Mercedes-Benz C200K Avantgarde: breaking with tradition
drives the Mercedes-Benz C200K Avantgarde, and ﬁnds that
ﬂash and the German accent come free
Expanded from issue
25 of Lucire
Coby Duggan assures me that the C-Klasse gets flasher than this.
He points out that the C200K Avantgarde that I am collecting does
not have sat-nav, a feature that we were discussing only a year
Back then, Duggan told me that New Zealand was
further down the pecking order as far as the Swabians were concerned
in getting sat-nav for cars. But leave it to the Germans to impress
you. They may say it’s low priority, which in German terms means
that you get it on Monday rather than Friday.
Still, I was familiar enough with Auckland to
not require it. It’s not as though I suddenly found myself teleported
to the middle of Frankfurt—or had I?
There’s no denying that you feel that you are
behind the wheel of a German car. Mercedes-Benz hasn’t stayed still
since I drove this model’s predecessor in 2004: the company has
seen how people admiring the interiors of Audis and has upped the
quality. Finally, you feel that this Mercedes isn’t as tinny as
the old W203 based on the sound of the doors shutting and the quietness
of the cabin. This is not a Stuttgarter’s equivalent of a Ford Taunus.
However, there were a few odd things about the
interior. There’s an awful lot of silvery aluminium between the
dials, a place where I expected a dark grey or charcoal. I don’t
need to feel like there aren’t enough dials, seeing all that metal
I can understand the logic: ah, the logic. The
Germans. All the extra information m such as the clock or which
gear I was in is now digitally displayed in the centre of the speedometer,
so there is no need for all those dials. It is simplifying the cabin
for a modern life that we all know has become too busy. And, hopefully,
it will get us to concentrate on driving and enjoy the road.
The C is probably the first Mercedes-Benz that
has had a unique ad campaign for New Zealand. Not only did Duggan
hand me the traditional German brochure, I got a briefer one headed
Love the Road, tying in with the Kiwi advertising. Never
mind that the font is identical to that of the Warehouse’s slogan.
And it might not matter: the C is priced to challenge BMWs and Audis
and you might just be heading to Mercedes-Benz, where everyone gets
a bargain, rather than Lexus, where everyone gets a Toyota.
This campaign underlines how important the C
is. It probably hasn’t escaped the local HQ
that the A4 is the topselling Audi in New Zealand. ‘How dare this
front-drive sedan challenge the supremacy of Stuttgart?’ it will
People are drawn to the A4 and the 3-series based
on the promise of either fourwheel- drive capability or the over-engineering
and wank factor. In this, Mercedes has found the C difficult to
define. It’s a compact sedan that’s, um, smaller than the other
Mercs. Except the A- and B-class.
However, this time Mercedes feels it’s on to
something. This is a road-hugging, dynamic C. It has taken extra
shots to make it a performance sedan. It has taken Vitamin C class.
Mercedes-Benz has made quite a lot of play on how it has given the
car a larger footprint and a wider track, and redistributed the
weight so more of it goes rearward. In other words, the car should
be better balanced.
And it is. Mercedes-Benz’s engineers have got
it right on this aspect. The chassis is capable, as I found myself
testing it on difficult roads to the west of Auckland city. It quietly
copes with the twists and turns far better than the old C, which
suddenly feels geriatric by comparison. You sense that the supercharger
keeps the power up as the C200K soaks up kilometres on the motorway,
making it a great cruiser, too.
But one thing continues to let the C200K down:
the gearbox. Shifts on the sequential ’box are still about as rapid
as Helmut Köhl getting out of his limousine. It’s where Audi
has Merc pipped, even if this car has the front-driver licked on
overall dynamics and the chassis.
At the end of the day, however, people read this
column not for horsepower ratings and they might not even care about
the gearbox. The enquiry is still: does this car rate stylistically?
While out in the southern part of the city, I
somehow found myself sitting behind an X-type Jag. You know, the
one we don’t even mention when we compare compact executive sedans
because it’s too lame to consider. The one that looks like it should
be driven by Mrs John Prescott and not Sting.
I have a soft spot for the X. All the curves
that were oh-so fashionable in 1968—let’s be fair, curves were also
very “in” 10 years ago—suddenly looked old hat next to the creases
and sharp lines of the C. It reminds me of those days when people
were junking Mk II Jags because they weren’t razor-blade cool like
the Fiat 130 or Lotus Esprit. Fashion has come back to that point
in 2008 and cars should be edgy, their shut lines and feature lines
rising upward, without concern for the restraint of Bauhaus geometry.
I felt like I was modern next to the ancient of the Jaguar. The
Mercedes-Benz C200K is the sedan you should be driving if you want
to show that you are ahead of the game, knowing what’s new and knowing
what’s around the corner. You feel avant-garde, which brings me
to the next point.
The C200K I had was in Avantgarde trim, which
means there is no longer a traditional Mercedes-Benz grille and
a three-pointed star on the bonnet, pointing up to tell you where
the front ends. Instead, there is a coupé-like three-pointed star
inside the grille.
Through my lifetime, this feature was reserved
for Mercedes’ sport cars and commercial vehicles. The A- and B-class
were exceptions but by Mercedes standards, they might be thought
of as utilitarian. Never had it been applied to a sedan, at least
not by Mercedes itself. Putting the big logo into the grille was
something that after-market souperuppers did. They were usually
the rich Arab or Chinese types and once upon a time they were rather
showy, hanging chandeliers from the interior.
Mercedes-Benz has seemingly acknowledged that
all this is going on and has allowed a trim level out of the factory
like this, stock. And it’s right here at the front where the C-Klasse
breaks the rules about what a Mercedes is.
Once upon a time, the Mercedes-Benz was the choice
of doctors and sensible professionals. And taxi drivers. Not for
sporting drivers. Now, to signal its intent, the C Avantgarde says,
‘Look at me. Look at me. Do not bloody buy me as a taxi.’
Drivers who want more tradition can still opt
for the Classic and Elegance trims, where they can still get a regular
Mercedes sedan front end.
But Mercedes is chasing that younger customer
and even if the combination of the coupé grille and four doors seems
odd now, I’m willing to bet that we’ll get used to it.
And Mr BMW Man
might just be tempted out of the 3-series as a result, while the
straight lines might just do the same with Mr A4.
The battle continues in 2008 when the new A4
arrives. Then, it’s going to get, in the words of Arte Johnson in
his best German accent, ‘Very interesting.’
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