When Dermot Kelly and I stood looking in admiration at the stunning new C63 AMG Estate, he used an unusual word to describe it: subtle.
Mr Kelly is the UK managing director of Mercedes-Benz Car Group and the C63 AMG is a C-Class Estate on steroids.
I told him that I didn’t think there was anything subtle about the four drainpipe-sized exhaust pipes and the chrome AMG badge, but in a way he is right.
Mercedes-Benz can look forward to selling around 60 of these 457bhp sledgehammers in Britain, along with 250 or so saloons, so it’s not going to make a massive impact on the average CO2 contribution from the Mercedes range.
It will sit quietly at the top of its sector, selling in small numbers to drivers who will quickly realise they have bought into one of the most thrilling cars on the road.
If the AMG styling isn’t quite subtle, it is tasteful and the enhanced curves and flares of the über-performance version complement the handsome lines of the new C-Class.
There’s a mesh grille and big wheels too, of course.
Mr Kelly will be the first to agree that there is nothing subtle about driving it though.
It is simply sensational. Powered by a 6.2-litre V8 petrol engine delivering 457bhp, it is fast enough. 173mph is fast enough, isn’t it?
The thrilling sound of the engine and the way the seven-speed automatic gearbox keeps it on the boil, even blipping the throttle between downchanges, stay with me long after the key has been taken back.
Most of us will be content with the ordinary C-Class Estate, possibly with the Sport package that is proving very popular on the saloon version.
It doesn’t turn the C-Class into a road-shredding beast but it does nod respectfully towards the AMG icon.
As Mr Kelly says, “People need an iconic car. Not brash, but overtly top-of-the-tree.”
The big news for the Estate is load-carrying capacity.
The new car has a longer wheelbase and wider track to help it swallow bigger loads.
Depending on how you configure the seating, the load capacity ranges from 485 litres to 1,500 litres.
That’s 10% more than the old car and, Mercedes-Benz claims, best in class. It certainly is, eclipsing the Audi A4 Avant and BMW 3 Series Touring on 442/1,354 and 460/1,385 litres respectively.
Let’s make that real for you. You could carry either: four golf bags, including trolleys; or nine large packing cases; or if you’re particularly thirsty and buy your soft drinks in crates of six one-litre bottles, there’s room for 44 of them.
The biggest fridge you can get in there would have a volume of 827 litres.
All the estates come with net covers, a luggage cover and collapsable shopping crate as standard and the tailgate opens and closes at the touch of a button.
There is an optional load securing kit if you want more partitioning.
With a choice of eight different four or six-cylinder engines, and the 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic gearbox available as an option on six-cylinder engines (standard on the C350), Mercedes-Benz is claiming an average 13% more power at the same time as a 6% reduction in fuel consumption.
And there are even more frugal C-Classes on the way, with a hybrid version promising 61.4mpg.
But for now we are looking at 41.5mpg for the C220 CDI with an automatic gearbox, the likely biggest seller.
The estate will cost about £1,000 more than the saloon and you’ll be seeing them on UK roads from next spring.
In 2003 Mercedes-Benz sold about 3,550 C-Class Estates and 45% of its business goes into fleet.
With the Sport spec saloon enjoying residual values of around 41%, the company has similar high hopes for the estate.
Behind the wheel
The cabin of the new C-Class is a huge improvement over the old car. The surface finish of the dashboard is a little dated but the layout and styling are excellent.
We drove the petrol C280 first followed by the big V6 diesel – the C320 CDI. The power outputs are similar, but the way the diesel delivers its power makes it the more versatile engine. It doesn’t seem to work the gearbox as hard.
The petrol is very slightly quicker to 62mph (7.5sec) from rest but the diesel is noisier.
Handling is very much like the saloon and the only clue towards the additional capacity is a very slight boominess to the acoustics of the interior. But looking in the rear view mirror the car seems to stretch back into the distance.
Estate cars are de rigeur – the shooting brake is back.
The C-Class has moved forward leaps and bounds and the estate version continues the progression. It’s a very enjoyable car to drive and offers great practicality.
|Model:||C280||C320 CDI||C63 AMG|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||228/6,000||221/3,800||457/6,800|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||221/2,500||376/1,600||442/5,000|
|Max speed (mph):||155||155||173|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||30.1||39.2||20.6|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||225||199||326|
|On sale:||Spring 2008|