There’s a quote by a former US president that goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” A car that reminded me of the quote is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz C200 AMG Line.
Why did I say so? Well, when we buy cars, chances are, we’ll make a shortlist and then compare the candidates. In this case, if you’re in the market for a compact executive sedan, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz C200 AMG Line is likely on your shortlist along with its rivals like the G20 BMW 320i Sport or the Volvo S60 T8 R-Design.
In isolation, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz C200 AMG Line is quite impressive. It looks the part inside and out, it goes pretty well in a straight line, and steers quite enthusiastically. However, once you spend more time with it and subject it to the inevitable comparison, things get interesting.
Exterior - Hasn't aged a day
Before we get to that, let’s take moment to admire its timeless design. The W205 generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class was shown to the world back in 2013. That’s 7 years now and it still hasn’t lost the visual appeal.
It’s just an attractive machine to look at. I like the chiseled look of the AMG Line front bumper, the wavy sculptured doors, the mesmerizing diamond grille, and the multi-chamber LED headlamps.
Put the Mercedes-Benz C200 against much newer rivals like the G20 BMW 320i or the Volvo S60, the C200 doesn’t look dated at all. It has withstood the test of time quite well.
Granted, design is subjective, but I’ve yet to encounter an individual who disliked how the Mercedes-Benz C200 looks.
In terms of objective exterior evaluation, the panel gaps are rather consistent from the opposing panel. Paint thickness averaged in the 100s of µm without any glaring outliers.
Interior - Still classy
Moving to the interior, the sweeping design also withstood the test of time. The facelift exercise introduced the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a wider 10.25-inch infotainment screen to keep things fresh.
The graphics look great and the display itself is crisp. No touchscreen functionality though, it has to be operated via the rotary dial.
Audio quality is poor. Vocals and instruments sound thin, treble doesn't shimmer even at maximum settings on the equalizer, and bass is slightly anaemic. The 6-speaker system in the BMW 320i isn't particularly great either, but it's preferable to this.
There are touch functions on either side of the steering, which allows you to navigate through the infotainment or the instrument cluster without taking your hands off the wheel.
However, the user interface is poor because even something as simple as skipping tracks isn’t as intuitive as pushing a “next” button. BMW's approach may be old school, but it's more intuitive. So is Volvo's Sensus system, which itself is a poor benchmark for user interface.
Also related to the steering wheel is the position itself. It’s noticeably offset to the left and the footwell is tight and it lacks a proper footrest. Although points must given for the electric steering wheel adjustment.
The G20 BMW 3 Series’ steering wheel isn’t noticeably off-centre but its pedals are offset to the right. The Volvo S60 T8 gets closest to the perfect driving position.
Why does such a detail matter? Because a twisted driving position causes discomfort or worse, a backache during long distance drives. Imagine waking up after a night of sleeping in a bad position, that's what the driving position does to you.
Space in the rear is decent, with 2 tennis balls of kneeroom and one tennis ball of headroom for a 177 cm adult like yours truly. Boot space is rated at 455 litres.
Material quality is great, the overall selection of materials certainly feel better to the touch than in the BMW 320i. Although some areas of the cabin creaks when pressure is applied, like the centre console and top section of the door cards.
Driving Experience - Not as polished as expected
In everyday driving situations, it’s important to fine-tune the controls such as steering weight and speed, brake pedal feel and sensitivity, throttle response, etc. Nailing the calibration exercise will result in a cohesive and refined experience.
Unfortunately, the driving experience of the Mercedes-Benz C200 just doesn’t feel polished enough to match its exquisite design. Twisted driving position aside, linearity is what's lacking here.
Throttle response isn’t as linear as I would like. In comfort mode, there's a bit of pedal travel before the powertrain reacts and when it does, it's not entirely seamless. Sport mode merely reduces initial deadness.
Both the BMW 320i and Volvo S60 T8 (irrespective of driving modes) have a more linear response to throttle application.
The C200 has variable ratio steering that quickens off-centre, making the car rather reactive to steering inputs. But it doesn’t feel as natural or linear as the systems in newer BMWs. So at high speeds, it may take a bit of readjustment to steer precisely.
Steering weight is on the heavier side even in comfort mode. Those who prefer a weightier, firmer steering will appreciate it. Others may find it a touch too heavy.
Brakes are quite grabby and again, isn’t progressive enough for a smooth drive. But it makes sense in spirited driving, giving the assurance of stopping power. Also, braking feel is great and you do get used to the sensitivity in time.
The M264 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is strong and provides more than sufficient performance for daily runabouts. As tested, 0-100 km/h sprint is completed in 7.0 seconds flat. The 9-speed automatic transmission can be caught out occasionally when it lurches slightly or hunts for gears.
It’s not as seamless as the ZF transmission in BMW 320i or even the DSG in the Volkswagen Arteon. But credit where it’s due, the 9-speed transmission is an improvement over the pre-facelift’s 7-speed unit, which was downright clunky. It's better than before, just not good enough for the competition.
One interesting observation - the car sets off in second gear from standstill in comfort mode. Which actually explains the occasional hiccup at junctions when it decides first gear is more suitable.
In terms of how it fares in corners, the Mercedes-Benz C200 is tuned to deliver a safe and predictable handling. It turns in keenly without the sensation of yaw or the rear stepping out. However, the poor suspension damping robs the driver of confidence at high speed during sweeping corners.
The BMW 320i feels completely different in the twisty bits. It isn't anymore comfortable as the suspension is rather busy, but at least the trade off leads to superior handling.
Ride Comfort - Poorer than rivals
Not only does the damping affect confidence at high speeds, it affects comfort in general. While initial compression is reasonable, the rebound is overdamped.
This means the suspension doesn’t settle quickly enough over bumps and undulations, resulting in excessive vertical movements of the body. This isn’t apparent on smooth roads or at city speeds. On highways, particularly undulating ones, you can feel it in your neck muscles.
That’s the difference between the G20 BMW 320i Sport and the Mercedes-Benz C200 AMG Line. In the BMW 320i, the bumps are felt through your bottom whereas in the Mercedes-Benz C200, you feel it in your neck and that’s ultimately more tiring over long journeys.
Seats are well-bolstered and there is lumbar support adjustment, something the BMW 320i has been lacking for a while now. The cushions are not as stiff as in the BMW 320i and feels plusher.
The Mercedes-Benz C200 falls behind against the competition in terms of cabin quietness. At 100 km/h, you’ll start to hear wind buffeting around the A-pillar and side mirror. Tyre noise isn’t bothersome, but it’s present. Also, the engine sounds gruff at low speeds.
Our sound level meter indicated an average of 69 dB whilst travelling at 110 km/h. In comparison, the G20 BMW 320i did 67 dB and the Volvo S60 T8 managed 68 dB over the same stretch of road.
Fuel Consumption - Respectable for its output
After a 106.7 km journey broken down to 60% highway, 40% city driving, the amount of fuel required to brim the tank was 9.14 litres. This gives a calculated fuel consumption figure of 8.6-litre/100 km.
In comparison, the G20 BMW 320i achieved 8.0-litre/100 km under similar driving conditions.
Conclusion - Do you value appearance or driving experience?
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz C200 AMG Line is a car that will impress in showrooms. After admiring it from the outside, you step inside and the admiration continues. Then you take it out for a test drive.
While adjusting to the ergonomics like the gear lever placement and seat adjustment location, it’s difficult for the mind to pick up on the little things like the offset steering and calibration of controls.
Before that can happen, you put your foot down and whoosh, the engine impresses with its power and pace. Pitch it in corners, the quick steering lets you know how keen the C200 steers. And before you know it, it’s the end of the test drive.
Now, back to the earlier quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Without experiencing other cars within the Mercedes-Benz C200’s segment and price point, it’s quite decent in isolation. It's only when you compare the C200 against its rivals, the shortcomings become more apparent.
But for most buyers, its biggest selling point is the Mercedes badge. No one can argue against the three-pointed star regardless of its shortcomings. A Mercedes-Benz is always a safe bet, especially a C-Class, and prospective buyers can rest in that knowledge.