In the age of SUVs, one manufacturer is sticking with an estate that has been loved for decades. Charlie Flindt embraces old and modern
There was a time (and you may find this hard to believe, kids) when the SUV didn’t exist. Back then, estate cars did the work. In my childhood, I remember Cortinas, Mini Travellers, Volvos, and a charming farmer who drove his Mercedes estate across all of his (and our) fields.
His antics might explain why I’ve always had a soft spot for the five-door Mercs – they are practical and no-nonsense. Mercedes Benz continues to produce this body style despite many manufacturers abandoning it. The new C-Class estate, for instance, is the latest in a line that stretches back nearly 30 years – and I was interested to know if the current version can still be called vernacular.
What is the answer? Yes – and no. There’s still the old-school stuff: rear-wheel drive, a big four-pot engine with plenty of grunt for stopping and starting in traffic. The old Mercedes-Benz idiosyncrasies remain, such as the steering wheel stalk, which requires a very crowded shaft on the opposite side and does away with the foot-stamp park brake.
Mercedes has let loose the yoof on much of the interior, and if you enjoy Blake’s 7 space-rocket interiors with added enormous ‘tablets’, you’ll be thrilled. If you’re over 40 and like your dashboards to have some sort of dignity and ease of use – less thrilled. I spent more that 30 minutes poking the main tablet in order to remove the garish purple interior illumination which appeared when the car was dark. I swapped seats to make my dominant hand do the work of navigating through menu options. The steering wheel has been affected by the tech overload. My test car’s ‘multifunction sports’ steering wheel needed extra horizontal spokes to accommodate the frenzy of buttons. Keep your reading glasses handy.
Once you’re on the road, the C300d will make up for it. When working, the engine is very pleasant and almost silent while cruising. The seats are comfortable and the view is great. It also consumes miles very easily. The A30 was almost all mine early on a Saturday morning. Driving experiences like the Launceston-Exeter stretch, with Dartmoor lurking to the south, are rare these days. It was almost as fun driving in the Mercedes until I got stuck behind some straw. Did I swear at him? Of course not; I’ve still got a barnful of my own to sell. He could be a potential buyer.
The latest C-Class represents a collision of old and modern. If you can work your way through the new (pay a teenager to come out of his den for two minutes) and get it how you want it, you’ll have a roomy and comfortable old-school grand tourer at your disposal. I briefly considered a trip through a few fields, but decided against it. It’s not that old school.
Engine: 1,993cc four-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 265hp Petrol/20hp Mild Hybrid
Max speed: 155mph
Performance from 0 to 60: 5.8 seconds
Fuel efficiency: combined 52.3mpg
Insurance group: 39