The Mercedes C-Class is the oldest car here, but don’t discount it just yet. With its desirable, upmarket image, high-quality cabin and refined driving dynamics, the classy four-door still deserves top billing in any corporate car park.
There’s no arguing about how it looks, especially in the racy Sport trim tested here (the car pictured is a C250 CDI but looks identical to the 220). The subtle AMG bodykit, gorgeous seven-spoke alloys and bold chrome grille (complete with huge three-pointed star) help disguise the C-Class’ slightly fussy and old-fashioned lines. Also included on this range-topping model are powerful bi-xenon headlamps and eye-catching LED tail-lights.
Inside, the Mercedes’ age is more obvious. Despite a recent update, the square dashboard design looks dated next to the slick set-ups in the BMW and Audi. And while the fit and finish are excellent, the materials used in the C-Class’ cabin aren’t up to the same high standard as those in its rivals.
Still, a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment means it’s easy to get comfortable, while the single-stalk operation for the wipers, indicators and lights soon becomes second nature.
The Mercedes is also generously equipped, with Bluetooth, an iPod connection and dual- zone climate control all standard. What’s more, the Artico artificial leather trim does a decent job of imitating the real thing.
However, the C-Class has the most cramped cabin of our trio, and passengers in the rear get less head and legroom than in rivals. There’s plenty of interior storage and the 475-litre boot is only five litres smaller than the 3 Series’ and A4’s, but you’ll have to fork out an additional £250 for the practicality of a split-folding rear seat.
The Mercedes also lost out at the track. Its 168bhp 2.1-litre diesel is the least powerful engine here, so the car trailed the BMW by 1.4 seconds from 0-60mph, with a time of 8.7 seconds. The four-cylinder engine sounds gruff when worked hard, while the six-speed gearbox is clunky and vague.
On the road, it’s better to shift up early and rely on the Mercedes’ muscular 400Nm of torque. The C220 feels remarkably swift when you do this, with strong and confidence-inspiring overtaking ability.
Lowered suspension and direct steering mean the C-Class is agile and composed through corners. It’s not as sharp or engaging as the BMW, but it’s more fun than the Audi. It also rides better than the stiffly sprung A4, thanks to standard adaptive dampers. Factor in low noise levels and the C220 CDI is the second best long-distance cruiser here.
But this is undone by a high £31,380 price and poor economy. Whether you’re a company or private buyer, the Mercedes will cost the most to run, so the odds are stacked against it.