When I was (much) younger, I distinctly remembered by dad telling me this: Iba pa rin ang Chedeng.
I tried to understand what he said more by actually getting a 1997 C-Class, and I totally got what he meant. From the cushy interior panels and supple seats, to the distinct whump of the doors, a Mercedes-Benz just feels so solid. Cliches aside, it really does feel like a bank vault on wheels.
The same still applies to the current generation C-Class. I had the chance to drive it a few years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sure, it was no hot performance sedan, but it offered something Benzes of the past lacked: feel and feedback.
Fast forward a few years later and Mercedes-Benz Philippines has brought in the updated and upgraded C-Class. These things are always welcome in any car, but will it feel any different from the one we tried out back in 2017?
But first, what's new with this C-Class? The most obvious are the headlights that have a new look and a new LED pattern. Front and rear bumpers are also new, which gives it a softer, more gentle-looking face, at least in my eyes. At the back, they've changed the LED signature on the tail lights... and that's largely it.
As far as exterior changes go, this is a mild one. Conservative? Yes, but the C-Class still looks good. As I said before, the C-Class looks like a mini S-Class and that's no bad thing. As someone mentioned, it's an S-Class but with the 'S' in lowercase.
It's just a shame that this particular tester came in white. It hides all the small styling details the C-Class has to offer. The crease that strikes through the fenders, doors, and quarter panel was washed out by the white paint, and you'll need a good eye to spot the defined line near the bottom of the doors. Grey suits this car well, but I'd like to see this in dark blue or Cavansite Blue as Mercedes-Benz calls it.
While the changes to the outside are minimal, it's not the same case on the inside. Yes, the dash and door panels are still the same, but the differences between this and the 2017 edition are far more noticeable. For starters, it has a fully digital instrument cluster which allows you to change whatever is shown in front of you. It's a nice touch that adds a bit of personalization to the car.
It has new graphics on the infotainment system too, no longer looking cluttered as with the older C-Class. The C-Class now also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, meaning you no longer have pair your smartphone to Bluetooth in order to play music, make calls, or set up navigation apps such as Waze. I found this feature very useful as it lessens driver distraction too.
Classic Mercedes-Benz cues are strewn all over the cabin. The hooded instrument cluster for instance harks back to the late 60's, while the round air-conditioning vents reminds me of a 1970's 200. The short dash is another thing Mercedes-Benz has kept for the longest time and it's present in the C-Class too. Then there's the new steering wheel with its smaller horn pad which, again, reminds me of classic Benzes.
If there was one thing that I needed to get used to, it's the new steering wheel controls. The usual buttons are there but I had to adjust to its touch-sensitive pads to move around menus. While it makes the wheel look clean, there will be those who will spend a minute or two trying to figure out how it works. Once you get used to it though, it becomes second nature.
As much as the new infotainment is a leap forward from the pre-update model, it does lag from time to time, especially if you're a little too exuberant using the scroll wheel that controls the system. And while I've gotten used to Mercedes-Benz's quirky electronic column gear selector, there will be those who might question the automaker for going for this sort of arrangement.
Space, meanwhile, is about on par with its contemporaries. Like most of its rivals, it is rear wheel drive, making interior packaging a bit of a challenge. Legroom is adequate although sitting three at the back will be awkward due to the high transmission tunnel, which is the case for most cars in its class like the BMW 3 Series and Lexus IS.
Pop the hood and it's still the same 1.6-liter turbo engine that powered the C180 we drove about two years ago. Power and torque ratings are unchanged, still delivering 156 PS and 250 Nm of torque respectively. What is different is the transmission its hooked up to. The seven-speed automatic now makes way for a nine-speed unit, which should help fuel economy. Also, there are various drive models to choose from with Economy, Comfort, Sport, Sport + and Individual.
Out on the road, the C-Class delivered power smoothly and seamlessly with the compact turbo engine acting and pulling more like a (muted) 2.0-liter mill. It never felt strained and remained composed even in passing situations. The new transmission helped too, delivering immediate response when you need it most. It even comes more alive when you put it in sport mode. That said, comfort mode will be more than enough for most. It's no sport sedan, but it can deliver the goods.
Economy was good too. From 8.4 kilometers per liter with the seven-speed transmission, it's now up to 9.2 kilometers per liter with this nine-speed automatic in similar traffic conditions (18 to 19 km/h average). I wasn't able to spend time with it on the highway, but Mercedes-Benz's claim of 16 kilometers per liter seems very achievable. With that many gears to choose from, it might even do up to 18 kilometers per liter, provided you have a light foot.
Another thing I noticed that changed was the ride. This new one felt firmer, which is likely due to the sport suspension package fitted to this tester. Mind you, it's not stiff with impact harshness being kept to a minimum, but if you're expecting the soft, wafty ride of old Mercedes-Benzes, you won't find it here. Instead, what you get is a supple ride with body control kept in check to prevent that floaty feeling.
But while the ride is firmer, its reflexes have been enhanced. It's still no sports car, but it takes on corners with more enthusiasm now. The car we drove back in 2017 was a surprise in a way that it offered feel and feedback, something lacking in past models. This one however, with its sports suspension, just felt more taut and agile. I will admit that some of its rivals are still more fun to drive, but the C-Class can still deliver smiles when you're taking the long and winding road back home.
At Php 3,290,000, this 'base' C-Class is far from bare. It now has power seats with memory, Bi-LED headlights, loads of safety kit, a much improved infotainment system, and better audio. The old C-Class was less that Php 3 million pesos but didn't have most of those features.
As I said before, the C-Class is a competent car. It's comfortable (albeit slightly firmer than before), somewhat fun to drive, delivers good fuel economy, and it's well built. It comes as no surprise that it nails the luxury sedan essentials; this is a Mercedes-Benz after all. Expectations are high in cars such as these, not just because they cost a lot of money to buy, but because the brand has a reputation to uphold too. Thankfully, the C-Class sticks to the brand's values, even in C180 form.
I think Dad would have loved it. Iba pa rin daw kasi ang Chedeng.