Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate (2018 - ) review
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate is the German premium brand’s compact executive load-lugger. The car competes against the BMW 3 Series Touring and Audi A4 Avant, as well as Volvo’s V60.
Interested in buying a Mercedes-Benz C Class?
How good does it look?
Estate cars in the compact executive sector are often seen as more elegant than their saloon siblings, and the C-Class is no exception, especially as you move up the range from the entry SE trim to the Sport, which gets more attractive and aggressive alloy wheels. The racier AMG-Line is a big step up in looks terms, as it gets a grille embedded with diamond-shaped chrome as well as larger alloy wheels and the AMG bodystyling kit, which means more sporty looks. It’s not quite as sporty and the high-performance C63 model, though, which has a bespoke grille, more skirts and a chunkier rear air diffuser. All C-Class models now have the three-pointed star logo incorporated into the grille rather than on the bonnet as Mercedes looks to modernise its biggest seller’s looks. The estate gets roof rails as standard, black on the SE trim and chrome on the Sport and AMG-Line, helping to create the more active lifestyle look of the estate model.
What's the interior like?
There are good and bad points to the cabin, with comfortable seats - especially the sports ones on the higher trims - and a good driving position being plus points. Quality, too, is a major positive, with dense, high-grade materials that give you a plush feel. The large 10.25-inch infotainment screen displays the car’s main functions, and the system is pretty easy to use if you use the central rotary dial, but it does look like a tablet has been glued to the dashboard, rather than being an in-built screen integral to the car. You can also operate many functions through the steering wheel controls, but it does mean the wheel has a vast number of controls - 16 in fact, plus two extra touch pads - which makes for a rather distracting experience. There are even more controls on the bespoke steering wheel of the C63, which allow you to scroll through various driving modes and engage various driving systems, but these are really well designed and are a doddle to use considering the wide variety of functions they operate.
How practical is it?
Given some cars in this class are a bit short in rear passenger space, the C-Class performs well, and will carry four big adults without drama. The narrow middle seat and bulky transmission tunnel means life won’t be quite so comfortable for a fifth, but at least the seat cushion is flat rather than being raised and rounded like it is in some rivals. Obviously, boot space is the main reason that estate cars exist, and the C-Class Estate’s isn’t the largest, with the 460 litres stacking up pretty poorly against all the car’s main rivals, the BMW 3 Series Touring and Audi A4 Avant. However, it is a nice, flat, square space, with a netted area to one side to keep small items from rolling around. All cars get 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats to enlarge the load area, with a switch to drop the seats from the rear of the car, but they don’t drop entirely flat.
What's it like to drive?
The suspension you get on your C-Class depends on which version you pick. The SE has the standard setup, while the Sport is lowered and the AMG Line is both lowered and stiffened. Whichever you choose, the C-Class is more comfort-orientated than sporty, prioritising the ability to cover long distances in a relaxed manner, but it’s still sure-footed and composed enough to be entertaining on a quiet back-road run. The top two trims can also be upgraded to air suspension as an optional extra, which tailors the suspension set-up according to which of the five driver modes – from Comfort to Sport+ – you select. It works really well, filtering out even the worst bumps and potholes, while providing a marked improvement in agility.
We’ve also had a shot in the high-performance C63 version, which doesn’t have full-on air suspension, but does have an adaptive one that can also vary its behaviour according to which mode is selected. The range of different modes is rather dizzying, with six main ones, four for the torque vectoring system that distributes drive across the rear wheels, plus no less than nine modes for the clever traction control system that allows varying degrees of slip on the back end. Using the various profiles isn’t as complicated as it sounds, though, and the technology means that the C63 can play a variety of roles with impressive polish. It can be a civilised and comfortable cruiser, an agile and alert sports car or, if you turn everything up to eleven, an absolute foamy-mouthed, tail-sliding lunatic.
How powerful is it?
The C-Class’s talents here depend entirely on which engine you’re talking about. The C220d and C300d diesel alternatives are both really good, offering the punch, quietness and smoothness you might expect from a Mercedes. The C200 petrol engine, on the other hand, doesn’t. It’s clever on paper, as it has mild hybrid technology that uses a small 48-volt battery to support the petrol engine by adding a little extra power. On the plus side, it gives the car the ability to cruise with the engine off on downhill stretches of road to save fuel, but the engine itself is particularly noisy and doesn’t offer the kind of performance that you expect given the racket it makes. We haven’t yet driven the entry-level petrol, the C180, or the more powerful C300 and C43 versions.
All cars, apart from the C200d entry diesel model (which again, we haven’t tried), come with a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard. It’s occasionally a little unpredictable, and has a habit of holding onto gears longer than might be expected. The range-topping C63, meanwhile, has a stonking 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 that develops 476 horsepower, or 510 horsepower if you go for the C63 S version. Unsurprisingly, it’s an absolute monster of an engine, propelling you viciously towards the horizon right from the off, and it only gets stronger the more revs you put on the dial.
How much will it cost me?
When the C-Class was facelifted in 2018, Mercedes hiked up prices considerably, making the car a good bit more expensive than its major rivals. And, as well as being costlier to come by in the first place, the C-Class’ price increase isn’t then given back in resale values, with the Mercedes not expected to be worth any more than its peers when it’s time to move it on to a new home. Insurance groups are also a bit on the high side compared with rivals, too. CO2 emissions and fuel economy are within touching distance of the best rivals, though not ahead of them, and it’s a similar story with routine service and maintenance. Obviously, the C63 versions are a very different financial proposition to the rest of the range, and will be prohibitively expensive for many, but those with one eye on the pennies wouldn’t be considering one anyway.
How reliable is it?
The C-Class has traditionally been one of Mercedes’ best-performing models in reliability and customer satisfaction surveys. In the most recent JD Power customer satisfaction survey, the C-Class was up among the best in its class, while the Mercedes brand overall placed towards the middle of the survey. Likewise, the Warranty Direct reliability survey found the C-Class to be better than most rivals, and ranking higher than the average Mercedes model across repair costs and time off-the-road, even if the premium brand status is well evident in labour cost. Though a three-year warranty is the regulation minimum for the car industry, Mercedes does offer unlimited mileage within that, which will be a benefit to those high-mileage drivers that pass the 60,000 limit some others impose within the three-year period.
How safe is it?
The airbag total is good, with seven fitted to various bits of the car, including a knee airbag to protect the driver’s legs against damage from the steering column in the event of an accident. You also get a collision prevention system is standard, which includes automatic emergency braking, but the really clever stuff is only available as a very pricey option package called the Driving Assistance Pack. It features technology that’s cascaded down from the S-Class luxury saloon, and includes a clever cruise control system that will slow the car for junctions, roundabouts and bends, as well as reacting to speed limit changes, and it’s joined by systems that will keep the car within its lane if the driver starts to wander around, actively prevent it changing lanes when a vehicle hidden in the blind spot and bring it to a complete halt through the adaptive cruise control system in traffic. The pre-facelift C-Class was awarded the full five-star rating from Euro NCAP back in 2014.
How much equipment do I get?
Equipment levels are pretty good, with even the SE trim benefitting from satellite-navigation, a rear parking camera, heated seats and a powered tailgate. The step to Sport specification adds a couple of nice touches, such as leather sports seats and LED headlights, as well as gearshift paddles, and the AMG-Line improvements are mainly visual in making it look more sporty inside and out. To be critical, it’s a shame that many of the most impressive bits of kit are bundled up into expensive option packages. As well as the Driving Assistance Pack of safety systems, the nice 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that replaces the regular display is only available in the costly Premium Pack that also includes an upgraded audio and navigation systems, wireless phone charging and the impressive multi-beam LED lighting that can avoid dazzling other traffic at night by switching off any of the 84 LED bulbs individually.
The C-Class Estate has plenty in its favour, such as a classy cabin, comfortable driving manners, decent luxury kit, effortless desirability and a good range of powerful-yet-efficient diesel engines. That all makes it an excellent all-rounder. That said, it does have some very impressive rivals that do as well – and in some cases, better - in a number of important areas, most notably for an estate, practicality. There’s also the fact that mainstream versions are a good bit pricier than these rivals, and much of the most appealing kit costs you extra. However, spec it correctly, and you’ll have a very appealing car that’ll offer plenty of satisfaction.