C major

IT SEEMS that most sedan launches these days are welcomed by that unmoving elephant in the room — one that is, to be fair, readily acknowledged by motoring journalists. Sometimes, in fact, we are only too eager to point it out.

And so without much preamble, Auto Nation Group, Inc. (ANG) Chief Operating Officer Frankie Ang just addressed it in a straightforward fashion. “In a world of SUVs, Mercedes-Benz sedans continue to make their mark. The success of the A-Class, the E-Class, and the S-Class, proves that luxury sedans are here to stay,” he said last Thursday to the gathered invitees ahead of the local unveiling of the all-new C-Class at the Mercedes-Benz showroom at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

The executive of the official Stuttgart-headquartered luxury auto brand’s distributor in the country asserted that the compact luxury model is “a key pillar” of the Mercedes-Benz success. “Here in the Philippines, the C-Class is undoubtedly one of the most loved luxury sedans. It has enjoyed customer preference — with over 2,000 units sold since 2005,” he reported.

And though it is not the entry point in the stable of the three-pointed star, the C-Class line does have a unique value proposition that surely helps to drive its sales. This attribute does not appear in the usual brochure — but is just as, or even more compelling than tangible features. You see, the C-Class is widely known as the “Baby S,” referring to its bigger, and more illustrious sibling that is the S-Class (if you want to know, it stands for sonderklasse or special class).

For starters, it takes a generous serving of inspiration from the S-Class in terms of gait and appurtenances. Said Mercedes-Benz Philippines in a release, “It carries the latest innovations and modernizations that give the styling elements, substance and technologies (of) the flagship S-Class.”

Speaking to “Velocity” after the launch, Mercedes-Benz Philippines Assistant Vice-President for Product Management and Training Benjie Bautista pointed out the kindred qualities of the two models. It starts with the exterior, he maintained, such as the long wheelbase, which is accentuated in the C through shorter overhangs. The LED high-performance headlamps with daytime running lights are also similar. “But most striking of all,” he insisted, “is when you look at the back of the car. The separated, wedge-shaped taillamps with full-LEDs call to mind the S-Class (and E-Class) lighting.” The C also cuts a decidedly more authoritative presence with pronounced “power domes” on the hood for a more “sporty and masculine character.” The exterior is complemented by a elegant 18-inch multi-spoke light-alloy wheels shod with run-flat tires.

The “baby” — technically still a compact luxury sedan — has done some growing up as well when compared to its predecessor. The wheelbase has stretched by 25mm, overall length by 65mm, and width by 45m. The fifth-generation C also clears the ground by seven millimeters more. According to Mercedes-Benz, these numbers translate into not just more cabin space but improved driving dynamics, too.

Inside, the S-Class homage continues with the next generation of the Mercedes-Benz MBUX multimedia system (first seen on the, yes, S-Class). The NTG7 system “now gets more connectivity features and the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice command system. The driver can also operate the MBUX in the multifunction steering wheel via touch control buttons.” While we’re at it, the C-Class now boasts Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for app action such as Messages, Spotify, Waze, and more. That’s downright millennial, I know.

And that’s the point: The C-Class has been designed to appeal exactly to the people who are tech-savvy and, well, generally younger. While Mr. Bautista said that the C-Class will attract the same “core segment” in the sphere of E and S customers, he added that the C “caters to the new generation.”

Other S-Class inspirations are found through the execution of the cabin and even in the use of materials and color keys. Mr. Bautista told us that the simplification of controls and the presence of capacitive switches, the wealth of ambient lighting colors available (64, if you’re wondering), even option of hues for the seats (Sienna Brown and Macchiato Beige, in addition to the usual black Artico leather) were previously confined to the S-Class. It’s all about systematically improving and heightening the brand experience, and the executive said to expect these innovations and touches to gradually roll out to the rest of the lineup.

A tablet-like 11.9-inch floating central display touchscreen — slightly oriented toward the driver — makes for easier reading and operation. Another digital screen — already standard on many Benzes — measuring 10.25 inches supplants the traditional physical gauges. This large screen display can also be changed to suit the one’s druthers: Classic, Sport, and Understated modes, for starters. It can also show driver assistance menus.

While there may arguably be a foundational shift in a market generally crazy over SUVs, Mercedes-Benz continues to believe that there is business to be had in sedans. “They’re here to stay; without these models, SUVs would not even be present,” insisted the executive.

For his part, Mr. Ang distills the main tenets of the C-Class into three “Cs” — comfort (will make passengers “relaxed and extremely comfortable in the space”), connectivity (“total connectivity in today’s digital world — supporting interactions between the driver and the car”), and control (“power meets efficiency… and with improved driving dynamics”).

The new C-Class, to be initially available here in a lone C 180 Avantgarde version, is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gas engine that delivers a maximum of 170hp and 250Nm. Significantly, the C-Class now comes with an electrified drivetrain — only the second in the portfolio to boast it. The first? You guessed it: the S-Class.

The C-Class is a mild hybrid, courtesy of the brand’s second generation of EQ Boost-branded tech. An integrated starter generator and 48-volt power supply assist the internal combustion engine by providing up to 15kW of power and up to 200Nm of additional torque — leading to better acceleration yet lower fuel consumption.

All the power is delivered to the rear wheels, courtesy of a 9G-Tronic AT transmission. Mercedes-Benz boasted that there are “barely noticeable gear changes for a smooth yet engaging drive.” The transmission is also biased for lower revs for even better fuel efficiency (and a quieter drive). As with other Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the C-Class allows the driver to tailor the characteristics of the vehicle through Dynamic Select which “tweaks the engine, suspension, and steering of the car” at will.

The larger exterior dimensions of the latest C translates to more space inside in terms of legroom and headroom. Seats are also electrically adjustable for the driver and front passenger through the aforementioned capacitive switches. The vehicle also remembers up to three seat settings for the front occupants, along with four-way lumbar support to adjust the seat contour for an even more comfortable ride.

A Thermatic dual-zone automatic climate control system can be easily adjusted on the central display, and boasts an activated charcoal filter to remove dust and reduce harmful chemicals and substances.

As for safety, the C-Class has a complement of seven air bags — including a two-stage-deployment air bag for driver and passenger, side bags, window bags, and knee bag for the driver. Blind Spot Assist warns when a vehicle enters the driver’s blind spot, and other driver assistance systems such as Active Brake Assist, Active Parking Assist, 12 ultrasonic sensors in the front and rear, a reversing camera, and Attention Assist help to complete a shell of protection.

During the Q&A session, we asked about the rollout plans for electrified Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the region. Mercedes-Benz Malaysia President and CEO and Mercedes-Benz Cars Southeast Asia Region II Head Sagree Sardien replied, “Our global direction, as you might be aware, is that we plan to accelerate the transformation to an all-electric future. As announced by Mercedes-Benz AG, we plan to go at least 50% of electrified vehicles by 2025, and by the end of the decade go all-electric where possible.

“What does this mean for Southeast Asia specifically? We are also committed to accelerate the transformation of electrified vehicles by doing so we determine by a market basis what is the right vehicle portfolio to bring in, the timing, the readiness of the charging infrastructure in the respective countries but more important for us right now — we invest the energy and time to ready our sales force and after-sales environment to be ready for all-electric. We really hope that in the Philippines, that the degree and the intensity of electrification and acceleration starts to speed up, and I can assure you that we are 100% to bring electrification to the Philippines, and we look forward to how this market actually develops in the future.”

I spoke to Mr. Ang before the program, and he assured that while vehicle production is still impacted negatively by an industry-wide parts and chip shortage, the situation is steadily getting better. The wait can be as little as one to two months, bearing in mind that this also factors in the customization requests clients can make. The C-Class units are shipped from the Mercedes-Benz plant in South Africa.

The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class Avantgarde has an introductory price of P3.89 million. For more information, visit Mercedes-Benz showrooms at Bonifacio Global City, EDSA Greenhills, Alabang, and Cebu City; or www.mercedes-benz.ph.