Base Metal

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Welcome to entry level. Image: Motorpoint
Welcome to entry level. Image: Motorpoint

The general consensus amongst the great and good of the Driven to Write community appears to be that Mercedes’ current crop of rear wheel drive saloons, if not exactly a triumphant return to form, are at least broadly acceptable. But never mind us and our vain masthead slogan, the sheer ubiquity of the current W205 C-Class model eloquently testifies to the broader market’s giddy endorsement. However, on this matter I continue to stand unmoved; arms metaphorically folded in petulant refusal.

I was buying wiper blades the other day at my local high street auto factors when I spotted a C-Class in what could perhaps be usefully described as LIDL Area Management spec. Patently entry level C-Class, it offered an overwhelmingly meek face to the world. Is this what £28,160 gets you? A car that screams; ‘It’s all the procurement manager would rubber-stamp, so I had to settle for this’.

Image: Motorpoint
In Ford parlance, this would have been an L model. Mercedes prefer SE, although ideally they’d prefer you didn’t see it at all. Image: Motorpoint

I’ve always believed a good test of a car’s style is to view it in poverty specification, painted in a dark colour – say a non-metallic dark blue or black. If it still manages to look vaguely robust, the designers have probably done their job well. If not, the styling simply isn’t strong enough, requiring the tinsel and tawdry addenda to mask the deficiencies.

In the case of boggo-C here, not only does it look insipid, but worse still, insubstantial. That half hearted strip of brightwork at the base of the DLO shrieks afterthought and only serves to highlight its absence elsewhere. Inside, the seats are upholstered in synthetic Artico – or faux leather to the likes of you.

Mercedes’ designers are fond of reminding us about their Sensual Purity® design ethos, and I suppose if you squint really hard you can see what they’re on about. Purity as in unadulterated, unadorned, undesirable even? But as for sensual; well, I suppose there’s always those sinuous body creases to rub up against.

Of course there have been poverty level Mercedes’ for generations, but they’ve been more commonly known as taxi’s. Even back in the halcyon ‘vertical affinity’ era, entry level Merc’s sported plastic wheel trims, cloth seats and no brightwork, but they never yelled ‘cheapskate’ with so much vehemence.

So is this the naked face of ‘premium’? I want my money back.


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Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

16 thoughts on “Base Metal”

  1. Some people are never happy, are they? That´d be me. I saw the current and previous C-class together. In isolation the current car has good proportions and from a distance appears pretty sleek. The problem is that the surfacing is so amorphous. The previous car has pretty much the same proportions but has surfaces more becoming of a Mercedes, that is tending to be a bit flatter and with defined edges. Alas, the need to signal the new model meant that theme had to be replaced with something different so we get amorphous. Design probably *should* be incremental but marketing demands sometimes change that at best sideways and sometimes worse.

  2. This reminds me of the wilful way that Ford used to make their entry-level Anglia, Cortina and Sierra look ugly enough to shame you into buying the GLXLR. That bit of brightwork at the bottom of the windows is offensively mean-spirtited. It makes no sense. And why did they give it alloys – surely faux alloy wheeltrims could have been sourced. Sensual Purity? Arsebiscuits! (to link to an adjacent post).

    1. The wheels on base model Mercedes are horrendous, especially those on the C Class. They are clearly designed to shame the buyer into ticking the AMG line option box.

  3. Ah, the underperforming rep’s special. An Audi A3 would provide a much nicer experience at that price level. Saying that, memories of the Sierra L leads me to find most base models impossibly flash these days. It has windows and seats, you say?

    Speaking of repmobiles, have you seen the new Insignia? Richard will probably hate it, but I’m keen.

    1. I have been waiting for the DtW article on the Insignia ‘sports tourer’ so that I could lay into it.

      The big problem I have is that it plays games with the key estate car signifier – the D pillar. Whether upright or aggressively angled, the proportion of pillar to side glass is critical. This is what differentiates an estate car from a hatch or saloon. The Insignia’s D pillar – like that on the Kia – is too thick. It creates confusion about what type of car this is supposed to be. ‘Ah, a Sports Tourer you say? Of course!’

      This is a dumb move. You don’t see Skoda making this sort of mistake.

    2. It’s hard to judge a car by seeing it on pictures only. But from what I can see there, the Insignia is a substantial improvement over the latest Astra estate. There it really looks as if sixty or seventy percent of the area behind the rear door is made of the pillar. Here it’s rather around fifty, optically. And as a big plus, the chrome trim avoids that ‘landau iron’ look of the Astra.

  4. less creases, less flaming surfaces. please.

    talking about the pictured car: is it my imagination or does it really have an accidental matte paint? it looks awful, way worse than in person.

  5. By way of research, I actively sought out this car’s predecessors in base trim. The W202 could just about carry it off. The W203 could not – like the current car looking too insubstantial. The preceeding W204 was okay in this department – in fact it looked better without the bodykits and so forth. Conclusion: Blame cannot be laid entirely at the Wagener. I repeat – Not entirely.

    Going back further and a base-level 190-series was a pretty stripped out proposition. However, it was superbly styled, well wrought and what was there was of commendable durability. What’s more, there wasn’t a non-Mercedes piece of hardware to be seen. As far as I can ascertain – and Mercedes’ own website is no help at all – the current base 1.6 litre diesel is not Daimler’s own unit. Okay, firstly I’d never choose a diesel, but secondly, a Mercedes without a Mercedes-specific engine isn’t really a Mercedes at all in my (rather biased) view.

    And if you think those wheels are bad, you should see the wheeltrims on offer. Want to see Poverty-C in its full naked glory? Don’t bother trying to find it on their website. Travel to Ireland. There you will find an astonishing number. Interestingly, Irish Mercedes dealers have been offering a 10% ‘Brexit’ discount on a new Mercedes during the month of January, which is the sort of desperate marketing gambit that might help account for Daimler’s rapid rise up the sales rankings. Premium my arse.

    As discussed in a previous piece, Gorden and his minions are eradicating creases and bodylines. The problem here is that we are then left with what amounts to an amorphous blob.

    Incidentally, the car photographed above does not have a matt finish – it’s just been really, really poorly captured. But then, it’s such an apologetic looking thing, perhaps the seller thought it best to photograph it in semi-darkness.

  6. One of the main issues is that even this kind of everyday is nowadays penned with 20′ rims in mind. Any kind of sensible wheel size is bound to look dwarfish on such a ‘sporty’ vehicle.

    Speaking of the C, I must mention the fact that the coupé and convertible versions are immensely less successful than the regular saloon. The T model isn’t commendable either, but the, yes, blobiness of the ‘lifestyle’ variants is altogether more baffling. And the new E coupé (first encountered this weekend) isn’t much better in this regard, either.

  7. I have planned to let a year go before even considering the Insignia estate. I got the last one wildly wrong when it came out and it would be silly to make that error again.
    See my articles on the Astra F in the meantime…

  8. Eoin: we’re not Automotor. Our news cycle is the slowest there is.
    I feel I might be ready to talk about this shift to front wheel drive that began in the 70s…

  9. And it drives like it looks, at least the basic spec one here I had a go in. Four cylinder 2.0t, awd, the interior that magazines have gone wild about for some unknown reason that I managed to not notice as I attempted to not break off the silly cheap and bendy shifter. Bic makes nicer feeling biros. Haven’t seen those circa 1974 alloys here. It’s a competent box, no more, trimmed in hyde from the nauga plantation for that sticky feel on summer days. Disappears into the background. At least it doesn’t have the tinny feel of the CLA, but neither does it have that old Mercedes feeling of strength. It’s just a transportation module. Lease it for three years, rinse, repeat. Pulse never raised, strong feelings never engengered. It’s a Dieter Zetsche special, and only he knows how special he is. We got him on endless TV commercials a decade ago flogging Chryslers and twirling his moustache. Mercedes now seems pumped full with excess pride in itself.


  10. Long back in the days when I read Car, a perceptive article proposed that, although Mercedes was on a high, the author feared for them. His point is that there was such an overbearing sense of belief that what they were doing was always the best way, that when Mercedes finally got it wrong, they would be the last people to notice. I’m a bit shaky about the chronology of this piece, but it might even have been before the launch of the blessed W124, so maybe the article was before its time, but the point it made seems very valid today.

    There are still many admirable things about the way that Mercedes goes about making cars more convenient and safe. But I’d rather like to think that, behind the scenes, the likes of Wagener and Zetsche acknowledged the compromises they have made, and looked at the likes of the Mondeo with admiration for a company that could produce all that car for such a reasonable price. I’d certainly like to think that Gorden would say “Sensual Purity? Aaah well, all us designers need a line of bullshit – that’s mine”. But I fear they don’t – they actually believe their own guff.

    Were they to stray down DTW’s backwater on their Boat Of Bombast, they’d doubtless see us a throwback simpletons, out of touch with the modern zeitgeist, of maybe fueled by resentment that we couldn’t afford their objects of desire. Because they’d be the last people to see it any other way.

    1. Every company is guilty of believing their own hype. For example, I often wonder how BMW or Audi can persist with their concrete damping, when a quick spin in any Ford would reveal a far superior ride/handling compromise. The reason is probably explained on an internal marketing Powerpoint presentation somewhere.

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