Stepping into the C200 Sport test car, one notices how the basic interior architecture is notably different from the previous model, which was soft and flowing in character. This is more 'blocky', with flat surfaces that echo some of the old W202 C-Class in the shape of the binnacle hood, the glovebox or the air vents for instance. It's not as hard-edged as the new GLK but it's certainly shifted to a more masculine direction that's less generic than before - in many ways more distinctively 'Mercedes' - and arguably less likely to become dated over the life of the car, in contrast to the exterior.
From the driver's seat, first impressions are of the shallow screen with short A-pillars, yet there is good overall visibility with the beltline lower than screen base. The 45mm increase in wheelbase over its predecessor provides a good interior package too, which is not far off that of a 1980s E-Class. For the first time in a C-Class, adults can sit comfortably in the rear behind a six-foot driver.
The interior design is a classy arrangement composed in tones of black and silver. Sport pack highlights include brushed aluminum inserts with chrome accents on doors, although the silver surround to the instrument pack looks slightly cheap. The instruments themselves continue the lovely Mercedes feature of having a needle that rotates from the outer edge, leaving the center of the main dial free for digital displays. Other nice touches include HVAC controls with small red chaplets that illuminate the temperature as the outer ring is rotated, a flat-topped center armrest with double opening lid for telephone and oddments storage and the familiar Mercedes roller shutter-type storage in the front console. Less impressive was the nighttime illumination. The instruments are illuminated in an attractive purplish-white, yet the information display in the center is warm gray, while the main control lighting is soft orange - all somewhat uncoordinated compared to rival BMW or Audi cabins.
The Sport pack includes very comfortable half-leather sports seats that grip the upper body nicely. Seat backs are not excessively tall and the headrests are agreeably compact and don't dominate the cabin as on many premium cars. Neat details include paddle shifters on the steering wheel and a center information screen that can be operated either via the MMI controller in front of the armrest, directly on the center stack, or from the steering wheel.
Overall, the latest W204 C-Class is, in many ways, the best current Mercedes design, avoiding the excessive fussiness of some other models, yet having a substantial curb presence that belies its compact size. In terms of space and price balance, it represents a very good package that will ensure it will continue to be a huge sales success over its seven-year model life. Be at Geneva in 2014 - the new C-Class will be there, bang on schedule. Better put the date in my diary.
Interview: Gorden Wagener, VP Advanced Global Design, Mercedes-Benz
Interview: Prof. Peter Pfeiffer, Senior Vice President of Design, Mercedes-Benz
Review: Mercedes-Benz CL-Class
Review: Mercedes-Benz CLC