The new gearbox is part of the first major revision of the C-class since it was launched in 2000.
Mercedes-Benz says that the revised C-class has a better quality gearshift than previous models and the manufacturer has high hopes for it in the fleet market, especially as the manual versions now comply with Euro IV emissions regulations.
A spokesman said: 'In the past we have suffered from a reputation of not having good manuals but this one is more dynamic and involving.
'We are expecting a better take-up with the new manual and initial feedback has been good.'
The company is also hoping that demand for the manual transmission a few years down the line at disposal time will be strong.
'In three years people will be used to the new transmission box and be aware of it, so used-vehicle demand should be high,' the spokesman said.
In spite of – or perhaps because of – the strength of the new manual, Mercedes-Benz has cut the price of its automatic option from £1,450 to £1,000.
In the revised C-class, the saloon and estate feature a new engine in the line-up.
The old six-cylinder C240 has been dropped in the UK and a new 192bhp C230 Kompressor with a supercharged 1.8-litre power plant has been added – although Sport Coupe aficionados will already recognise this engine.
The C-class offers a choice of four four-cylinder petrol engines – one of them a direct-injection unit. The four cylinder engines are all supercharged, which according to Mercedes-Benz, smoothes vibration and makes for a more refined drive.
Mercedes-Benz was building a C200 CGI direct injection petrol engine but has no plans to launch this in the UK yet.
The system, which is similar to Audi's FSI set-up, needs sulphur-free fuel to operate but a lack of this in the UK means it is holding back on the launch until the fuel becomes more widely available.
In a market mainly made up of business drivers, the more efficient C200K and C230K are better bets for running costs and benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax than the C240 was.
The C220 CDI has also been revamped, now offering 150bhp compared to its 143bhp predecessor. However, Mercedes-Benz is banking on the C180K attracting more company car drivers than the diesels.
The spokesman said: 'The C180K Classic SE will be very important in the corporate market and with the sports pack, it will be our best-seller.'
But the C200 CDI and the C220 CDI are both Euro IV compliant when fitted with the new manual transmission, so are also likely to be contenders in the fleet market as they will avoid the 3% diesel surcharge for benefit-in-kind (BIK) taxation.
The saloon will be the most popular model in the range, accounting for 65% of sales with most buyers opting for the Elegance trim. About 26% will go for the Avantgarde and 33% for the Classic, according to the firm.
The sports pack is now available across the whole range and Mercedes-Benz says it features a sporty, dynamic suspension configuration and more direct steering and gear shifting.
There have been a few minor exterior changes to the C-class. It has redesigned the bumpers adding clear-lens headlamps and a set of newly designed alloys with wider 205/55R 16 tyres.
A new scratch-resistant paintwork based on nano-technology has also been introduced as standard.
On the inside, the dashboard had been smartened up. The centre console has a smattering of new switches, there is new trim for the door linings and climate controls have been redesigned.
Bigger wheels are also now standard. Climate control has also been re-introduced as standard. Mercedes-Benz removed it a couple of years ago but has re-introduced it following customer demand.
Behind the wheel
WITH the fanfare surrounding Mercedes-Benz's new manual transmission, it seemed appropriate to take to the road in the version the firm believes will attract more company car drivers than any other model in the range.
Sampling the C180K Classic SE, it quickly becomes obvious that the new six-speed gearbox is much improved. It has a shorter, slicker shifting action and is quite precise. Although it's a big leap forward for Mercedes-Benz, it perhaps puts the C-class on a par with the BMW 3-series for user-friendliness, but is still not as clean as in the Audi A4.
Gear changes still don't seem as smooth as they could be so it remains to be seen how many drivers will choose it over the excellent automatic transmission.
With a 143bhp engine, even the entry-level C-class has a good punchy pick-up with plenty of power when you ask for it. The new sports suspension has a firmer ride, although it still keeps lumps and bumps to a minimum.
The steering is nicely weighted, needing a firmer hand at speed while reacting to a lighter touch around town, but both the clutch and accelerator pedals seem to have been designed for hefty size 10 feet. After about an hour behind the wheel, my dainty size fours felt as though they had been through a thorough work-out – good for the calf muscles but not so good on long journeys.
A switch to the C230K Elegance SE auto found leather trim giving a more upmarket ambience to the cabin compared with the somewhat drab cloth, but the extra power – 192bhp – was only marginally noticeable over the C180K.
Although having the auto dented the performance in the C230K overall, it made driving a more pleasant and relaxed experience. The automatic transmission is faultless, breezing between changes almost unnoticeably to give drivers the chance to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Now Euro IV compliant, the C220 CDI manual is one of best diesels in its class, providing hushed performance on the move, with only a hint of clatter at idle giving the game away that it's a diesel. All the CDI engines in the C-class range now use second-generation common-rail technology, with improvements in power, torque, fuel consumption and noise.
The C220 CDI is keen to accelerate from low revs, even though it is perhaps difficult to feel the full benefit of the 7bhp power upgrade in this latest version.
The C-class is an all-round improvement, thanks to the latest tweaks and changes. The manual is leaps ahead of what it used to be but will it be enough to tempt many company car drivers to give up their automatic? I think not.
|Model (6sp man saloon):||C200CDI||C220CDI||C270CDI||C180K||C200K||C230K||C320|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||122/4,200||150/4,200||170/4,200||143/5,200||163/5,500||192/5,800||218/5,700|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||199/1,600||250/2,000||295/1,800||162/2,500||177/3,000||192/3,500||228/3,000|
|Max speed (mph):||129||139||143||138||145||150||154|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||44.9 (41.5)||44.1 (41.5)||41.5 (39.8)||37.2 (33.6)||35.3 (32.1)||34.9 (31.7)||25.9 (27.7)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||167 (180)||169 (178)||181 (189)||183 (202)||192 (202)||192 (214)||263 (242)|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gals):||62/13.6||62/13.6||62/13.6||62/13.6||62/13.6||62/13.6||62/13.6|