The C-class feels more matured and complete with a mid-life face-lift, writes KARTIKEYA SINGHEE

A t Mercedes, design revolutions don't happen every generation, certainly not twice in one generation! But with the W204, Merc has done exactly that. Despite its design being a drastic departure over its predecessor, the face-lifted ‘C' is a new creature. The new L-shaped headlamps mould aggression into an impressive, sleek form. Though SL-inspired, the new lenses are softly rounded and not as dramatically or geometrically flared on the C-class, which makes them all the more likeable. LED turn indicators are a must-have these days and you get a strip that spans the entire width of the headlamp at the bottom.

Immediately noticeable is the new bumper which borrows design cues from the E-class. A fine crease runs under each headlight and tips down into the new bumper. Sitting on a horizontal band, where the fog-lamps would normally be, the LED daytime running lights look great. Overall, the new face is more athletic and confident. It works so well that it makes the outgoing model look boring.

Look further on and you can see more bits borrowed straight from the E-class — the new, bigger rearview mirrors and the 17-inch wheels with 225/45-R17 rubber. The tail-lamps have been tweaked, with LEDs sharpening the C's appeal. It also features increased use of aluminium, saving 9.2kg on the bonnet and more on the front wings and the doors.

Mercedes has been very generous with the interiors. The sturdy dash design has been supplanted by what looks like a miniaturised E-class dash. It's hard to miss the E-class-like trapezoidal air vents at the centre console and the common shroud for the LCD screen and the driver's instrument cluster. The new, bigger central screen has higher resolution and doesn't sit stowed away under a lid. However, the graphics are still plain and the menu controls only a handful of car settings such as Bluetooth and music. But new features such as Bluetooth connectivity and the easily accessible USB slot in the central glovebox make the C-class feel more current generation.

The driver is treated to a new, sharper-looking instrument binnacle. The speedometer and tacho feel deep-set and are shaded by chrome-tipped hoods. The C-class betters the E-class as it now gets a high-res colour LCD display in the centre screen of the speedometer. Car settings such as ESP control and Park Assist can be controlled from here. A striking new four-spoke steering wheel with special inserts at the 9 and 3 positions adds to the cabin's youthfulness. Lower variants are likely to get a simpler three-spoke steering wheel though.

Build quality remains a strong point, the metal-topped roller controller for the COMAND system is superbly damped and feels like it would survive a nuclear explosion. The car's dimensions haven't changed, so passenger space remains as good or as tight as before.

For the road we had Merc's M271 EVO 1.8-litre turbocharged, direct-injection motor on hand. The C200 CGI felt sprightlier than expected. Power and torque remain the same but what makes the real difference is the gearbox. The C-class now uses the latest 7G-Tronic Plus version as its automatic gearbox. Improvements in electronic and hydraulic controls, torque converter housing design and a new transmission oil result in greater efficiency and improve responsiveness.

Compared to the old five-speeder, the driving experience is vastly improved as the faster seven-speed gearbox uses the wide spread of torque from the motor to deliver unruffled drives or hurried acceleration, depending on which drive mode is used. In Efficiency mode, the gearbox shifts up gears quickly to allow the C to cruise while keeping the engine revs low.

The gear changes are also smooth and unhurried for comfort while the new ratios improve efficiency as well. Press the accelerator down suddenly and there is some hesitation from the gearbox. However, when you switch over to the Sport mode, the gearbox is much more aggressive. It holds onto a gear longer, letting the engine run to its 6250rpm redline. The engine is a bit audible and you can hear a rasp and a whine at the rev limit. Kickdowns will result in more than one gear being dropped and the gear changes, though quicker, lack the immediacy of its rivals. However, the C200 with the 7G-Tronic Plus gearbox now feels satisfying and rewarding to drive.

The wonderfully fluid hydraulic steering offers a magical blend of feedback and low effort but what makes it special is the linear way it weights up. The suspension, like every Merc, offers sublime ride quality and remains flat even at higher speed. Except for a little stiffness at low speeds, ride comfort is at a different level.

Even though the new C-class isn't as sporty as it looks, it has never felt so young, cool or deeply impressive as this.

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