Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Comprehensive selection of petrol and diesel models
  • Hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions also available
  • All offer enough performance for most drivers

Making up the C-Class’s engine range is a selection of petrol and diesel motors, with hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions also available. Although the current range is pretty comprehensive, spanning 156hp to 510hp, the selection varies by year and the 2018 facelift moved the technology ahead by a generation.

Diesel engines

There's a choice of two diesel options, the C 220 d and more potent C 300 d. Both are based on the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder twin-turbo engine, but the 2.0-litre C 220 d offers 194hp and 400Nm of torque, making it the most flexible balance of economy and performance. It’s capable of running from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds, which is more than adequate. Choose the C 300 d, and you upgrade to 245hp and 500Nm shaving a second off the 62mph dash.

The nine-speed automatic transmission – badged 9G-Tronic Plus – is a smooth gearbox that shifts through the ratios impressively. It’s also responsive when you put your foot down and demand an extra turn of pace from the engine, for example when overtaking on the motorway. In common with other recent Mercedes designs, the gear selector is on the stalk, with paddles on the wheel for manual override.

Mercedes-Benz no longer offers an all-wheel drive C-Class diesel, but for a rear-wheel drive car they're secure and more than capable in all weathers. Winter tyres will deal with the few times you need more traction.

Petrol engines

The entry-level C-Class doesn't have the smallest engine - the C 180 uses a turbo petrol 1.6-litre with 156hp and 250Nm; it's the only C-Class you can get with a manual gearbox, and it's only offered with S or SE trims. The full benefits of the range can be found in the C 200, which uses a 184hp 1.5-litre turbocharged engine helped by a 48-volt mild hybrid system, which Mercedes calls EQ Boost. In short, it provides an extra boost for acceleration, as well as energy recuperation for the battery and a coasting function, too. This engine comes with the nine-speed auto gearbox as standard.

The C 200 will go from 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds. Want to keep up with the diesels? You'll want the C 300, with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol producing 258hp and 370Nm of torque. As with the diesel versions, there's no longer an option for 4Matic all-wheel-drive. Like the C 300 d, this version will sprint from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds.

Hybrid C 300 de and C 300 e EQ-power

Sharing the same 13.5kWh battery pack and 122hp electric motor, the EQ plug in hybrids are almost identical in performance whether you choose diesel or petrol. Both offer 700Nm of torque and roughly 5.5 second 0-62mph, and typically impressive PHEV-style fuel consumption figures, though the petrol version is worse in real terms. Not surprising, as their conventional counterparts have 15mpg between them, and the electric range is around 30 miles; just enough to qualify for lower BIK rates in the UK. Boot space on the hybrid is reduced to 300 litres.

It's one of the cleverest plug-in packages yet, using a motor inserted into the nine-speed automatic gearbox to smooth out takeoff and engine stop-start as well as boost performance. That it's capable of adding a reasonable electric-only range to cut local pollution is the icing on the cake, and it adds just 108mm to the standard gearbox.

Petrol vs diesel PHEV on the road

We had the opportunity to test both versions of the plug-in hybrid C-Class back to back on UK roads. It's interesting that Mercedes-Benz is offering a diesel PHEV in an increasingly hostile environment to cars fuelled by the black pump. But it offers the driver genuine choice in a crowded market market for plug-ins.

In terms of performance, there's little to separate the cars - they're both responsive and surprisingly quick, as the figures above suggest. They step off the line smartly with their engines cutting in unobtrusively only when needed, but once cruising they're quiet, calm and relaxed. Obviously in battery mode, they're indistinguishable to drive, but when the engines kick in, the diesel's subdued hum is more intrusive than the petrol's near silence.

The diesel's economy advantage more than makes up  for this slight loss in refinement, though, and as such, this would be the one to recommend as long as you're going to counter all that EV-powered city driving is countered by regular long trips to really take advantage of diesel's mpg advantage over petrol.

Four-wheel drive models

Sitting above the C 300 is the Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic, powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol capable of propelling the C-Class from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds thanks to 390hp and a hefty 520Nm of torque. It’s not a full-fat AMG, and remains subtle by looking like a regular AMG Line apart from the slightly different grille - but with stealthy performance and an engaging engine and exhaust note that isn’t too boisterous (if you’re not in Sport+ mode), it’s the kind of performance saloon you can enjoy and make use of every day.

Mercedes-AMG C 63 S 

The C 63 represents the best a C-Class can be. It's powered by a 4.0-litre V8 with huge performance. Originally offered in two levels, the entry-level C 63 with 476hp and 650Nm of torque is no longer available - British buyers wanted the hardcore S with uncompromising 510hp and 700Nm.

At launch it used a seven-speed automatic gearbox, but this was swapped during the 2018 facelift for a nine-speed twin-clutch auto, and both versions are controlled via paddleshifters behind the steering wheel.There was no change to power or torque figures during the update.  The 2018 C 63 will cover 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds, while the S will do it in 4.0sec flat, all the while making a noise like thunder in typical AMG fashion.

Engines no longer available

Before the car’s facelift in 2018, there was also a more powerful C 250 d using an older 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine producing 205hp and 500Nm of torque, capable of sprinting from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds. This was available with rear- and all-wheel drive. To keep things confusing, the C 220 d used to be powered by the same 2.1-litre diesel (as opposed to the new 2.0-litre), producing 170hp and 400Nm of torque. The 0-62mph time was 7.5 seconds. It's a less refined engine than the 2.0-litre, but is well proven across almost the entire Mercedes-Benz range.

There are two flavours of C 200 d, too. Originally a 1.6-litre diesel producing 136hp and 320Nm of torque, capable of running from 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds, it's eclipsed by the C 220 d. The later C 200 d uses a 1.6-litre turbodiesel motor producing 160hp and 360Nm of torque, and will complete the 0-62mph sprint in 8.5 seconds. This version is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, missing out on the nine-speed automatic available across the rest of the range.

For the petrols, the C 200 used to be a 2.0-litre turbo unit with 184hp and 300Nm of torque, with a 7.5-second 0-62mph time. Previous versions of the C-Class included greater flexibility with 4Matic all-wheel drive available on the more powerful models.

Two eco versions of the C-Class were available before it was facelifted – the C 300 h hybrid and the C 350 e plug-in hybrid, both of which are of particular appeal to company car drivers.

The C 300 h is a diesel-electric hybrid using the 2.1-litre diesel found in other C-Class diesel models in combination with an electric motor. It produces a combined output of 231hp and 500Nm of torque, switching between hybrid driving modes on its own. The plug-in C 350 e is a petrol-electric motor with a 2.0-litre petrol and battery pack, producing a total of 293hp and 350Nm of torque, but with tax-pleasingly low CO2 emissions of just 48g/km.

Handling

  • C-Class feels agile, but not like a 3 Series
  • Steering isn’t especially communicative
  • Safe and stable, but not as rounded as an A4

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is great for everyday motoring. There’s a fair bit more bodyroll than you get with a 3 Series or A4, but the pay-off is a ride that’s as comfortable as any car in this class. Models with larger alloy wheels can thump into bigger bumps in the road, and if comfort is your thing, try to avoid speccing your car with the largest wheels.

The steering system we tested wasn’t without fault either. While it’s fairly nicely balanced in terms of weighting, and it’s very light at low speeds, there’s a disappointing lack of feedback. This means you don’t have the confidence to drive this car as fast as you might otherwise. Mercedes does deserve credit for judging the weighting through faster corners very well indeed, though, and the car always feels balanced, if not particularly engaging.

The non-AMG models all have tidy handling, with no real vices on the road. It might not be particularly inspiring to drive on a twisting road. But high-speed stability and motorway cruising are excellent, and it's probably the most relaxing car of its type to drive.

Advantages of the adaptive suspension set-up

The Dynamic Select system (drive mode selection) can be used to vary the handling of the car if adaptive suspension is fitted. You can flick between five settings. The system adds weight to the steering in Sport, and makes the throttle response sharper too, while other modes are either more comfortable and relaxing or more focused and sporty. An Individual mode can be selected and configured to tweak particular aspects of the car’s driving characteristics, but most drivers will leave the car in the standard Comfort mode for the best all-round balance.

Where the adaptive air suspension is installed, selecting Sport or Sport+ in the drive mode selection will alter the car’s handling characteristics for optimum performance driving. We’d choose the air suspension if it was our car – it works serious magic on the C-Class when it comes to comfort. Unfortunately, most UK buyers won’t tick that box, but that does mean they’re left with the excellent standard steel suspension.

C 43 4Matic: secure handling

The C 43 is an altogether more interesting car for keen drivers. Its steering still lacks feedback, much as the standard C-Class, but it’s sharper and is perfectly-weighted for whichever driving mode you have it in. The best handling compromise comes in Sport mode, as it allows the driver to enjoy the sharper steering and firmed-up damping without the excessively lairy exhaust note Sport+ delivers.

C 63 Saloon: rear-wheel drive excitement

The C 63 Saloon's handling has always been impressive, though slightly less capable on the circuit than the BMW M3 - but with better road manners as a result. The front engine, rear-wheel drive layout helps keep things balanced, while a suite of electrical systems allow it to switch character at the touch of the drive mode switch.

The most recent facelift ushered in a number of new systems that affect the handling quite considerably. The first is a torque-vectoring feature called AMG Dynamics that can tighten your line into a corner depending on the mode you've set it to: Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master. These adjust the drive between a setup for slippery surfaces to a hardcore, track-only setting suitable only for race tracks (and only available on S models with Race mode).

Another neat introduction on S models is the nine-step adjustable traction control, which allows the driver to pre-select the amount they're happy the tail can slide. Left to its own devices with everything off, the C 63 is an absolute animal, so we can see why this was installed to help out. All of this new tech can be controlled via the (somewhat cluttered) new steering wheel that has been designed for the purpose.