Perhaps you’re thinking there’s nothing new about the car you’re seeing here – and you’d be mostly right, we could engage in a game of “spot the difference” for the better part of a day and not come up with much.
That’s because the changes to the 2017 (W205) C-Class are more than just skin deep, the major update being the (9G-Tronic) nine-speed automatic transmission that rests behind the engine. The 9G-Tronic is paired with the C200 and C250 variants… or if you desire quite a bit more power, AMG’s 3.0-litre V6 bi-turbo ‘43’ range also feature this transmission.
The bread-and-butter C200 and C250 models contributed to Mercedes’ bullish sales performance ever since its introduction in 2014, striking the perfect balance of having a suave styling inside out, superb build quality and refined powertrain options. It’s the benchmark of the segment in my opinion, simply because it’s the best all-round package.
So, does the 9-speed auto deliver any tangible difference from the car before it?
Origin: Locally-assembled in Pekan, Pahang.
Mercedes-Benz has a long and illustrious history of making their own gearboxes. As opposed to many car companies, who contract component manufacturers such as ZF and Getrag, Mercedes-Benz started building and supplying their own since 1961 – a four-speed “automatic clutch” which was offered as an optional extra for the (W111) 220 SEb model.
The first torque-converter automatic premiered in the (W116) S-Class saloon in August 1972. And, as of 1980, all automatic Mercedes-Benz models featured a four-speed transmissions as standard. In 1995, the ‘NAG’ automatic transmission featured a five-speed automatic transmission with electronic control and a torque converter lock-up clutch – which offered superb smoothness better fuel efficiency.
The 7G-Tronic – the first seven-speed auto in the world, and first to use the ‘Tronic’ suffix, was designed to cope with 700Nm of torque. The 7G-Tronic, first introduced in 2003, marked the fifth-generation of in-house automatic transmissions from Mercedes-Benz.
The 7G-Tronic was subsequently superseded by the newer 7G-Tronic Plus in 2010, which is the direct predecessor of the new 9G-Tronic gradually making its way across the Mercedes-Benz line-up.
Despite carrying two extra gears, the 9G-Tronic is actually lighter than and as compact as the seven-speeder that came before it. Much of that lightness is down to torque converter housing that is made of lightweight aluminium and transmission housing made from magnesium alloy. Three speed sensors monitor the transmission and feed the control system with corresponding data – making it possible to cycle through multiple gears instantly.
The (W205) C200 Exclusive driven here is the more expensive of the two C200 variants, which carries a circa RM4k premium over the Avantgarde model.
For that buyers most notably get the Exclusive line exterior and interior package, adaptive high beam assist, a sliding sunroof and organic leather upholstery, instead of the Artico ‘man-made’ option for the seats.
The Exclusive also includes Brown Ash wood trim and does without the (15mm) ride-height lowering, which would suggest this trim level is aimed at the more ‘traditional’ Mercedes audience.
Visually, the easiest way to tell the C200 Exclusive apart from the Avantgarde variant is the placement of the front logo. The Avantgarde has a large logo within the front grille, the Exclusive has its ‘traditional' three-pointed star tacked atop the front hood.
The first impressions of the 2017 C200, within 5-minutes behind the wheel, is just how much quicker it feels. The ‘older’ seven-speed C200 was no slouch either, but the change in pace is substantial, to say the least.
The addition of two extra ratios has given the C200 an extra dose of urgency when accelerating from standstill to around 140km/h, but the biggest improvement over the seven-speeder is its intuitiveness to look for gears up and down based on driving requirements.
In the city, even with a gentle right foot, the 9G-Tronic will shift up to seventh gear from speeds as low as 55km/h, and shift down a cog rather quickly if you demand it. Cruising at the speed limit, on highways, is now achieved with the engine working at just over idle speeds, returning an average fuel economy in the region of 7.4 litres/100km.
Once you’ve found a good road though, shift the Dynamic Select toggle to Sports and the car livens to deliver on some surefooted excitement. In reality, the paddle shifters are only used on a tight twisty road, otherwise, the gearbox will hold the right gear 98 percent of the time.
My only criticism of the new gearbox is its tendency to be a tad clunky when coming to a stop (say... at a traffic light or toll booth) from low speeds. The drivetrain will jolt slightly as it cycles through the last two gearshifts before coming to a stop.
Elsewhere, the driving the C200 is as pleasant as its predecessors – the engine is eager to rev pulls with gusto from 1500rpm. After subjecting the car to some rather spirited driving – fuel consumption rose to around 10.8 litres/100km which is fair.
Chassis rigidity, which arguably is among the best traits of the (W205) C-Class, and gives the car its litheness, likewise, transmits a bit of vibration into the cabin space over bumps at low speeds. In some cases, the occupants will feel the pothole and or road undulations, but things improve once at a cruise.
In addition to better fuel economy, the new-nine speed gearbox has given the C200 a substantial improvement in performance and refinement.
It’s a testament also, to Mercedes-Benz’s continuous technological innovation and eagerness to deploy said technology to improve their products. The new 9G-Tronic C200 builds on the traits that have made the W205 C-Class a world-success - great design, sturdy build quality and performance to boot. Now, just more refined and firmly up to date.