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Mercedes-Benz C 200 2018 Road Test

A facelifted Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Big deal, right? It looks the same, and no doubt drives the same as its predecessor. But, surprisingly, the firm’s claiming to have given the BMW 3 Series competitor its most comprehensive mid-life update ever, with more than 50 per cent of parts replaced or updated.

That might be hard to believe if you look at the photos, as the cosmetics are broadly the same. There are new front and rear bumpers, tweaked headlights and some fresh alloy wheel designs, along with new colours. Hardly groundbreaking stuff.

There are bigger changes under the bonnet. There’s an all-new 1.5-litre petrol engine assisted by a 48-volt mild hybrid system producing a combined 184PS, which we've tested here. Other engines include a 2.0-litre diesel from the E-Class (badged the C 220 d) and the 3.0-litre V6 biturbo petrol in the AMG C43, with power boosted by 23PS compared to before.

While the interior looks largely the same as in the outgoing model, there's a new 10.25-inch infotainment system that's standard on all models, as well as an optional 12.3-inch digital cockpit display instead of conventional dials. It's the technology that was starting to show its age on the previous C-Class, so these updates ought to give the best-selling Mercedes-Benz a stronger chance against the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.

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The interior ilovely in a junior S-Class way, but it doesn't benefit from the latest infotainment used in the smaller A-Class. Instead, you have to do without a touchscreen and use a touchpad or steering wheel controls to perform simple tasks in the multimedia system. If we hadn't seen the slick infotainment in the new A-Class, that wouldn't necessarily be an issue... but we have. It's excellent and it would be nice if the C-Class had it. Maybe next time.

To drive, the 1.5-litre is surprisingly potent for such a small engine. The 48v mild hybrid system (named EQ Boost) bridges the time the turbocharger takes to build up to its full charge pressure, meaning you'll be hard pushed to noticed any lag. It also shortens the time the automatic transmission takes to change gear by boosting the engine's rpm between gear changes. As such, you'll barely notice the gearbox as it jumps between its nine (count 'em) gears.

But hybrid tech isn't all about the refinement and performance benefits. In a bid to improve fuel economy, the engine will turn off in certain situations when you lift off the accelerator. Kinetic energy from the moving car is recuperated and pumped back into the battery.

In truth, you'll barely notice the engine kicking in and out. In fact, as hybrid gubbins go, the C200's 48v system isn't particularly intrusive. The result is an official combined 46.3mpg under new WLTP fuel economy tests. That's impressive for a petrol in this sector, even when you take into consideration the claimed 50.4mpg of the old model under the NEDC test.

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What you will notice is the thrum of the engine when cruising at motorway speeds. It's not overly intrusive, but it does take away from the Mercedes-Benz experience slightly.

Handling wise, it's business as usual for the new C-Class. It's fine, handling bends perfectly well with little body roll (especially if you select the Airmatic dynamic handling package with its self-levelling suspension), but it's not as exciting as the BMW 3 Series. We've been writing that for at least 25 years and it's still the case today.

There's more added tech, such as cruise control which now uses data from the navigation to adjust the speed if you're approaching a roundabout or a tight bend. Even the climate control is linked to the nav - enter a tunnel and it closes the air recirculation flap to prevent dirty air from outside the car entering the cabin.

It would be wrong to dismiss the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class as a mild facelift, then. But has the brand done enough to catapult it ahead of the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series? Quite probably. The interior is lovely, the engines are top notch and there's little to dislike about the new entry-level C200. We'd like a slightly more advanced infotainment system and would prefer a degree of extra refinement in the C200. But that's being picky.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is on sale now.

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