CLASS OF THE FIELD
The Mercedes-Benz C-class coupe replaced the ancient CLC model and has proved better able to put one over on its domestic rivals. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second ReviewMercedes has been curiously reticent to go head to head with BMW's 3 Series Coupe, a car that has been on sale in the UK since the Seventies. The CLC skirted the issue but here comes the full frontal assault in the arresting shape of the C-class Coupe. It faces a big task but it looks to have the substance to back up the handsome styling. A look you can now enhance with a stylish AMG Sport Plus trim level.
BackgroundIf there's one thing German car manufacturers like it's a well-established procedure. Procedures and traditions. Procedures, traditions and hierarchies. That's three, but you can see where this is going. Everything has a set place and it's never quite the done thing to aggressively target a rival's product with something directly comparable. That's why the likes of Mercedes, Porsche, BMW and Audi have assiduously cultivated their own brand identities. A Mercedes C-class might seem to be a direct rival for the BMW 3 Series but each product says very different things to the savvy buyers in this sector. It's why there's been such relatively peaceful coexistence up until fairly recently.
Much of this changed with an advertising war between BMW and Audi that all got a bit unnecessary. Then Audi started taking pot shots at Mercedes on US television, insinuating that Mercedes represented the old fashioned way of doing things. Mercedes has responded with the C-class coupe, a car that draws a direct bead on the Audi A5 and the BMW 3 Series coupe in a far bolder way than ever would have been imagined a couple of years ago, especially if you specify it in the AMG Sport plus trim level lately added to the range. Open warfare has been declared and things could get messy.
Driving ExperienceMercedes has opened up with a broadside of engines for the C-class coupe opening with a now more frugal 154bhp C180 petrol 1.8-litre and topping out with the 302bhp C350 CGI. In total there are three petrol units and a pair of diesels. The other petrol unit is a 204bhp C250 which uses the same 1796cc basis as the C180 but which cuts that car's sprint to 60mph from 9 seconds to 7.2. All of the engines wear Mercedes' BlueEfficiency eco tag which rather undermines its impact.
Go diesel and you select between the C220 CDI and C250 CDI, both of which are of 2143cc capacity. The C220 CDI makes 170bhp while the C250 CDI is good for 204bhp. It's perhaps here that BMW can leverage their superiority, Mercedes having nothing in the locker to counter the awesome 286bhp 335d Coupe.
The proper flagship AMG version of the C-class coupe gets the monster 6208cc naturally aspirated V8 from the C63 AMG saloon which is good for 457bhp . This will demolish the sprint to 60mph in just 4.2 seconds and will go even quicker if you go - as most C 63 owners do - for the optional 487bhp AMG Performance package. While it never feels quite as light on its toes as BMW's best, it's arguably even more fun and boasts a more charismatic engine and a better transmission.
Design and BuildThe styling of the C-class Coupe is a mix of the new and the traditional. The latest Mercedes family face is grafted onto what is a very handsome but rather generic coupe shape. It's the dressing that really makes it work, with details such as 18-inch alloy wheels fitted as standard which combine with lowered suspension to give it a hunkered down stance with very little fresh air visible in the wheel arches. The line of the glasshouse is interesting with what appears to be litigiously close to a BMW-trademark 'Hofmeister Kink' in the rearmost side window pane.
So far, so obvious. What Mercedes are perhaps a little more reluctant to let on is quite how closely related this car is to the E-class coupe. In fact, they both run on identical floorpans and share engines and transmissions. Whereas the E-class coupe is positioned as a successor to the CLK and aims for a more mature audience, the C-class coupe has a tougher job on its hands.
Market and ModelWith prices starting at around £30,000 there aren't any big surprises when it comes to aggressively undercutting its rivals. As with all modern Mercedes vehicles, buyers will be attracted by solid build quality and a certain familiarity with the look and feel of the cabin. The C-class coupe sees many of the features that previously only appeared on £50k+ models filtering down to more affordable versions. One feature that's sure to be popular is the double glass sunroof system which gives an almost targa feel to the cabin without threatening to scalp you when you join the motorway.
All models come in AMG Sport trim, but you can go further by specifying the AMG Sport Plus version for an additional £1,000. The comprehensive list of trim additions includes 18-inch bi-colour AMG alloys, an AMG boot lip spoiler in body colour, AMG sports seats, Black Artico/Dynamica upholstery with the contrast red stitching on the seats and door panels, red seat belts, AMG floor mats with red edging and silver gearshift paddles (on automatic transmission variants). A £530 AMG Handling Package is also offered on all Coupe models to uprate the steering, engine, exhaust and transmission response, as well as introducing unique styling touches.
Cost of OwnershipMercedes has worked hard to keep a cap on its carbon dioxide emissions of late and the C-class coupe demonstrates that some fairly powerful engines can feature modest emissions and very good economy. Let's start with what you'd expect to be the one that Mercedes would try to nudge behind a curtain when it came to a running costs discussion, the C350 CGI petrol engine. With 302bhp on tap, not to mention its 370Nm of torque, this model will nevertheless return a very creditable 40.4mpg. Emissions are pegged at just 164g/km, which is scarcely believable for a petrol-engined car capable of hitting 60mph in 6 seconds. To put that figure into perspective, that's the same amount of carbon dioxide that comes out of the back of an automatic BMW 320i coupe.
Most customers will be drawn to the diesel models and the C220 CDI will doubtless mop up the majority of sales. This ekes 55.4 miles from a gallon of diesel and emits just 133g/km. Even more impressive is the improved C180 BlueEFFICIENCY petrol variant, which now manages 44.1mpg on the combined cycle and 149g/km of CO2. One expects that business buyers are going to be filling Mercedes' order books rather rapidly, especially when residual values looks set to be strong.
SummaryThe Mercedes C-class coupe isn't an easy vehicle to pigeonhole. In many ways it's deeply conservative and old-school Mercedes in its approach, not pushing stylistic boundaries in any particular regard. On the other hand it's a very aggressive political statement, driving deep into BMW heartland and with economy and emissions figures that look extremely impressive, there's no doubt it'll carve great swathes of sales from Munich's bottom line.
While some might have liked to have seen something a little more adventurous from newly-emboldened Mercedes, one suspects that its designers understand their target customers very well. The fact that it looks so BMW-like in its profile cannot be a coincidental.