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Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Lexus IS: Mercedes wins 2014 car of the year award

Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Lexus IS: Mercedes wins 2014 car of the year award

LONDON: Getting a bunch of motoring writers to agree about anything is difficult. Getting them to agree about cars is nigh impossible. Finding consensus about the best car? Forget it.

So when just about every motoring writer in the country is in furious agreement about the best vehicle to hit the market in 2014, you know it must be good.

And the Mercedes-Benz C-Class certainly is that. Staggeringly good.

Judges from News Corp Australia and Fairfax, those rarely aligned rivals, were unanimous in naming the C-Class as their respective car of the year.

Our national motoring clubs, in their annual Best Cars Awards, agreed. As did online giant Carpoint. Plus a handful of others.

The German manufacturers claim this car changes everything might be immodest, but it’s also true. This new C-Class is a game-changer.

Until about 10 years ago, Mercedes-Benz played catch-up in this compact luxury segment with BMW’s brilliant 3-Series a clear class leader. A new C-Class released in 2007 narrowed that gap and an update of that model three or four years back put Benz marginally in front.

But now the three-point star has opened a gap on the field to rival the dominance of its Silver Arrows Formula 1 cars.

What’s so impressive about this new volume-seller for the world’s most famous car maker? Well, lots.

It’s bigger yet lighter, more powerful yet more fuel efficient, sportier yet more luxurious and has added a welter of new technology with no corresponding lift in price.

Most of all, it has given a large and growing number of Aussies access to the world’s best technology.

Cars such as the C-Class, 3-Series, Audi A4 and Lexus IS are more affordable than at any time in history, and as a result these prestige badges are replacing high-end Commodores and Falcons in a growing number of Aussie driveways.

The new C-Class, in raising the bar for this segment, will hasten the trend.

Of course, there’s a risk when a car has been awarded, lauded and applauded to such a degree that you’ll feel slightly let down when you actually get to drive it.

Not this time.

And the C-Class carried an added burden when it visited our place. You see, our family car is a C-Class sedan of the just-superseded model, one that has served us magnificently over the past couple of years. So there was also a bit of personal curiosity in play when we grabbed the keys to this all-new version.

I’d have to say that, as impressive as the previous model was, this one runs rings around it. It’s better in every way.

My wife perhaps summed it up best. She reckons it looks and feels more like Benz’s luxury S-Class than a car for mere mortals such as us.

There’s more than a hint of S-Class in its styling, presentation and even with many of the safety features recently unveiled on the new S, including a package called Intelligent Drive which incorporates a collision avoidance system, blind spot and lane-change warning systems and attention assist to alert a drowsy driver.

The C-Class will park itself, read traffic signs for you, dim its headlights for oncoming traffic and apply the brakes, at speeds up to 200km/h, to avoid crossing traffic or stationary obstacles.

The C-Class has grown by 95mm in length (with 80mm longer wheelbase) and 40mm in width, yet it’s about 100kg lighter which, in turn, helps deliver a 20 per cent improvement on fuel efficiency, despite the engines being more powerful.

It will be offered with three distinct trim variations – Avantgarde, an Exclusive luxury package and the sport-focused AMG line – with a five engine choices. These include two turbo-diesel and two turbo-petrol variants and the first-ever hybrid C-Class, the C300 BlueTEC hybrid with a thirst of just 3.6L/100km.

A 245kW V6 option is likely to arrive later this year, along with a V8-powered AMG variant.

The base-model C200, the car judged the year’s best by virtually all of the nation’s leading motoring awards, enjoys substantially upgraded standard equipment for a starting price just over $60,000, plus onroad costs.

That includes a collision prevention system, LED headlamps, 18-inch alloys, electric seats, blind-spot warning system, satellite navigation, electronic park brake, self-parking system, keyless start and a five-mode Agility Select system.

Upgrade to the C250 ($68,900 plus onroads), which we tested, and you add 19-inch alloys, full leather trim plus an upgraded driver assistance package.

A seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic is standard across the range, one of the few carry-overs from the previous model, although even that has been tweaked.

It’s in the cockpit where the C-Class feels so special. Mercedes-Benz claims it’s akin to being upgraded from economy to business class on an aeroplane, which captures it nicely.

It’s unmistakably a clone of the bigger, much more expensive S-Class, particularly the dash layout with a horizontal row of simple but clever switches to adjust all manner of cabin functions. Nudge the temperature or fan button up to raise the temperature, down to reduce it.

It’s aesthetically pleasing, too, from the classy-looking turbine-style vents, finished in polished alloy, to the glossy lacquered or woodgrain trim.

A vivid 8.4-inch colour display screen sits atop the centre stack, not integrated into the dash as in previous models, providing a visual feature in a beautifully sculpted, soft-surfaced dash finish.

Instruments are likewise clear and classy, with a comprehensive trip computer in the centre of the two main dials.

For the first time, the C-Class features a head-up display, beaming speed and sat-nav instructions into the driver’s field of vision – a feature we first encountered in BMW some years ago but one which has finally been embraced by Benz. The car will even recognise speed limits and alert you if you’re sneaking over.

Other design cues are pure Mercedes, with the electric seat adjustment placed on the door trim with buttons arranged to look like the seat itself.

Like other Benz models, the C-Class has done away with the gearshift lever, replaced by a stalk to the right of the steering wheel as found in models such as the S-Class, new E-Class, and smaller CLA and GLA variants.

Outside, the styling is crisp and very pleasing to the eye. It is swoopy and sexy, yet doesn’t look overdesigned. Proportions are just right.