The road from Kanatal to Jolly Grant airport in Uttarakhand starts off with a just-about-two-laner section that is the Chamba-Mussoorie Road till it joins National Highway 34, or the Rishikesh-Tehri Road, which is a broad at-least-four-laner that sweeps around the mountains. And then comes a fork. Now one would typically follow the highway route and the navigation, too, was asking me to do so. However, there was a board above the other prong of the fork that said Jolly Grant Airport with an arrow pointing down it. Confused, I stopped the car at this point, stepped out and was looking around for some divine intervention to show me the way. It did come in the form of a local gent taking an afternoon nap in a smokes-and-tea shack strategically placed at the bifurcation. “Which way to Jolly Grant Airport?” I asked, like possibly thousands before me if his bored expression was any indication. That did not change as he said that I could take either, leaving me none the wiser. He then probably looked at my still-confused face, took a little pity on me and said that the road with the board would shorten the distance by about 10km. With whatever little experience I had of driving in the hills, I suspected that would mean it was (a) steeper and (b) windier. My choice was made.
A day before, we had arrived in Mussoorie as guests of Mercedes-Benz to drive and experience the latest-generation Mercedes Benz C-Class, which line till the A-Class and B-Class came along comprised the smallest cars that the company made. Looking at the latest car, however, if nobody said so, one wouldn’t even think this was a ‘small’ car unless the rest of the country drove eight-axle trailers only.
That became amply clear on the narrow and twisty mountain roads. This car is 1,820mm, or a shade under 6ft wide. For what it means on the road, consider this: in many places the wheels on either side bumped over the catseyes placed on the side line and the centre line on the road at the same time! It’s long too, at 4.751mm.
Model lines typically get bigger with iterations. So the current W206 version is about a foot longer and five inches wider than the first C-Class, or W201 of 1982. It’s also a little bigger in most dimensions than the precedeing W205, most significantly in the 2,865mm wheelbase, which is up by an inch and has helped create some more legroom primarily in the back. So, essentially, it is now roughly the size of what an E-Class might have been some years ago.
In short, this is a car that, on paper, shouldn’t be easy to hustle on narrow mountain roads. And it isn’t. But then, that doesn’t mean it cannot be done.
Mercedes has rolled out three versions of the C-Class: the C200 petrol, and the C200d and the C300d diesels. We did not get to drive the C200d but did get behind the wheels of the other two. So, what are our first impressions? Read on.
The entire design language is unfussy and nearly bereft of bling
Now that we have an idea of the dimensions of the car, that combined with the styling makes it look very luxurious indeed. In profile, it has the classic sporty sedan’s long bonnet short deck proportions that is accentuated by a crease that starts at the front fenders, goes below the glass area and onto the rear fenders.
Up front the grille now has vertical slats and the three-pointed star placed prominently at the centre. The headlamps are all-LED affairs that left to themselves, that’s in Auto mode, do all kinds of tricks to light up the roads, make sure oncoming traffic isn’t blinded, switch on and switch off and what have you all on their own. The rear end is understated but stylish with just a touch of chrome at the bottom of the bumper. Sweetly done.
The alloys are clean and unfussy but not blah.
The thing that I loved though were those two little bulges, pure design elements by the looks of it, on the bonnet. For me, they were a throwback to the performance Mercs of yore, most famously the 300SL Gullwing. And seeing them through the windscreen as one drives creates this odd feel-good that is difficult to describe. This was probably just me, but then it was me behind the wheel.
The interiors are very classy and comfortable and filled to the brim with technology
Which takes us into the car. I loved the wood with vertical aluminium inlay design of the dash. Very Art Deco probably. In fact, the entire cabin conveys an impression of retro plushness with modern minimalism, with most things being controlled through the touchscreen and a couple of buttons and controllers here or there.
Once could write a small book if one started on the feature list and Mercedes Benz has done so in one titled the Owner’s Manual. There are things like multiway seat adjustments and so on that one naturally expects in cars of this segment. An additional thing here is the adjustment of the headrest fore and aft as well. The seats are very well contoured and fit snugly as I found out as the bolstering held me in place in the mountains. Rear seat is roomy and comfortable and legroom aplenty. The large sunroof makes the cabin feel bright and spacious. There are things like the wireless charging of phones and USB ports. Everything, expectedly, is top notch, both visually as well as to the touch. We particularly liked the design of the multifunction steering wheel of the C300d with the double spokes.
On the road
The rear legroom is very good even for taller people and the large sunroof gives a sense of airiness
So, at the fork we took what seemed to be the road less travelled going by the comparative number of cars that were staying on NH34 and going down this one while we sipped hot, sweet, milky tea with kadak patti. We weren’t disappointed. It had a good mix of somewhat straighter stretches and seriously twisty bits and oncoming traffic could be spotted pretty early to slow down or even stop to give way to climbing vehicles if necessary. So the Merc just flowed into and out of the curves, straightlining them when there was no traffic and just doing a beautiful ballet with perfect balance. It is difficult to figure how fast you’re going in this petrol as it’s quiet and, with the new electric motor flat spots in power and torque have been almost eliminated. There’s always enough shove to move the bulk. This engine and motor setup is being introduced in India for the first time and we are likely to see more of them in upcoming Mercs. Very soon we were reeling cars in and passing them till the road hit the plains and joined up with the one leading to the airport.
At the airport we picked up the C300d. This time I knew where to go straight off the bat — the short way up to the fork. Now this car is marginally louder from inside the car than the petrol, which is quite an achievement considering it is a diesel. This one was even meatier than the C200 what with the revs remaining mostly around the 2,000rpm mark, which is where smack in the middle of the range of peak torque delivery. So it pulls strongly and smoothly most of the time and there is no fall off in power at any point. If the petrol was smooth this is pretty much there, just with more power in the pectorals. For those who don’t mind a marginal dropoff in ‘refinement’ for a lot more fun, this is the one to go for at Rs 61 lakh compared to the C200’s Rs 55 lakh. But then, one would need to find the road to push the car on.
Tech to the brim
One thing to mention here is that this car is loaded with cool features and apps. The My Mercedes app pairs the phone with the car and allows one to control numerous functions remotely or get warnings about the car if needed. It is all about personalisation too, from the seat position to lights etc. There is the usual complement of other features too and the audio is very nice. But the thing is most of them are best used by those who aren’t driving at that point. But I was driving — and loving the ride.
Pictures by the author and courtesy Mercedes-Benz
THE C-CLASS IN NUMBERS
LxB (mm): 4,751 x 1,802
Wheelbase (mm): 2,865
Peak power: C200: 204hp + up to 20hp (ISG), petrol
C200d: 200hp + up to 20hp (ISG) diesel;
C300d: 265hp + up to 20hp(ISG), diesel
Peak torque: C200: 300Nm + up to 200Nm (ISG)
C200d: 440Nm + up to 200Nm (ISG);
C300d: 550Nm + up to 200Nm (ISG)
Price: C200: Rs 55 lakh, C200d: Rs 56 lakh, C300d: Rs 61 lakh