PUBLISHED: 12:07 17 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:53 20 February 2013
Liam Bird reviews the Mercedes C-Class and Seat Ibiza Cupra
A touch of C-Class
Ihave a confession to make. Ive always thought that Mercedes built cars that appealed to the slightly older driver. While German rivals BMW constantly told us it was making the ultimate driving machine and relative upstarts to the executive market, Audi, talked about its vorsprung durch technik the team at Benz quietly got on with the job and went about its business with an understated air of professionalism.
In comparison, Mercedes always seemed to produce slightly less sporting, some might say less dynamic cars, that for some reason didnt seem to appeal to younger clientele in the same way as BMWs 3 series or Audis A4. But could it be that Mercedes was selling to a more discerning customer? Those, who like the manufacturer, wanted to go about their business slightly more discreetly.
Thats certainly the impression you get when youre lucky enough to spend a few days getting know the Mercedes C-Class. Even in Sport trim, the C-Class remains more understated than some of its Bavarian rivals. The 17-inch AMG wheels, sideskirts and front apron enhance its styling without drawing too much attention. While the stainless steel tailpipes, high-gloss B-pillars and matt silver grille, complete with the famous three-pointed star only serve to enhance an already elegant design. Even the BlueEFFICIENCY badges, indicating that although its the Sport, the C180 CGI has been fitted with low rolling resistance tyres and Start-Stop technology to reduce tail pipe emissions, have been discreetly placed on the front wings, rather than scattered across the boot lid.
Inside, you get the same feeling of refinement too. They say that the devil is in the detail and its details such as sculpted door handles, aluminium door inserts, precisely damped switches and a driving position that can be adjusted so its perfect, rather than just comfortable, that put the C-Class in a class above. Shut the door and your efforts are rewarded with a solid-sounding thunk. Having one column stalk rather than two means the area around the beautifully soft leather steering wheel rim remains uncluttered. The multi-media screen glides back under its cover atop the dashboard and the finishings that look like leather or stainless steel are leather or stainless steel, rather than some kind of look-a-like polymer. All this makes the Mercedes feel as though its been engineered, rather than bolted together.
The engineering can be felt out on the road too. The C180 CGI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport (to give it its full name) may only get 156bhp but the power delivery feels incredibly linear. Body control is good and even when pushed harder the going never feels anything but composed. The steering weights up nicely as the speed builds. However, the most noticeable thing about driving the Mercedes is how quiet it is. Wind and road noise never seem to be intrusive and its perfectly easy for both front and rear passengers to enjoy conversation without the need to raise any voices.
Fuel economy may have been slightly lower than Mercedes claimed at 33mpg but I realised my preconceptions were wrong. While I thought Mercedes was making cars for older drivers, it was making them for wiser ones all along.
Dealers view: Richard Probert, Mercedes Benz, Shrewsbury
The CGI is a bit of a departure for Mercedes. Its a superb engine and now uses turbo-charging rather than Mercedes Benzs traditional Kompressor super-charger technology, and its still relatively new. Diesel CGIs are our biggest seller but thats just a reflection of this areas customer base. Id say out of all the C Class CGIs we sell, 70 per cent are diesel-powered.
Overall, though, despite the fact the old engine took some beating, the new one has gone down well and everyone, both we and our customers are very pleased. The better fuel economy and smoothness that go with it speak for themselves.
Engine: 1796 cc 4 cylinder, 16 valve, turbo ï€¼ Transmission: 6 speed manual ï€¼ Power: 156 bhp @ 5000 rpm ï€¼ Torque: 184 lb ft @1600-4200 rpm ï€¼ Performance: 0-62mph 9 secs ï€¼ Max speed: 135 mph ï€¼ CO2: 172 g/km ï€¼ MPG: 40.4 combined ï€¼ Price: From 27,985, (car pictured 35,115)
The automatic Choice
Sociedad Esapanola de Auotomoviles de Turismo Ibiza Cup Racing doesnt exactly roll off the tongue does it? Luckily, its usually abbreviated to SEAT Ibiza Cupra. Ever since SEAT won the two-litre category of the World Rally Championship in 1996, the top rung of the specification ladder for its super-mini Ibiza range has been labelled Cupra. In fact, now SEAT even omits the Ibiza badging on the latest variant of its range-topping hatch.
Now in its fifth generation, after 25 years of production, the Ibiza uses the same platform as parent company VWs Polo, Skodas Fabia and Audis A1, albeit with a different and distinctive body shell by ex-Lamborghini designer Luc Donckerwolke. In order to assert its sporty intensions the Cupra goes one step further than lesser Ibizas by gaining lower ride height and revised front and rear bumpers together with 17-inch alloy wheels, centre exit trapezoidal exhaust and a liberal smattering of black, honeycomb grilles. Inside the honeycomb plastics continue. Open any of the retro fascia vents and youll see plenty of hexagons. Cloth seats, where fitted, also come stitched in geometric patterns reminiscent of 1970s racers.
Our car came fitted with the optional leather trim which, although nicely soft, struggled to enhance a cabin, which although logically laid out, uses too many hard, shiny plastics which do little to aid sound-proofing. The driving position is good though, and the seat remains comfortable and supportive even after a couple of hours behind the sculpted, flat-bottomed wheel. Rear passengers may find accommodation a little tight. The sloping profile means anyone over six feet tall will struggle for head room.
But SEATs sporting hatches have always been about the driving experience. Where most manufacturers simply increase capacity to provide more power the new Ibiza Cupra uses VWs twin-charged direct injection 1.4 TSI engine and its equally clever seven-speed twin-clutch DSG gearbox. Not only does this help cut weight it also helps cut CO2 emissions by 19 per cent, reducing road tax charges. The supercharger provides the torque at low revs while the turbo provides the extra boost further up the range. The transition between the two, like the DSG boxs gear-changes is seamless. 0-62 mph in 7.2 seconds, and flat-out, the Cupra is said to do 140mph.
Some will say that despite offering the option of paddle shift gears, what is, in effect, an automatic, denies the driver the tactile experience of changing gear and balancing engine revs against ratios. With such a wide spread of torque and seven gears to chose from, the flip-side of this is the argument that the electronics do a better job of maintaining the balance than the average helmsman. Electronics play a part when cornering because the Cupra now comes with XDS. Mimicking the function of a conventional limited slip differential this system smoothly brakes the outside front wheel when cornering, reducing under-steer without adding further weight.
The Cupra is a very competent little car and as an alternative to more obvious hot-hatches, a worthy contender. The automatic-only option may prove a step too far for traditionalists but for those willing to think outside the box the Cupra may be the answer.
Another view: Engineer Alan Holmes from Craven Arms
I used to own an Ibiza FR and loved it. Im not sure whether by moving on, SEAT has missed its target market. The styling of the new Cupra isnt distinctive enough to make it stand it out from the lesser models and the quality of the dash is definitely a step backwards. You cant help feeling theyve spent all the money on the oily bits. I dont think the newer car feels as though its been built as well. But the engine is great and I like the smoothness of the DSG gearbox. You cant feel it change gear, its so quick. I think for something made by VW though it lacks a refinement and the ride is too hard.
ï€¼ Engine: 1390 cc, 16V 4 cyl, supercharged and turbocharged ï€¼ Power: 180 bhp @ 6200 rpm ï€¼ Torque: 184 lb ft @ 2000-4500 rpm ï€¼Transmission: 7 speed dual clutch front-wheel drive ï€¼ Performance: 0-62mph 7.2 secs ï€¼ Max Speed: 140mph ï€¼ MPG: 44.1 combined ï€¼ CO2: 148 g/km ï€¼ VED: 125 per annum band F ï€¼ Price: 17,020