I first heard about the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class from a factory worker at the company’s assembly line in Pune. I was told that it was more like an S-Class with the all the new-age technology and features with which the larger Mercs were usually outfitted. The car was dubbed the “Baby S”, a reference to the company’s flagship luxury limousine. It sounded too good to be true, yet it didn’t make sense.
Why would a luxe player like Mercedes integrate an entry-level premium car with so many bells and whistles that it would start being compared to its top-of-the-line flagship product. Turns out the grapevine was right and Mercedes has its reasons. For one, the new C is a lot like the S-Class in terms of phenotype and genotype, which means look, feel and, to some extent, behaviour. Two, the world of luxury car buyers may be dominated by older industry captains and those on the Fortune 500, but there is a newer breed of entrepreneurs, young business owners, artists, entertainers and assorted professionals who want a luxury car that doesn’t burn a hole in their pocket. For this latter category of buyers, the Baby S offers an option of owning the three-pointed star without having to spend as much as one would to buy a small apartment in Mumbai.
Mercedes-Benz itself says 48% of all C-Class buyers are first-time luxury car owners (the rest are existing Merc owners). This makes the new C-Class an important transition or entry model for customers who might later upgrade to an E-Class, an S-Class, or a Maybach. The way people pick luxury cars has also changed in the past five years. In 2018, just 12% of premium cars sold were in the ₹1 crore-plus bracket, 48% were in the ₹50 lakh to ₹1 crore range, and the rest in the ₹40-50-lakh category. Today, it has changed to nearly 30% of luxury cars sold being priced at ₹1 crore-plus. The mid-range of ₹50 lakh to ₹1 crore has not changed much. It’s still at 47% of cars sold, but the number in the ₹40-50 lakh price band has dropped to 24%. The C-Class sits between two categories, priced at ₹55-61 lakh, depending on the variant and specs.
But to return to the car: Does the C look like the S? It does, in fact, with design cues that feature more rounded curves. Seated inside the sedan, the reason for the comparison with the S-Class becomes clear. The dashboard has been minimalized to project a floating effect, chrome brushed accents make it feel a class higher than it is, and there are wide expanses of premium leather across the seating and interiors. The circular air-conditioning vents light up, and there is a large sun-roof. The LED lighting, a common feature in most top-end cars now, has been included for the C-Class and the lights around the door handles are a nifty little touch, especially helpful when entering the car in the dark.
There is, however, more than just the cosmetics that make this car feel like it is more luxurious than it used to be. There is the latent and refined power lurking under the hood. The C-Class offers a customer three different engines, all assisted by a 48V Integrated Starter Generator, meant to improve performance and fuel efficiency. Of course, fuel efficiency is hardly a concern when one is buying a Mercedes-Benz but it does help to know that the car offers above 20km per litre stats for both its diesel models and near 17kmpl for the petrol model. The version I drove, the top-end C200 petrol model, also featured power domes on the bonnet reminiscent of the Corvette, and an engine with output of just about 200hp. Efficient dynamics and classic Merc engineering ensure that’s enough for mountain driving or cruising briskly on straight roads. If you’ve driven older C-Class models, you will realise this is nimbler and sportier. Push the C hard on tight corners, and it will not pitch or lean in a manner that some older Mercs used to. Not everyone may like the drastic changes to the model. One C-Class owner and CEO of a brokerage house who test-drove the car recently said while the ride and comfort was superlative, he preferred the more conservative design touches of the older models.
With prices between ₹55-61 lakh, the new C veers close to what an E-Class cost just a few years ago. Of course, all cars—whether German sedans or Indian hatchbacks—have become more expensive as a result of inflation in past few years. That’s something Mercedes-Benz is clearly aware of, yet thankfully, it hasn’t lost focus of either quality or customer satisfaction.
Pavan Lall is a Mumbai-based business journalist and author of Yes Man: The Untold Story Of Rana Kapoor.