C-level rising
CAR|December 2021
We travel to Mercedes-Benz South Africa headquarters for an exclusive first drive of the stunning new, locally built C-Class
Gareth Dean GarethD_CARmag
ETA: DECEMBERMERCEDES-BENZ C300D

Engine: 2,0-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel + 48V mild hybrid Transmission: 9-speed automatic Power: 195 kW@ 3 800 r/min Torque: 550 N.m@ 1 800 r/min 0-100 km/h: 5,70 seconds* Top speed: 250 km/h Fuel consumption: 5,00 L/100 km* CO2: 132 g/km Rivals: Audi A4, 3 Series, Lexus IS

When Mercedes-Benz South Africa invited us for an exclusive first drive on local soil of the W206 C-Class at its East London plant, it would be the latest instalment in a history of quality cars produced locally for a discerning global market. The facility opened in 1950, with marques as diverse as Nash, Packard, Fiat and Auto Union rolling out of the factory door. In 1958, Mercedes’ W120, W105 and W180 models joined them. The first W202 C-Class rolled off the line in 1994, setting in motion a legacy of C-Class production that has spanned close to three decades – the W203 to W205 would follow – and see the facility grow in both stature and reputation. It won JD Power quality awards for six years in a row and truly cemented its status as a world-class production hub.

In 2018, the plant was earmarked as a major contributor in the manufacture of the W206 C-Class and received investment to the tune of R13 billion.

This sizeable investment in MBSA’s East London facility included the construction of state-of-the-art paint and body shops, upgrades to the assembly shop and logistic warehouses in a project spanning 100 000 m2. Speaking with Dr Liebrecht Otto, Plant Project Leader: New Generation C-Class at MBSA, it’s the spirit of yeyethu (Xhosa for “it is ours”) that embodies everything that has led to the construction of the latest C-Class in SA. He explains this ethos runs through everyone on the team; from factory floor to boardroom level.

Two examples of this passion and effort sit quietly outside the imposing main entrance to the plant’s administrative centre. Underpinned by the MRA2 modular platform that’s servicing the new S-Class, the W206 is slightly larger than its forebear: 25 mm longer in the wheelbase, 10 mm wider and 65 mm longer overall, but 4 mm lower. The styling is more rounded and smoother than its already svelte predecessor. The profile, with its bowed roofline, thick C-pillar and short rear boot deck that slopes into the rear facia, gives the W206 a slight coupé-like frame that will appeal to those averse to the standard three-box sedan layout.

Climbing aboard, the first thing that strikes you is just how clean the facia is. Barring the ignition button and rotary dials for the headlamps, there are no physical buttons. The imposing tablet of the MBUX infotainment screen is crowned by a trio of eyeball air vents and a digitised instrument panel. With lashings of soft-touch trim and stitched leather, it’s a wonderful fusion of tradition and future tech.

Our first acquaintance with the W206 was a left-hand-drive C300d 4Matic (the darker-hued car). We won’t be getting this model in SA but it forms a vital part of MBSA’s “out of Africa” offering of models that will be exported to more than 100 markets worldwide.

You may ponder the value in exposure to such a model but the fundamentals of the C300d are close to those of the C220d that will form a significant proportion of the W206s destined for local dealerships. This model’s fourcylinder OM654 DE20 R SCR 2,0-litre turbodiesel is an uptuned version of the powerplant that will produce 147 kW and an identical 400 N.m in the C220d.

Developing 195 kW in the C300d, this unit punches well above its displacement. At low engine temperatures and idle, it does exhibit some of the “tappetiness” we’ve come to expect from a four-cylinder common rail unit tuned to high outputs. Once on the move, vibration melts away and the engine is incredibly refined and effortlessly responsive.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM CARView All

Evolutionary Tactics

If you’re not prepared to wait indefinitely for a 911 GT3 and think the Carrera S flies a little low under the radar, the finessed-yet fiery GTS is here to tide you over

7 mins read
CAR
January 2022

Hybrid for the people

Toyota is making a play for a sizeable chunk of the compact SUV market – and the time could be right for a hybrid

4 mins read
CAR
January 2022

Thrill seeker

How does the recipe of award-winning B58 engine mated with all-wheel drive translate in the M2’s performance understudy? We head to Bavaria for our first taste

5 mins read
CAR
January 2022

VW Golf VR6 (1993-'96)

Forget GTI

3 mins read
CAR
January 2022

X claims the spot

BMW’s electrified follow up to the i3 promises much. We grab seat time in the flagship xDrive50 to see how the electric arms race is progressing

6 mins read
CAR
January 2022

Honda Prelude (1984-'97)

Honda has always been rather good at sporty coupes

3 mins read
CAR
December 2021

Gr8 expectations

It's more sophisticated than ever but remains one of the most balanced hot hatches you'll encounter

6 mins read
CAR
December 2021

SUZUKI VITARA BREZZA 1,5 GLX Keeping it honest

The Vitara badge is one of the pioneers in the compact SUV segment but is its associated heritage enough to mark the Brezza out as a class leader?

10+ mins read
CAR
December 2021

MAXIMUM ATTACK

The F1 title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has ignited the sport in 2021 ...but theirs is not the only example of an F1 rivalry that's boiled over into sheer melodrama

6 mins read
CAR
December 2021

Land Cruiser of plenty

With a revered list of forebears and giant tyre tracks to fill, much is expected from the all-new Land Cruiser 300

4 mins read
CAR
December 2021