In case you haven't been keeping up with the automotive news, there's something of a revolution going on in motoring circles as auto companies, for one reason or another, try to reduce their carbon footprint. And though much of the media hype surrounds electric vehicles and hybridisation, old-fashioned petrol-fuelled internal combustion engines are going to be with us for some time to come. How to maximise efficiency and minimise impact, then, has become a great subject of debate.
One of the consensus solutions is turbocharging; the reasoning essentially that a small engine requires less fuel in normal circumstances and the turbocharger supplies the oomph. Ford has been selling this technology for a couple of years as EcoBoost and now BMW has adopted it for all its M Division products. But only a cynic would give Ford credit for mass-marketing the turbocharger first, even in America. Chrysler produced thousands upon thousands of turbocharged fours in the '80s and Audi has been pushing its force-fed fours (first as the 1.8T and more recently as the 2.0T) in the A4 since 1996. Now Mercedes is getting in on the act, replacing the 2.5L V6 in some (but not all) C-Classes with a blown 1.8L four-banger.
But unlike the rather rough and tumble Kompressor 1.8L that used to power previous entry-level C-Classes, Mercedes' latest attempt at a force-fed four is full of the latest high-tech trickery; namely direct injection and twin balancing shafts that the company says counteract the four-cylinder's vibration enough to make it feel like a V6.
And, indeed, the little four- cylinder does measure up to V6s, at least those made by Mercedes. In every statistical regard, save one, the new four is superior to the outgoing V6. While their horsepower ratings are identical at 201hp, the four pumps out significantly more torque - 309Nm for the 1.8L four versus 245Nm for the 2.5L - and at a lower rpm than the V6 - 2,300 versus 2,900.
In real-world driving, the advantage is startling. While the (slowly) outgoing V6 may be a little smoother at the upper reaches of its powerband, the four is markedly better in every other qualitative evaluation. Where the V6 needs those high revs to muster enough oomph for even moderate acceleration, the abundantly torquey four spends most of its time relaxing below 4,000rpm.
And, of course, the 1.8L gets vastly superior fuel economy- according to Transport Canada, the new C250 offers a 17 per cent improvement over the V6. Indeed, my C250 Coupé averaged 9.1L/100km, not far off the slightly optimistic rating of 8.1L/100km.
Taking the C250 for a drive through the twisty back roads of Maine and New Hampshire, I kept the engine revving in its 2,000 to 5,000rpm sweet spot by rowing up and down the gearbox. Riding the turbo's broad torque plateau let me concentrate on squeezing the C250 Coupé through hairpins, where its relatively modest damping actually proved a benefit. The C250's tyres kept in close contact with the tarmac, no matter how pockmarked.
Precious little about the basic C-Class chassis has been revised, one presumes, because there was little demand for improvements. However, a new interior was called for; the previous version being completely out of step with the updates in larger models in the last few years. Now, even the least expensive C-Class Coupé shares the same basic dashboard and gauge motif as Mercedes' more expensive models. Large, twin A/C controls hold centre court below a row of aluminum toggles (for seat warmers, the traction control system, etc).
The gauge set is also all-new, far classier than the plastic dials of the previous generation and the centre console is much more in keeping with Mercedes décor. Depending on the trim chosen, it's possible to get a fully power-adjustable seat for the driver, while the passenger's is only partially electrified (for seat-back recline, but the fore and aft adjustment is manual). The only problem - though many lesser brands make the same compromise - is that Mercedes traditionally mounts its seat controls (shaped like a seat) on the upper door, while those for the passenger on the new C-Class are mounted on the side of the seat. The result is an oddly asymmetric look and, for those occasions when the driver becomes the passenger, they will be vainly searching, as I can attest, for the seat adjusters.
Nonetheless, the C250 Coupé's interior is up to the Mercedes legend and the interior décor is the biggest improvement to the entire 2012 C-Class line. Indeed, it's hard not to be impressed with the new C-Class Coupé. The 1.8L turbocharged four is definitely a welcome - and some more cynical than I might say necessary - addition to the line-up while the Coupé continues Mercedes' recent evolution into a sportier car company.
"At this point of the season it is more about focus than it is about the physical part of the game because everyone at this point is physically tired.
"It is to our advantage that he has been given these situations and he has delivered for us."