Medium car over $50k winner: Mercedes Benz C200 - 2015 Australia's Best Cars

25 February 2016
2015 Mercedes-Benz C 200

Winner: Mercedes-Benz C 200
Second: BMW 330i Luxury Line
Third: Lexus IS 300h Luxury Hybrid

Winner: Mercedes-Benz C 200

The tide is turning for car buyers in Australia, who now have decided that while brand and national loyalty is one thing, quality is paramount.

Because not only has the impressive Mercedes-Benz C 200 caught the eye of the judges by taking out the category of best medium car over $50,000 at Australia's Best Cars for the second year in a row, it has attracted the hardest judges, too: the consumer.

The C Class delivered record sales results in 2015, and it did so by outselling such local icons as Ford Falcon by 50%.

These figures demonstrate that the buyers who have been ignoring the traditional Australian sedans over the past decade haven't all been going into the booming SUV segments. They're willing to pay for a top-quality product, and that's what they're getting with the C 200.

It gets the important things right, such as safety and fuel efficiency, sweetens the deal with class-leading standard features and then delivers a seamless drive.

Safety levels are expected to be high in the prestige brands, and while the Mercedes can't quite match the second place-getter BMW 330i's 10/10, it still has a generous suite of systems, including nine airbags, blind-spot assistance, an attention assistant which monitors the driver's steering behaviour to recognise signs of drowsiness or distraction, and an active bonnet to reduce the severity of an impact with a pedestrian or cyclist.

The C 200's comfort and convenience levels are considerable, starting with electric front seats with electro-pneumatic lumbar support, reversing camera, sat-nav, digital radio, synthetic leather upholstery, steering wheel-mounted gearshift paddles and keyless start. On top of that, there's Active Park Assist which helps the driver manoeuvre into a parking space.


No car in this class did outstandingly well in the space department - they're still only medium-sized sedans - but the C 200's seats are cosseting and comfortable on long journeys

Manufacturers are getting great economy out of petrol engines, and the C 200's frugal 6.0L/100km is achieved with the help of a fuel-saving stop/start system.

Unlike, say, its great German rival BMW, which puts the emphasis on the driving experience across all models lines, Mercedes - at this end of the C Class range anyway - concentrates on solidity and surefootedness. The C 200's 2.0-Litre, four-cylinder turbo-charged engine is matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission, and there's never a sense that you have to push it hard to get the best out of it.

It all works in relaxed harmony, as C 200's perfectly matched set of scores across all On The Road criteria demonstrate. Even more reassuring is the Agility Control selective damping system, which allows the driver to set the suspension settings to suit the road conditions, which helps on unsealed and uneven surfaces.

The C-Class loses out marginally to the BMW in ergonomics, with some controls not falling as easily to hand - for one thing, the column-mounted gear-shifter is anachronistic in this day and age - but the quality of its build and finish was, as expected, top-notch.

Second: BMW 330i Luxury Line


Every characteristic of owning and driving a BMW is here in the 330i. The 3 Series is the way into the brand for many first-time buyers, and they're usually after something just a little edgier than other prestige brands, but which is still refined. That's the 330i.

On the road, you can feel this is a BMW. The 185kW 2.0-litre twin-turbo four cylinder petrol engine is quite a unit, helped along by a super-smooth eight-speed auto. It outpointed every car in the class for performance, but on less-than-perfect road surfaces you're aware of the stiffer suspension in this late-2015 model upgrade, and it's not helped by BMW's run-flat tyres. In all other On The Road criteria, the 330i matched the class-winning Mercedes, so it's almost a matter of personal preference here.

The design of the 3 Series is without parallel in this class. In the spacious cabin everything falls easily to hand, and BMW's once-reviled iDrive system is now ultra-intuitive. It has useful functions such as a head-up display and surround-view cameras. Modern systems, such as the Driving Assistant package which includes lane departure warning and a city braking function, contribute to a perfect 10 for safety.

It's only in the dollar equation that the BMW misses out on the main prize. It's $10,000 more than the Mercedes, which affects its depreciation and insurance scores. But it's a joy to drive.

Third: Lexus IS 300h Luxury hybrid


Lexus leads the market in offering hybrid technology to Australian consumers, and almost every model line has a petrol/electric option. The recently upgraded IS 300h is Lexus's entry-level hybrid, and the experience the brand has with the technology shows in this well-designed sedan.

At this end of the market, Lexus still can't compete with the German brands for performance or sportiness, so it tries to match them on comfort and quality. In this regard, the IS 300h is almost there. Seats are soft and comfortable - they're ventilated and heated in the front - and the overall feeling of the cabin is one of plush refinement. But it's not the roomiest car, and the infotainment system controls can't match the ease of use in the Mercedes and BMW versions.

Combined with the electric motor, which will both start the car and drive it at low speeds, the IS 300h's 2.5-Litre four-cylinder petrol engine puts out 164kW, and its performance will be enough for many, even given that it's matched to what's still a very good CVT transmission. What you do appreciate is the comfort of the ride and its quietness.

In this company, the IS 300h's safety credentials are lacking a little - autonomous emergency braking would be welcome in a car of this class. But of course its environment and fuel economy scores are top-class.

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