8 Jan 2013

Driven - Mercedes-Benz C250 CDI AMG Sport

Matt Hubbard reviews the Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI BlueEfficiency AMG Sport Saloon

Remember when Mercedes gave their cars shorter names?  I used to own a 1990 Mercedes 300TE.  That had a pleasingly short name.  My current car, an Audi S4, has a very short name.  But a name that says everything about the car.  Audis with an S in the name mean they will be almighty fast (it is) and 4 designates the mid-sized saloon.

To analyse the name of the Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI BlueEfficiency AMG Sport Saloon is to pick apart what the actual car on offer is and what it will bring to the consumer.  Some components of the name are pleasing and bring positives to the car.  Others are not.  I will come back to this subject later in the review.

I drove the C 250 CDI (for short) because the only other modern C class I've driven in the last year is the C 63 AMG Black Series (Every single word in that name means good things) and I wanted to see how the more affordable, practical model compared to it's flagship sibling.

The C class saloon is a real looker.  Unfortunately the test car was white (which I don't really like) but fortunately the shape of the car is so strong it stands the test of white paint - which absorbs the light rather than reflecting it across the surfaces of the car.  It's comparably handsome with the Jaguar XF and Audi A4 but widdles all over BMW's 3 series and others from Infiniti, Lexus et al.

The interior of the C 250 CDI is a pleasant balance of sports and luxury.  The seats are supportive and, as with all Mercedes, adjustable any which way you like.  The seat material in the test car was the standard fabric (weirdly named Liverpool Black) which is passable but strangely synthetic looking.  The rest of the materials are spot on.  Quality plastics, brushed aluminium and a small amount of wood.

It works well.  Mercedes' interiors are pretty fantastic.  Not too many buttons and dials and those that are there are pleasantly finished and weighted.  In short, the interior is good.

Fast forward to after the test drive.  I jumped into my 8 year old Audi and thought, "This is actually better than the C class's."  An imperceptible difference maybe but the Audi feels more snug.  The Jaguar XF has that effect too.  The Mercedes feels slightly colder, more clinical.  Don't think this means the Mercedes' interior isn't great - it is - but Audi and Jaguar seem to find it easier to create a feeling of oneness with the car.

Rewind back to the test drive.  A revelation!  It has a real parking brake.  OK, it's not a handbrake but it's Mercedes' version with a small pedal next to where the clutch would be and a flap at the bottom of the dash to release it.

There is a row of seven aluminium buttons just above the heater controls.  Three of these are very important.  These three are labelled Eco, Normal and Sport and relate to the settings for the automatic gearbox.  When the engine is turned on the Eco button is automatically selected.  I didn't notice at first and drove for some time in this mode.

It felt like I was driving a 1985 Ford Fiesta 1 litre.  The engine had no power and only changed down the gears when it really had to because otherwise it would stall.  The C 250 CDI and I trundled along like a tractor.  It was embarrassingly slow.  And, talking of tractors, Mercedes seem to have made no effort to remove the foul noise that a 4 pot diesel makes.

The steering was good, there was no perceptible body roll, and the brakes were firm and provided good feedback.  But I was struggling to get above 30mph and the noise from the tractor engine was making me unhappy.   After a few miles I thought CDI must stand for Can't Drive It.

Then, as I was plodding along with various farm vehicles, HGVs and fork lift trucks stuck in a traffic jam behind me, I noticed the Sport button and pressed it.

Within 5 seconds I had pulled away from the traffic jam and actually started to enjoy the car.  The difference between Eco and Sport is night and day.  Sport turns the C 250 CDI into a brilliant driving machine.  I soon appreciated the chassis's stiffness and the fact the wheels are sprung by the best engineers in the business.  And the steering - light at low speeds, slightly weightier on the move - is meaty and fine.

On a track understeer could be induced by braking late into a corner but on the road the handling is neutral.  The car feels fluid and a delight to throw around.  The engine has a wide spread of torque and power (although Eco seems to hold it before the turbochargers come into play) and the automatic gearbox is a great unit which changes when you want it to, and when you expect to need it to change up.

In Sport mode the C 250 CDI has 204bhp, which propels it to 60mph in 7 seconds.  This is plenty of power.  It'll never get you into trouble but is enough to have let you have a great time in the car.  In Eco mode it feels like it has 20bhp and would struggle to outpace a 2CV.

The Normal mode isn't a hybrid of Eco and Sport.  It feels much more like 80% of Sport.  If I owned this car I would drive it with Normal mode engaged most of the time, with Sport for a bit of fun.  And the Eco button removed.

Back to the point of the test.  The C class in basic guise is a match for the C 63 AMG.  The base package is such a good one that the extra power and weight from the 6.2 litre V8 in the 63 is accommodated well.

I enjoyed my time in the C 250 CDI and would recommend it to anyone looking for a mid range saloon (or estate) with decent mpg, a good turn of speed, practicality and a touch of class.

What do the words in the cars' name stand for?  In essence:

C - C class.  A brilliantly engineered car.
250 - Don't think this means it has a 2.5 litre engine.  It doesn't.  It's a 2.2 litre common rail diesel with twin turbochargers.  Great power. Awful noise.
CDI - Confounded Diesel Idiocy.  I get that people buy this car for low tax and high mpg but the 250 petrol version is more powerful and still does 42mpg.  I could never get over the noise the diesel makes.
BlueEfficiency - This means nothing more than it has the Eco button.  The C 63 AMG is the only C class without BlueEfficiency in it's name.  It is a silly name.
AMG - Great, but in this car denotes nothing more than branded AMG carpets and suchlike.  Don't expect a fire-breathing, hand-built monster.
Sport - This is basically an upgrade which includes the lovely 17" wheels, leather steering wheel, brushed aluminium trim and other similar features.
Saloon - It's got a boot.


Car - Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI BlueEfficiency AMG Sport Saloon
Price - £32,965 OTR (£43,245 as tested)
Engine - 2.2 litre, inline 4, diesel, twin-turbochargers
Transmission - 7 speed semi-automatic, which drives the rear wheels
Power - 204bhp
Torque - 500Nm
Weight - 1615kg
0-62mph - 7 seconds
Top speed - 149mph
Fuel consumption - 56.5mpg combined