Mercedes Benz C-Class Coupe: Desire drives mass attack

Consumer call for a sweet-looking, sophisticated two-door medium Mercedes is clearly strong – it’s here in force.

WHAT’S that about luxury two-door, four-seater cars being niche fare?

Not according to Mercedes Benz here. If having three versions of the C-Class Coupe here now seems extravagant, wait until year-end.

By then the count will have risen to five, with a pair of AMG hotties: the usual C63 S with a roaring V8 followed by Affalterbach’s newly-devised starter model, the V6-powered C43.

And that’s in hardtop form. By Christmas, too, its sister ship, the similar-silhouetted cabriolet will have arrived … in four forms. Benz still isn’t being too specific but it seems every petrol coupe will replicate in open-topped model.

So, that’s nine flamboyant formats. So much for these things being select choices. Clearly this is a much bigger club than you or I might have realised.

Except … well, by the distributor’s own admission, it really still isn’t. Benz didn’t want to say too much about its long-term volume projections when it took New Zealand media to Victoria, Australia, for a preview drive of its four-cylinder offers.

It would only share its expectation for the number of Coupes it intends to have into the market for the remainder of this year because that count, of slightly above 100 units, comprises a fixed consignment.

But as for the prediction for 2017, when every kind of cab and coupe will be available? “We’ll just wait and see,” spokesman Matt Bruce smilingly commented. Yes, there’s always uncertainty about market response to such honed product, but also “the battle we’ve got is with allocation. We hope it will be clarified by 2017.”

Looking at the car, you can see why there’s a degree of quiet confidence. The ‘eyes’ really have it with this latest shape.

The commonality between the $77,400 C200 I drove from the Mercedes showroom at Melbourne airport out to Glenbrook, a sleepy hollow country town in the Dandenong ranges, the $93,900 C250d diesel I rode in for whirl through the hills and the C300 - a $97,900 opportunity with the same 2.0-litre petrol as the C200 but in a measurably higher state of tune – that I drove back the dealership is plain to see.

All three serve up style in spades, moreso even than the C-Class sedan whose smart looks assuredly were a factor in it being Benz’s best-seller in 2015.

The Coupe, though, is all the more graceful still and, though the general layout – up front at least – is akin to the four-door’s, it has even more of a quality ambience within, too. Overall, this simply has to be one of the best-looking models in the Mercedes range; sleek, sporty and perfectly dimensioned.

There’s true dynamic talent, too, that made for greater confidence negotiating forest roads slick with wet plant debris. I’ve no doubt the bahn-storming $172,900 AMG C63 and its yet-to-be-priced C43 little brother would have been even more talented, yet the poise and dexterity shown by the less overt editions suggest they’re not showboats, either.

The Coupe gains a new four-link front axle with suspension decoupled from the spring strut, which “contributes to agile handling characteristics”, according to Benz, while a new multi-link rear suspension set-up helps ensure “straight-line stability”.

Light-alloy components used for the bonnet, bootlid and wings have helped reduce weight over the old model and the body is now stiffer and stronger, aiding safety and dynamic performance. Enhanced dimensions – it’s 95mm longer, 40mm wider and with an 80mm-longer wheelbase – allows for more head, shoulder and elbow room in all four seats, though it’s still a cosy cabin for those relegated to the back seats. All powertrains are Euro 6 compliant and are matched with idle-stop technology.

Sharp looks and tight dynamics are all well and good, but is that enough to command interest when so much of the prestige car customer base seems so keen now to simply buy into something from the ever-broadening sports utility sector?

The C250d certainly makes a case on the driving side of things. The 500Nm torque wave rather than the 150kW power optimum ensures this twin-turbocharged 2.1-litre four-cylinder has lots of easily-accessed haul, though it clearly has fire, too, to achieved a claimed 6.7 second 0-100kmh sprint time. The engine also revels being in harness with the latest nine-speed 9G-Tronic DCT automatic (the petrols have seven-speeds) that delivers benefits of suave shifts and sipper economy, with an optimum 4.4 litres per 100km claimed.

Yet as much as Benz here and in Australia contends that there is still enough life in the luxury mid-size coupe segment to warrant a diesel coupe, the bother of Road User Charges and refueling such a swish product from the dark side of the forecourt are issues that cannot be ignored.

Also, there’s the small  matter of the next addition to the GLC family being a coupe – not quite of the same ilk as the road-bounds model, but still likely to seem a better bet if it arrives with the same powerplant for similar, or even slightly more money. Assuming Benz bothers; it has been surprised that, with GLC, too, 60 percent of current sales volume is contained by the petrols.

It’s not so hard to for NZ to dip a toe with the C250d Coupe, all the same. Our market and Australia take a common specification, so if it proves a poor performer here conceivably it’s simple enough to redirect product to our neighbour (and vice versa).

Bruce assures the car shouldn’t be considered a punt. “We recognize there’s not going to be a big uptake. Diesel sale is low in C-Class, the C250d sedan is doing okay but it will be a smaller volume in the Coupe. Yet there’s still a buyer for it.”

Realistically, the C200 will – as in the sedan format – be the coupe sales load-carrier, with up to 60 percent of perceived volume and the bulk of the remainder coming to the C300, up to 30 percent and the remnant with the diesel. But that’s an interim ratio, set to tweak again when the AMG cars come on line.

“The C63, we think, will continue as it did with the previous generation and achieve 20 percent of volume.”  So what of the C43, whose arrival around year-end will be three-pronged: GLC, SLC and C43 coupe? “We think that’s really exciting. It’s a great proposition that will increase our AMG volume globally and will provide a new entry point into the brand.”

The C200 certainly doesn’t undersell as an entry point car. With 135kW and 300Nm, the 2.0-litre direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder has punch - 0-100kmh in 7.3 seconds – and parsimony, with potential to see an optimum 6.0 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle.

Nonetheless, there’s definitely extra sparkle out of the C300, the most powerful non-AMG variant. Its 180kW/370Nm turbocharged four-pot petrol has a feistier sound and the 0-100kmh performance in 6.0 seconds reflects that there’s sizzle to match. Optimum fuel burn doesn’t suffer too much, with 6.6L/100km claimed.

Obviously, the AMG 63 S will assert far more strongly. How could it not with a 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo engine smashing out 375kW/700Nm? Benz quotes a 3.9s 0-100kmh time and there’s also the potential for it to offer an even more pronounced dynamic flavour than the sedan. Much has been made about the enhanced agility resultant from a Coupe-specific 12-link rear axle and axle carrier which pushes the wheels a further 25mm out.

The Coupe, of course, is also all about presenting a luxury statement. The C200 starts strongly with brushed aluminium trim and a leather flat-bottomed steering wheel plus some AMG body styling, sports suspension with the Sports Direct-Steer system and AMG 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. It is well-provisioned on the technical side, with Garmin Map Pilot navigation, digital radio and five-speaker audio, dynamic select drive modes, keyless start, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 7.0-inch TFT colour display with touchpad control, Bluetooth connectivity, Active Parking Assist with front and rear parking sensors, LED head and tail-lights and cruise control with speed limiter. 

Safety features include a 360-degree camera, nine airbags, a driver fatigue detection system, blind spot warning, Collisions Prevention Assist Plus Pre-Safe accident anticipation system, Brake Assist, Adaptive Brake with a hold function and hill start assist.

The C250d adds leather upholstery, the Driver Assistance Plus package with Distronic Plus, Pre-Safe and Pre-Safe Plus, privacy glass, Keyless-Go which includes keyless entry and automatic boot opening and 19-inch 14-spoke AMG alloys. Slide in the C300 and it has everything listed above plus a sports exhaust system, a 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system and the Comand Online connectivity and multimedia system.

The AMG C63 S will add multiple AMG styling and interior flourishes, an Intelligent Light system, panoramic glass sliding sunroof, metallic paint, Nappa leather upholstery and additional safety features. The full C43 specification and pricing has yet to be outlined.