Mercedes delights and frustrates

My first drive of the new Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Estate Sport was a mixed experience. Out on open country roads it was a delight to drive, providing greater driver involvement and feedback than any Mercedes saloon or estate car I can remember. But in stop-start motoring conditions it was another matter.

Firstly, I can never get my brain around a manual gearbox car that has a foot-operated parking brake. Foot parking brakes may work reasonably well with an automatic. But even with the hill-start assist on the test car, it was simply not as reassuring as a good, old-fashioned handbrake. In traffic queues you tend not to apply the parking brake and have to sit, instead, with your foot constantly on the brake pedal.

Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Estate

Then there were the gear ratios and the actual gearchange itself.

I get the distinct impression that this car has been given very tall gearing (deliberately on the high side) to try to eke out the best-possible economy figures. The result is that it needs a change down to get a reasonable response from under the bonnet. There is a ‘sport’ button which does help produce a more lively response, at the cost of fuel consumption.

Certainly, using the right gears at the right time, the performance is good. The 0-62 sprint is accomplished in a 8.5 seconds, which is quite rapid for a diesel estate.

I also wonder if the hunt for outstanding economy has resulted in an over-eager fuel cut-off. My occasional very un-Mercedes like ‘kangaroo’ starts in trickling traffic queues suggest it could be.

The bottom line is that – especially as I was not that enamoured with the rather heavy gearchange – I would splash out the extra £1,125 on the automatic gearbox. I have to add the caveat that I have not driven the automatic. But it seems pretty certain to me that it would be a much better driving companion for all the foregoing reasons.

Thus equipped, I could imagine myself being extremely happy with the Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI and I could get on with appreciating its many good

These start with classy looks. Outside and in, the C220 looks the part and – despite some sizeable areas of plastic (albeit high quality plastic) in the interior – the response from passengers was very positive.

Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Estate interior

Other than my issues with the manual box, the C220 Estate drives superbly. You get the impression that one of BMW’s chassis engineers took a wrong turning one morning and ended up working with the Mercedes-Benz development team. There is a sporting tautness about the set up of the C220 that is combined with its very high levels of refinement. Show it a corner and it just goes round, rewarding the driver with precise responses and good feedback about the road.

As a result it feels well balanced in its handing and very much at home on both narrow country lanes and faster sweeping roads.

Economy, if you resist the temptation to press the sport button, is remarkable for what is quite a sizeable car. I managed an excellent 44 mpg on my daily commute, but this would drop to a still highly creditable 38 mpg when I decided the ‘sport’ button was essential. CO2 emissions are also low at 161g/km for the manual or 180g/km for the auto.

Practicality scores highly, too. There is a good big load floor. Owners will be delighted with the standard automatic powered tailgate. Press the release and it opens electrically, press another button and it shuts. Particularly in winter, this is a great plus – you don’t have to get your hands dirty shutting a filthy tailgate.

Mercedes-Benz C220 tailgate

Mercedes-Benz claim that the new C-Class Estate has one of the largest load compartments in its class. They have also equipped it well and I like the attention to detail, which includes elasticated pockets on either side of the boot, a 12-volt power outlet, lashing hooks and a neat folding shopping crate in a compartment under the boot floor.

Make mine an automatic. The manual Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Sport Estate is priced at £29,640. I would advise driving the auto, then considering the extra £1,125 even although it does knock five to six mpg off the combined fuel economy.

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