Despite this being the age of the SUV, one manufacturer has dared to stick with a much-loved estate. Charlie Flindt embraces the clash of old and new
There was a time (and you may find this hard to believe, kids) when the SUV didn’t exist. It was estate cars that did all the hard work back then. My childhood was full of Cortinas and Mini Travellers doing school runs and shopping, Volvos being very sensible and, bizarrely, an eccentric but charming farming neighbour who traversed all his fields (and ours) in his Mercedes estate.
His antics might explain why I’ve always had a soft spot for the five-door Mercs – they are practical and no-nonsense. And while many manufacturers are abandoning that body style, Mercedes Benz still perseveres. 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.
The answer? Yes – and no. The old-school stuff is still there: big four-pot diesel with enough grunt to twist the body as it stops/starts in traffic; and rear-wheel drive. Some Mercedes idiosyncrasies are still there: the steering wheel stalk gear selector, for instance, which necessitates a very crowded stalk on the other side, and banishes the foot-stamp parking 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 than half an hour prodding the main tablet to get rid of the garish purple interior lighting that revealed itself in the dark. I even swapped seats so that my dominant hand was doing the hard work, jabbing its way through a multitude of menu options. Even the steering wheel is suffering from 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.
All is forgiven, however, once you get out on to the road and the C300d comes into its own. The engine sounds lovely when worked, and is almost silent when cruising. The view out is good, the seats are excellent and it consumes miles with great ease. I was lucky enough to have the A30 almost to myself early one Saturday morning; driving experiences such as the Launceston to Exeter stretch with Dartmoor lurking menacingly to the south are few and far between these days. The Blackdown Hills bit was almost as much fun in the Mercedes, until I got stuck behind a load of straw. Did I swear at the farmer? Of course not; I’ve still got a barnful of my own to sell. He might be a buyer.
The latest C-Class is a clash of old and new. 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 entertained the idea of a trip across a field or two, but then thought better of it. It’s not that old school.
♦ Engine: 1,993cc four-cylinder turbo diesel
♦ Power: 265hp petrol/20hp mild hybrid
♦ Max speed: 155mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 62: 5.8 secs
♦ Combined fuel economy: 52.3mpg
♦ Insurance group: 39
♦ Price: £52,150