Testdrive Loaded with features and a new Stuttgart engine, the Mercedes-Benz C-class is a well-rounded car

As the subtle CGI (Charged Gasoline Injection) badge on the bootlid indicates, this C-class is the first Benz in India to get Stuttgart's new range of direct-injection turbo-petrol engines. It means Mercedes is serious about bringing its latest tech to India. It also means that this is the best small displacement motor (for a Benz) that Merc has ever had in India. This replacement for the C200 K, is more powerful, has more torque, is smoother, drinks less fuel and does less damage to the environment than the old supercharged engine. Sounds like a dream? We're about to find out.

At 1796cc, the volume of this engine is exactly identical to the C200 K's, but with 186bhp and 29kgm, it makes 6bhp and 4.5kgm of torque more than the C200 K. And, if you need further proof that direct injection is the way to go, this little 1.8-litre motor makes more torque than even the range-topping 2.5-litre V6 motor in the C250.

This broad band of torque is evident the moment you select ‘D' and tap the throttle. Power delivery, though not as linear initially as the supercharged motor, feels strong, and once the turbo kicks in at about 2500rpm, you can't stop smiling. The C-class feels effortless on the highway thanks to the wide torque band and once past that miniscule bit of lag, it's just one long turbo-induced surge till it starts running out of breath at 190kph.

The C200 CGI achieves peak torque at 2400rpm (1100rpm lower than the C200 K's torque peak) and makes it all the way to 4000rpm, making it feel vastly more effortless to drive than its predecessor. Like most turbo motors, it's got a particularly strong mid-range and pulls hard till its 6250rpm redline.

Flex your right foot enough and it'll hit 100kph from rest in 8.4 seconds, but it's the swift and unruffled way the engine pushes the ‘C' to 180kph that makes it so fitting in a Mercedes-Benz. But, it isn't quite as immaculately polished in its refinement — it's quite audible when revved and not as silent as the TSI engines from Volkswagen.

Six-speed gearbox

What spoils it? If anything, it's the five-speed auto. For the most part, it does a decent job, but when you want to drive it enthusiastically, it sometimes refuses to downshift, or upshift as quickly as you would expect. You have to coax gearshifts out of it by lifting off the throttle and this can spoil the fun.

Also, this car has a BlueEfficiency badge on its flanks, but there's not much fuel-saving tech offered in Indian cars. Elsewhere, the C200 CGI with the six-speed manual gearbox gets a start-stop function, low-rolling resistance tyres, smaller mirrors and a power-steering pump that disengages when it is not needed.

As for fuel efficiency, on our tests, the CGI did seem to work its magic. We got 8.3kpl in the city and 11.5kpl on the highway, which is a noted improvement over the 7kpl and 10kpl that we saw in the C200 K.

The rest is the same. You still get that composed ride whatever speed you are doing, and that typical Merc cabin hush that's only accentuated by the quieter engine. You also get that high-quality interior and decent amounts of interior space. It's well-equipped, especially on safety features — it's got Merc's Pre-Safe and Neck-Pro system, eight airbags and adaptive brakes. Our test car came in Elegance trim, which gets partially powered front seats and a COMAND system that only commands the audio system. But the only trim you can buy now is the top-of-the-line Avantgarde trim, which means you get the sportier grille, wider tyres, two-zone climate control, leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, six-CD changer, fully powered seats and the anti-theft warning system.

The C200 CGI in this Avantgarde trim costs Rs 29.62 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), which is not a whole lot more than the Rs 29.13 lakh Merc was asking for the C200 K Elegance. Mercedes will offer the cheaper Elegance and Classic trim in a few months.

The C-class has always been a good performer and this new engine adds an extra punch. The direct-injection turbo-petrol complements the C-class' brilliant dynamics and makes it a much more appealing car to drive. It comes loaded with safety features and though some functions are missing, it is a very well-rounded car. Merc's latest tech also helps improve its fuel efficiency and this is an added bonus.

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Mark this MercDecember 8, 2009