Mercedes-Benz was initially slow to react on the petrol side of the business, but a few years ago made significant improvements in fuel consumption and emissions with their four-cylinder petrol engines.
Last summer, when the C-class was given its first major revision since it was launched in 2000, the company dropped the six-cylinder 2.6-litre C240 from the UK line-up.
The result is that all the four-cylinder petrol C-class models are now powered by the same 1.8-litre ‘twinpulse’ engine with supercharger attached, offering a choice of 143bhp, 163bhp and 192bhp power outputs.
The 192bhp model comes courtesy of the C230 Kompressor, until last summer only available in the Sport Coupe model, but now on sale in both saloon and estate.
This motor fills the gaping hole in the range following the departure of the 170bhp C240, and does it with obvious benefits to company car drivers.
Using four cylinders instead of six, the C230 Kompressor offers lower carbon dioxide emissions and better fuel consumption than the outgoing 2.6-litre V6. The compromise is that you don’t get the silky smooth engine note and syrupy response of a six-cylinder car. But the market would suggest that many drivers have gone for the lower cost option.
There was nothing ‘low-cost’ about the C230 Kompressor estate we had on test. The Avantgarde SE model, with five-speed automatic transmission, was priced at £27,990 on-the-road, about £2,000 more than the equivalent Audi A4 Avant. Mercedes-Benz has traditionally been a little more than its premium rivals but has normally made up lost ground through strong residual values. Changes to the C-class last summer have resulted in significant improvements in perceived quality and a more dynamic looking exterior.
Clear lens headlamps and revised bumpers make the difference on the outside, while inside there are revised instruments and an updated dashboard centre with new switches. The Avantgarde SE also comes with sporty aluminium trim, which some drivers (including me) will prefer to the wood-trimmed Elegance SE model.
The C-class has never lacked boot space compared with rivals. A useful 470 litres is available up to window height and 1,384 litres up to roof height with the rear seats folded – 200 litres’ greater capacity than an Audi A4 Avant.
The C-class has never quite measured up to the BMW 3-series for driver appeal, although Mercedes-Benz has improved matters for the latest version of the C-class. Our test car came with the optional ‘sports package’ priced at £630, which includes, along with a few cosmetic changes, lowered sports suspension.
The C-class can appeal to driving enthusiasts, with virtually roll-free handling, plenty of grip and a firm but still smooth ride. The supercharged engine is quick to respond to throttle inputs and when the automatic gearbox kicks down the car feels lively. However, the engine note lacks emotion – Audi’s 200bhp 2.0 T FSI engine has a superbly sporty note despite also having four cylinders.
Three rivals to consider:
IT’S no surprise that the Mercedes-Benz is most expensive in this category, but the price gap raises a few eyebrows. The BMW is closest to the C-class on price, although choosing the Sport (which has sports suspension and M styling kit as standard) would have made it the most expensive. The Audi is the most powerful car in the comparison, but is second only to the Jaguar for P11D price. The Jaguar has four-wheel drive as standard and is under £26,000.
THE C230 Kompressor is expected to cost £2,346 to maintain over three years/ 60,000 miles, ahead of only the BMW 325i, which would cost £2,670. Unlike previous road tests that include diesel 3-series models, there is no free servicing on petrol derivatives, so it’s unequivocally last in this comparison. The Audi would cost about £150 less than the Mercedes to maintain over the same period, while the Jaguar’s SMR bill is £1,896 – more in line with a mainstream car.
FOUR cylinders has a significant advantage over six when it comes to fuel consumption, and Audi’s use of fuel-saving FSI technology, turbocharging and a fuel/CO2 neutral Multitronic automatic transmission gives it a clear advantage over the C230. The Audi’s advantage over the C230 Kompressor’s fuel cost over 60,000 miles of £7,740 adds up to £684 over 60,000 miles based on the combined fuel consumption figure. There is a £504 gap between the C-class and 3-series, while the 325i and X-type are separated by £606.
WITH the exception of the Jaguar, all of the others have CAP Monitor residual values of about 37-39% over three years/60,000 miles.
However, the Audi’s lower front-end price gives it a £1,200 saving over the BMW and nearly £1,700 over the Mercedes-Benz. The Jaguar has a CAP Monitor RV of 34% so, despite having the lowest list price, it cannot keep its advantage in the depreciation battle.
THE Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor Avantgarde SE scores a comfortable margin over the BMW 325i SE and the Jaguar X-type 2.5 V6 Sport, but is still more than £2,500 more expensive to run over three years/60,000 miles than the Audi A4 Avant S-line 2.0 T FSI. The A4 is effectively 10% cheaper than our C-class, which would certainly have an impact on a company’s balance sheet where these cars are available to user-choosers.
Emissions and bik tax rates
FOR a petrol car producing more than 190bhp, the C-class makes a decent fist of its CO2 emissions. However, the Audi does better and its P11D price is £2,000 lower. The result is that a 40% taxpayer in the Mercedes-Benz would pay £278 a month in BIK tax, compared with £225 a month for the same driver in the Audi. Both the BMW and Jaguar are costlier for drivers, with monthly BIK bills of £297 and £310.
FEW Fleet News road tests have such a definitive result. The Audi’s running cost advantage is so significant that, even if it was a mediocre car, it would snatch the win from the C-class. The fact that the A4 is highly competent only underlines its advantage. The C-class is a strong second, however, looking a more desirable prospect against a 3-series Touring about to be replaced and a thirsty Jaguar.
WINNER: Audi A4 Avant
Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor estate Avantgarde SE auto
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £27,792
CO2 emissions (g/km): 216
BIK % of P11D in 2005/6: 30%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 31.0
CAP Monitor residual value: £10,900/39%
Depreciation 27.47 pence per mile x 60,000: £16,482
Maintenance 3.91 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,346
Fuel 12.90 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,740
Wholelife cost 44.28 pence per mile x 60,000: £26,568
Typical contract hire rate: £527
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle