While the Mercedes-Benz range has ballooned in the past decade or so, one could say that the most important model they have is the C-Class. It was the original 'Baby Benz' (in the form of the 190E) and has since been the breadwinner of the brand. To keep sales going, the C-Class not only has to be good, it has to be exceptional given how stiff the competition has become.

2017 Mercedes Benz C180 Avantgarde

The new C-Class was introduced locally back in 2015 with this, the C180 Avantgarde, being silently released to the market late last year. Internally known as the W205, the C-Class is now on its fourth generation (five if you include the 190E). Given our high regard for the previous generation W204 C-Class, the expectations were set high.

Starting with the styling, I do have to say that this generation of C-Class boasts one of the cleanest designs in its segment. While it's an evolutionary redesign from the previous generation C-Class, the new look gives this sedan that bit more flair. With the sweeping coupe-like roofline, along with the headlight and tail light treatment, the C-Class looks like a mini S-Class and that's no bad thing. As someone mentioned, it's an S-Class but with the 'S' in lowercase.

With the Avantgarde tag on it, this generation of C180 sheds the 'entry-level' model look of the past. No longer saddled with small rims and unpainted trim, this latest version almost looks like the higher-spec C200 Avantgarde at a passing glance. It gets the sportier grill-mounted three-pointed star, as well as large corner air intakes. Chrome is tastefully applied here too and suits the styling of the C-Class. Coupled with this elegant shade of Selenite Gray, the C180 Avantgarde looks like it means business. The only difference between this and the higher-grade variant are the rims and, of course, the C180 badge.

2017 Mercedes Benz C180 Avantgarde

Inside, the C180 features a mix of modern and classic Mercedes-Benz design cues. The round air-con vents harks back to the days of the W123 (the quintessential classic Chedeng) while the electronic column shifter is an interesting design touch. As expected, there are acres of soft-touch materials and almost everything you touch has an air of quality.

Equipped in the C180 is the most basic version of the COMAND infotainment system but by no means is it bare. Not only does it house various entertainment options and vehicle status info, one can also alter the driving characteristics of the car in the Dynamic Select menu (more on this later). I do wish it had faster processing speeds and an easier to use interface.

Space, meanwhile, is about on par with its contemporaries. Like most of its rivals, it is rear wheel drive, making interior packaging a bit of a challenge. Legroom is adequate although sitting three at the back will be awkward due to the high transmission tunnel and, curiously, there is no rear arm rest. Still, it's a comfortable car for four passengers.

2017 Mercedes Benz C180 Avantgarde

Technically, this new C180 should be called C160 as it is powered a 1.6-liter engine. Don't raise your pitchforks as it is turbocharged, giving it a decent dose of power. The turbo inline-four produces 156 PS and 250 Nm of torque. It then shifts via a seven-speed automatic transmission that Mercedes-Benz calls 7G-Tronic, and it benefits from paddle shifters. As mentioned above, there are various drive models to choose from with Economy, Comfort, Sport, Sport + and Individual.

So how does that translate on the road? Perhaps I can best describe the performance as being similar to a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine. Thanks to the turbo, initial response is strong, giving you more than enough confidence to overtake on hilly byways. Plus, the seven-speed automatic works smoothly and seamlessly be it in the city or in a provincial setting.

Thanks to the small engine, fuel economy was excellent. Even in heavy city traffic (average speed of 16 km/h), it still returned 8.4 kilometers per liter, according to the trip computer. In lighter traffic, that figure bumps up to 14.5 kilometers per liter (35 km/h average speed). With those numbers, one can expect even better economy on the highway.

2017 Mercedes Benz C180 Avantgarde

The various drive modes gives the car different driving characteristics. Economy mode makes it eager to upshift and slows down throttle response for the sake of saving fuel. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Sport and Sport + gives it sharper, more aggressive throttle and transmission responses plus more weight and feel through the steering wheel. Choose Sport + and the stability control system switches to a more laxed setting. Comfort meanwhile is its default setting which strikes a good balance between the two modes. I do recommend exploring the wide array of options in Individual mode to make the car drive the way you want it.

So, how does it drive? In a nutshell: surprisingly engaging. The dignified exterior would lead you to believe that it will wallow when the going gets twisty. Driving on the winding roads of Tanay, I put the car in Individual mode and set the engine and transmission on Comfort with the steering on Sport. This turned the C180 into a safe and secure handler with involving dynamics. What made it even more impressive is the fact that comfort wasn't sacrificed in the name of sharper handling. Defaulting to Comfort mode, it was still a good steer, even if there was  a little less feedback through the wheel.

On a day to day basis, the C180 is a relaxing car to drive and ride. Despite stiff run-flat tires filled to the factory recommended 36 psi, it still offered excellent compliance, even in the city's pockmarked roads. There is no impact harshness, even as you run over bigger bumps and the suspension does a great job keeping the body level. Coupled with the well-bolstered seats, you can comfortably sit in traffic for hours and still finish the trip without feeling exhausted. There are no doubts about its noise isolation too, keeping the cabin hushed no matter the speed.

2017 Mercedes Benz C180 Avantgarde

Granted, the Mercedes-Benz C180 Avangarde is not perfect. There are ergonomic foibles that may throw off the first time Benz buyer. However, as an entry-level luxury sedan, it has more than enough features to satisfy those looking into this segment. At Php 2,990,000, it is priced competitively against its rivals too. With that amount of money, you get a host of features such as Attention Assist (to remind the driver to take a break), cruise control, parking sensors on all corners, seven airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, stability control and many more. 

I now understand what makes a Mercedes-Benz, well, a Mercedes-Benz. It's difficult to put into words but it feels special the moment you sit inside. Perhaps it's the solid sounding thump when you close the door or when you let your hands run through the high-end materials. This particular variant may be the entry-level model but it pins down the luxury car essentials with its plush cabin, pliant ride and a solid overall feel.

We had high praises for the old C-Class. It's nice to know that the new one continues that tradition.