Unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show 2014, the new Mercedes C-Class looks as though it's about to shake up the small executive car segment. Or is it now know as the upper-medium segment? Either way, to cut to the chase, this Merc's glorious interior knocks everything else in the segment for six .
We currently have a new generation BMW 3-Series outside on the drive and having spent time with the C-Class its interior makes the BMW feel tragically basic and non-premium. In the Merc there's the familiar, tablet-like central display screen we’ve seen in both the A and B-Class models. Except in those earlier models it feels like an afterthought, while in the C-Class its a whole different ball game.
The screen is suspended in a way that looks like an iPad floating above the dash - to that point that we struggled to understand how it’s actually done. It’s also blessed with some of the best in-car on-screen graphics we’ve seen. In fact, they’re exactly the same graphics you’ll find in the new Merc S-Class - and that sets up the story for how much of the rest of the C-Class goes. It's more like a "mini S-Class".
Out favourite bit of the cabin is the huge, structural piece of wood used for the centre console. We’re not fans of wood in cars in general, but the options here are numerous and, from what we've seen, look exceptionally classy. Our pick would be a very modern, matte-finish black open grain. There’s massive attention to detail and coolness in the centre console too. For instance, the centre ashtray bin has a woodgrain finish that exactly matches the grain around it. How? It all starts with a single piece of wood, from which Merc laser-cuts the bin lid shape and then fixes back in to guarantee a grain match.
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The upscale theme continues elsewhere in the cabin - metal with a knurled finish, leather and soft plastic everywhere, and some of the loveliest air vents we’ve used (although it’s a shame the temperature controls aren’t in them, like the new Audi TT’s will be). There's also a new command interface which, like Audi’s and BMW’s, now features a gesture touch surface into which you can input various characters, numbers and letters. And if you’re free and easy with the options list, you can have the incredible Burmester stereo system, which brings the wonderful, perforated metal speaker grilles you see in our pictures.
All told, it’s a class act and a truly lovely place to sit. And of course, you can option loads of new tech - such as a head-up display, auto-brake cruise control and perhaps in the C-Class’s lifetime a limited autonomous driving function too. There are cameras, sensors and radars everywhere and just about every anti-collision system currently known to man. It's going to be hard to crash a new C-Class through stupidity alone.
However, stepping away from the glorious interior, the outside is somewhat less impressive, but still clearly a Merc. In fact, that "mini S-Class" look strikes again and with the C-Class being on a new platform, the proportions are great with what designers refer to as an extremely cab-backwards proportion and a very long hood. You’ll notice from our photos there are two types of grille: the traditional, Mercedes "limousine" grille with the three-pointed star discreetly floating on top; and the in-your-face, massive three-pointed star in the middle of the grille version - otherwise known as the sports grille. Apparently in the UK we will only get the sporty, massive-star version as that’s what we like. Shame, if you like being discreet.
Engines will range from a small, turbo-charged 1.6 petrol, through eco-diesels, V6’s and a snarling, turbo-charged V8 AMG. Don't expect it to drive anything other than very well indeed. Although whether or not it will be as dynamically sharp as the 3-Series remains to be seen.
The big question, of course, is what it will all cost. And the answer to that is something we'll have to wait on.
On the show stand in Detroit - and thus in the showroom - the C-Class genuinely feels a cut above for this class. If we were BMW, Audi or Jaguar we’d be very worried indeed. But although we can’t see Mercedes pricing itself out of the market sector, we can’t help thinking it’s all going to cost a lot. Certainly, with the German premium brands, one thing we know that always rings true is you’ll pay heftily for the options. And the cars on the show stand clearly had just about every single option thrown at them. So don’t bet against it being not only the plushest, but the priciest C-Class ever.