The current generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W204) is quite rightly touted by enthusiasts as the best model in the nameplate’s history. This is probably the first C-Class that can take on the 3 Series without having to worry about a thrashing from Munich.
It was launched at a time when Mercedes was still smarting from criticism of rapidly declining build quality. Gone were bulletproof models such as the W124 E-Class and the W126 S-Class, and in came replacements which were, shall we say, engineered to a cost. Needless to say, they didn’t work very well.
Determined to silence its critics, Mercedes set about to restore its reputation of making the best engineered cars on the planet. The W204 marked the start of those efforts, and the results were clear. Although it still did not have the driving dynamics to match a BMW 3 Series, it felt well-screwed together and gave the impression that it would clock up the miles without falling to pieces.
When launched in Malaysia, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, then known as Daimler-Chrysler Malaysia, brought us the C 200 Kompressor, and then followed up with the C 230 Avantgarde. Both these variants had carry over engines from the previous W203 C-Class.
Recently, however, the introduction of Charged Gasoline Injection (CGI) engines in the new W212 E-Class has paved the way for these new engines to go into the C as well. The C 230 has been officially discontinued, while the C 200 K is now in stock-clearing mode, as the C 200 CGI enters the market.
Replacing the C 230 Avantgarde
In the Mercedes-Benz Malaysia C-Class line-up, the C 250 CGI steps into the shoes of the outgoing C 230 Avantgarde. The asking price has dropped, and so has engine capacity. Crucially however, equipment levels have actually been maintained with the same Avantgarde trim carried over.
Although the C 250 wears the bigger badge, it is the C 230 that sported the bigger engine. Buyers of the C 250 will have to live with two cylinders and two transmissions ratios less than the C 230, which had a 2.5-litre V6 paired with a 7-speed auto gearbox.
However, thanks to the development of turbocharging and direct injection, it is the smaller 1.8-litre engine of the C 250 that produces the more impressive numbers. Power output is maintained from the C 230’s 204hp, now delivered at 5,500rpm.
However, the real eyebrow-raising figure is its torque output of 310Nm accessible anywhere between 2,000 and 4,300rpm. A further bonus is that official fuel consumption has been brought down to a modest 7.9 l/100km, along with road tax, from RM876.00 in the C 230 to a miserly RM278.40 in the C 250. On paper, comparisons favour the new model in every way.
Rubbing it in further is that despite having paid less, and will continue paying less, buyers of the C 250 will get as standard the Comand system in their cars, an option not available to the C 230. However, if you’re thinking of showing off to your C 230 friends how short-changed they are with their car, we suggest that you do not mention too much about this system.
When activated, the unit pops out from the dash in an elegant motion. Although well-engineered, the setup has an aftermarket look about it, and most disappointingly, the maps included in the built-in GPS does not seem to be of the latest issue. There were several occasions which I found roads which weren’t at all new, but were not programmed into its array of maps. This must be improved, and it cannot wait for the facelift.
The Test Car
When its keys was handed to us from Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, our test car had clocked just over 6,300km in its odometer in the hands of various editors. Fit and finish of the various panels inside and outside were satisfactory. Control switches also had good tactile feel, although there were slight inconsistencies in certain panel gaps at the driver’s side.
MBM quotes a price of RM287,888.00 for the C 250 CGI kitted as per our test car for folks in the Peninsula. Our insurance calculator estimates an additional sum in the region of RM7,700 for a year’s worth of coverage.
On the road
Around town and slow-moving traffic, the C 250 potters around with minimum fuss. There is a hint of firmness in its ride, but not to a degree that you can’t live with. The overly-light steering at low speeds might be unsettling for drivers accustomed to more meaty steering feel.
Under light throttle, progress in the C 250 is best described as serene and civilized, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it is in anyway docile. It isn’t. The moment you flick your right foot and bury the throttle, you’ll simply be washed along your way by a tsunami of torque, catapulting the speedometer clockwise with unerring ease.
Merc’s refusal to equip any of its four-cylinder models with more than five gears in their transmissions makes for unfavourable comparisons with its rivals. However, thanks to the strong surge of torque on tap, any deficit in the real world is minimal, and was certainly no issue for me.
Along twisty back roads, the C 250 demonstrated a similarly impressive breadth of abilities. Pushed to its limits, the natural tendency of the chassis is to understeer, although easing off the throttle brings matters under control again. Owners with a more performance-oriented mindset might want to consider swapping higher-performance tyres for the comfort-oriented Michelin rubber. Its handling characteristics are predictable and beginner-friendly.
Although the BMW 3 Series remains as the car with superior outright handling, it is the C-Class that has the better judged compromise between cornering supremacy and ride comfort. A 325i may roll less when turned, but it is the C 250 that sends less road shocks back to the cabin, and thus easier to live with.
The ultimate appeal of the C 250 centres around the CGI engine’s ability to simultaneously deliver an excellent combination of performance, economy, and drive-ability. This all-rounded nature extends to the entire car, as it is not only a great drive, but also one that’s easy to live with as well.
Compared to the outgoing C 230 Avantgarde, the C 250 CGI can be regarded as the superior package in every way, and it has a lower price tag plus lower road tax to boot. Think of it this way, it pays the same amount in road tax (and possibly fuel bills) as a Honda Civic.