the family, Mercedes offers a servicing payment plan called ServiceCare. This starts at £38 per month over two years, for which you’ll receive two services.
Any premium-market vehicle such as a Mercedes will invariably cost more to run than something like a Ford or a Toyota, but a C-Class shouldn’t prove ruinous. Unless, of course, you choose the AMG V8 model and roast its rear tyres on a regular basis.
Premium brands such as Mercedes-Benz tend to have a reputation for quality, but this isn’t necessarily reflected in the C-Class’ performance in reliability surveys. In fact, the C-Class does have a number of known faults that prospective buyers should be aware of, albeit none that might prove catastrophic.
The best way to protect yourself against those faults is to buy an Approved Used car. If something does go wrong during the first 12 months of ownership, it’ll be down to the dealership to put it right (in most cases, at least). Existing and former owners have reported sunroof and door seals that make a loud and irritating creaking sound, which should be rectified under warranty. Meanwhile, the Comand infotainment system can freeze, requiring the car to be restarted. A permanent fix will need a trip to the dealership.
What’s more, owners have reported issues with systems as diverse as the exhaust, brakes, gearbox and clutch, the steering and the suspension. It’s exactly problems such as those that a manufacturer warranty will protect you against, at least from a financial point of view. The inconvenience factor is not so easily addressed.
Recalls have been issued on the W205, for the steering and airbags in particular, although any car being sold by a main dealer or a reputable independent should have had these issues put right. We'd advise asking the salesperson to demonstrate to you that all necessary recall work has been carried out. There was a separate recall for diesel models, incidentally, aimed at reducing NOx emissions.
All the same old used car buying advice applies as much to the C-Class as any other model: ensure the car has a full and correct service history, inspect the bodywork and alloy wheels for signs of damage (imperfections should be used to negotiate a better deal rather than be reasons to walk away entirely) and make sure the tyres are in good order and, particularly in the case of high-performance variants, that all four tyres match.
The CarGurus Verdict
Although this version of the C-Class is the most agile version yet, those looking for a particularly sporty saloon car should look towards its immediate rivals. In typical Mercedes fashion, the C-Class is instead geared around long-distance comfort and effortless ease of use. With such a wide range of petrol and diesel engines there’ll be a variant that suits you. Just be aware that while the plug-in hybrid version looks enormously economical on paper, it will get the best MPG if you can charge it at home or at work and you drive mostly short distances. Finally, the C63 S will be costly to run but if you crave noise and performance, it’ll be worth it.