Test Driven: Mercedes Benz C180 Blue Efficiancy Estate (7.5/10)Posted: July 19, 2012
My family and I had this Mercedes C180 Estate for two weeks during our recent trip to Germany. Here in America we have the Mercedes C class, but we do not have the wagon version nor the C180 model, so it was cool to try something a bit different. I have driven a few previous generation C classes over the years, however this was my first experience with the current generation, and this car was fitted with many of Mercedes’ newer gizmos and gadgets. So all in all this C180 offered many new things for me as an American driver, including driving in Germany for the first time.
The first thing I noticed about the car was that it was a Blue Efficiency model, not to be confused with Bluetec which is Mercedes’ diesel line. Blue Efficiency models have various features that improve fuel efficiency and emissions such as direct injection, lighter wheels and other components, as well as stop-start technology, among others. The C180 also has a small 1.8L four banger with a turbocharger, a change from the supercharger on the previous generation. All of this aims to make the C180 Blue Efficiency cleaner, and more economical, compared to the level of a similar standard car. During our trip I measured an average of 28mpg at the fuel pump (yes converting all of the metric measures), but keep in mind that this included very mixed driving that included everything from 90-100mph autobahn cruising to stop and go city traffic.
In America the C class is the smallest Mercedes sedan offered, but in Europe they have the A class and B class below it. Because roads are much narrower over there the C class did not feel nearly as small on the road as the ones I have driven in the States, and among other Mercedes cars on the road the C class is very much in the middle of the pack. The C180 itself is the entry level model for the C class in Europe, and it was interesting to see one in rather basic rental specification. The seats were trimmed in leather (probably leatherette) with mesh/cloth inserts, and were not fully power adjustable. The materials remained high quality throughout the cabin though, with nice metal trim and high quality plastics throughout. The seats were also very comfortable and supportive, as to be expected in any Mercedes. Even though it is the base model Benz, I would still say it meets or exceeds the quality of top line models from Ford, Toyota, etc. So, despite this being a far more bare bones model than any of the C classes we see in America, it is still a quality Mercedes product nonetheless.
The fact that the car was a wagon also made things more livable during the trip. There was just enough room for our three suitcases and our backpacks in the trunk so the back seat was not as cluttered as it would have been with a sedan. It is beyond me why Americans dont like wagons because the package they offer is by far the most practical. You get the space of an SUV/crossover, but you keep the fuel economy and good handling of a car (much less likely to flip over, and more able to avoid accidents). Many people complain about the looks of a wagon, but our C180 was as sleek and sharp as any modern Mercedes, with a beautiful swooping line that defines the whole car, if anything I prefer it to the sedan.
On the road the C180 has the low slung, solid feel typical in all Mercedes cars. The ride quality is superb, with just a minor thunk over bumps and dips. Driving position is also great and the steering wheel is fully adjustable. The ride is very smooth overall, something expected of Mercedes Benz.
The start-stop feature takes a little time to get used to, especially if you are not familiar with how it works. It is meant to save gas by turning off the engine when the car is stopped at a light for a decent amount of time, but I found that it would cut out even at stop signs when I only meant to stop for a second. The motor turns back on, when you release the brake pedal, in a fashion that isn’t completely smooth but also not worthy of any real complaint. There is a button to turn stop-start off on the dash, and we usually went without the feature. I found it to be useable at stoplights and when sitting in heavy traffic, but otherwise it can be a nuisance. This is especially so when trying to turn onto a road with lots of traffic while on an incline; stop-start takes the response away completely when you most need it. It is a good idea, but I think it would be better if you had to push the button to activate it when u want it verses already having it on when you start the car.
Germany has a variety of roads, some of the best in the world. I was able to try the C180 out on everything from unrestricted autobahn to winding alpine roads, as well as in cities and towns, so I feel well equipped to really judge the car’s abilities in the real world. Power wise the 1.8L turbo makes 154hp and 182ft/lbs of torque, which doesn’t seem like a lot in a car like this; and it isn’t when you really put the foot down. However it does have a wide powerband thanks to its turbo, so it makes the most of what it has. I would say it has some decent mid range pull in 2nd and 3rd gear, enough to pass and merge without any trouble. It isn’t overpowered and it isn’t underpowered, and for people who would buy a base model C class it is just perfect. I was able to hit the electronic speed limiter at 130mph (210kph) on some unrestricted autobahn with little trouble, and we routinely cruised around 100mph (160kph) on most of our road trips. So, it is definitely capable of more than enough speed for the average buyer in the real world.
On the winding roads of the Alps the chassis is very tight and composed through corners. It handles well enough to have fun, and its low-end power is good for quick bursts between corners. The automatic transmission works, but is pretty sluggish to respond in manual mode. Hitting the sport button also doesn’t really do too much to liven up the shifting or gear holding, but it is a noticeable improvement over economy mode. The steering is my biggest gripe though, while it is quick to respond there is no sensation whatsoever coming through it. This left me guessing how much to steer into a corner and constantly having to correct myself. So, while it offers enough ability on a winding road for the people who would buy it, it is not a pleasant surprise for an enthusiast like a BMW 3 series is.
As the base model C class, the C180 is fantastic. It offers everything you expect from a Mercedes in build and ride quality, and it seems to have found the optimal mix between fuel economy and useable power for most real world buyers thanks to its turbo engine. Would this car work in the US market? Yes it would. Most people I know with C classes (non AMG) know nothing about cars, and would probably be happier with a C180 than their C300 because it gets way better fuel mileage. It would be silly to bring the C180 to the US at this point though because Mercedes is already giving us the C250. It has basically the same package as the C180, just with 201hp from the same basic 1.8L instead of 154hp. So, having liked the C180 a lot, I can happily recommend the C250 to people in the US. It is by far the best package for the average Mercedes C class buyer. Now if only we could have the wagon model too….
WoM Score: Mercedes C180 Estate
Primary Function: Practicality: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(1), Performance(1), MPG(2): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 1
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1
Final Score: 7.5/10