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Mercedes-Benz C 160 review: A tough choice
WHEN it comes to first world problems, deciding which Mercedes to buy certainly ranks right up there. But given how many different models bear the three-pointed star emblem these days, choosing one can be a dilly of a pickle.
In fact, if it were a written exam, the Mercedes C-Class range would be the sort of multi-part problem that would have students bug-eyed and groaning at their desks, especially now that the new C 160 is here.
It's the least expensive version of one of Mercedes-Benz's most popular models, at S$177,888 with certificate of entitlement (COE). It also has the most modest engine of any C-Class, a 1.5-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder with 129 horsepower.
For some perspective, consider the opposite end of the C-Class model range: the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S costs 2.7 times more and has nearly four times as much power.
The C 160 is eligible for a Category A certificate of entitlement (COE), which in the past would have qualified it as an instant bargain. But, as things stand, it's priced in territory prowled by many worthy competitors.
More on that later, but you should know that while the C 160 may not be fast, it isn't a dull economy-class ride either.
It's only as powerful as a Toyota Corolla Altis but, with more mass for the engine to push around, the pace is leisurely overall. With that in mind, it's very likely that if you have a C 160 in mind you certainly aren't focusing on the go as much as the show, which is just as well since hurrying is not this car's forte.
Keep to the speed limit on a clean, flat road and the C 160 delivers the same "I don't need to rush. Do you?" feeling you find in more expensive Mercedes models, like the S-Class luxury limousine.
Like the S-Class, it has enough tranquility to make worrying about the numbers fall away, since the cabin experience gives a very obvious display of where the money has been spent.
It has the same level of equipment as the next C-Class up the rung (the C 180) which means all the work is done by your fingers rather than your biceps.
The front seats, steering wheel adjustment, and boot are all electrically-powered, while the interior's dual infotainment and instrument display screens are exactly the sort of in-car reflections of an expensive smartphone we all expect these days. Naturally, they can also literally reflect what's on your smartphone too, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and charge it wirelessly.
In one meaningful way it departs from big cars. The engine's modesty allows it to emulate smaller cars in fuel economy, and 800 to 900km from the car's 66-litre tank should not be too difficult as long as you have a light foot.
Go hard though, and the facade crumbles a little. Like many new-generation engines, the 1.5-litre has a pronounced diesel-like clatter, and while it's nowhere near as intrusive as in a taxi, it's still noticeable when urging the C 160 to get a move on. Additionally the car's suspension seems uncharacteristically stiff for a Mercedes without a sporty bias.
All of that sounds like a good enough deal, and it will be more than enough for those who simply want a Mercedes that looks and feels the part around town.
Yet that's only one part of the equation, there are still two major things to be explained.
As mentioned, the C 160 is the first of the current C-Class lineup to be eligible for a Category A COE, since it has an engine of less than 1.6-litres in capacity and it makes less than 130hp.
In the past that would have meant a meaningful price gap to the C 180, which has a more capable engine with 156hp, but a Category B COE. Now the gap is just S$5,000, partially because, in an inversion of the status quo, the Category A COE is now S$1,198 more expensive than a Category B one.
In contrast, the C 160 would have been a clear bargain last October, when the price gap between Category A and B was approximately S$10,000, implying the price gap between the C 160 and C 180 would have been S$15,000.
If the bottom line is important to you, then the new breed of small Mercedes-Benzes are a tad less expensive and offer more technology with the trade-off of less interior room - the CLA four-door coupe, the A-Class hatchback and A-Class Saloon, to name a few. These have even more technology onboard, and while the C-Class has the edge in passenger space, its smaller siblings don't lag behind anywhere else.
But while its addition to the C-Class lineup makes the problem of choosing a Mercedes in this price range even more difficult, the C 160 is exemplary of the brand's tactic of offering a plethora of models almost no other carmaker can match.
Mercedes ended 2019 the third best-selling brand here, and the most successful luxury carmaker by a clear margin. The implication is that while horsepower is important to some buyers, what matters more is the power of choice.
Mercedes-Benz C 160 Avantgarde
Engine 1,497cc, turbocharged inline 4 cylinder
Power 129hp at 5,300rpm
Torque 210Nm at 1,400-4,000rpm
Gearbox 9-speed automatic
0-100km/h 10.3 seconds
Top Speed 208km/h
Fuel Efficiency 6.4L/100km
Agent Cycle & Carriage
Price S$177,888 with COE