New 2021 Mercedes C-Class prepares for evolution

23 Aug, 2019 10:30am James Brodie

New Mercedes C-Class saloon to arrive in 2021 with hybrid tech throughout the range, and our exclusive images preview how it could look

Mercedes is applying the finishing touches to an all-new version of its biggest-selling model, the C-Class. The fifth-generation car will be out in the open in the next 18 months with a sharp new look and more efficient hybrid and plug-in powertrains.

Alongside Mercedes’ focus on bringing 10 new pure-electric vehicles to market in the next three years, the C-Class plays an equally significant role in the German firm’s future; this model alone accounts for 20 per cent of Mercedes’ global sales. It will be revealed in the latter half of next year, before arriving in showrooms in 2021.

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The new model will continue to use the rear-wheel-drive MRA platform, which first arrived as the basis of the current C-Class, yet several updates to the architecture are being developed. The wheelbase will grow in length, but more importantly the underpinnings are being prepared for a new powertrain line-up that will be totally electrified across the board, be it four or six-cylinder, petrol or diesel.

Mercedes introduced 48-volt technology to the C-Class range with the existing model. Beneath the skin of the latest C 200, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine links up with an electrically driven belt starter generator fed by a tiny battery. The belt generator enables the engine to deactivate at cruising speed on the motorway for fuel-free coasting, while it can also assist the petrol engine with an additional 14bhp.

This technology is limited to just one model for now, but it will be applied to even the most basic versions of the next C-Class. It will be used in a performance capacity, too, with the addition of a six-cylinder AMG C 53 model to the line-up.

Mercedes will also introduce new plug-in hybrid variants to take on the latest BMW 330e. The new 3 Series PHEV has a maximum range of 41 miles on battery power alone, plus a four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. Naturally, the next plug-in versions of the C-Class – both petrol and diesel versions could appear – will major on new battery technology to unlock the potential of up to 50 miles’ range on electric power and significantly reduced CO2 emissions when running in hybrid mode.

Mercedes is also expected to produce a separate all-electric rival for Tesla’s Model 3 at a later stage, using a unique platform developed for the firm’s EQ sub-brand.

One area where the next C-Class won’t chase the 3 Series too hard is in driving dynamics; it will remain a car that’s focused far more on passenger comfort and refinement. Key to this will be the decision to continue offering the C-Class with optional air suspension, something that isn’t available on its BMW, Audi A4 or Jaguar XE rivals.

Semi-autonomous driving technology will also take a big step forward in the new Mercedes, with the deployment of a ‘level-three’ driver-assistance feature, which is due also on the next S-Class. Such a set-up will permit conditional autonomy, and in the case of the next C-Class this will mean that the car is capable of looking after hands-off motorway driving at speeds of up to 81mph. However, the driver must remain ready to take back control.

The C-Class’s exterior design will emulate the platform by being an evolution of the current car’s. We’ve previewed the saloon in these exclusive images, but as ever, estate, coupé and cabriolet versions of the fifth-generation car will follow.

In contrast, the changes inside the new car will be profound, with a totally fresh interior architecture. A large display will dominate the cabin, stretching from the bottom of the centre console, and combining the central display and fully digital instruments. The same set-up is also due to appear in the next S-Class.

Click here to read our in-depth review of the current Mercedes C-Class...