This summer my wife and her parents and I all went on a trip to Scotland, where we rented a car and drove the entirety of the North Coast 500 – a 500 (ish) mile loop along the… you guessed it, north coast of Scotland.
Although we had reserved a medium-sized SUV, when we arrived one wasn’t available, so we were upgraded (such as it is) to this – a 2023 Mercedes-Benz C200 wagon (or “estate car” as they’d call it there).
This particular C200 was equipped with the “EQ Boost” powertrain – meaning it was a mild hybrid, combining a 1.5 L gasoline engine and a 48-volt, 15 kW electric motor. This combined to produce about 200 HP and… some amount of torque? The information I was able to find was a bit unclear, given the way the electric & gas engine’s power is combined. But suffice it to say, there was “sufficient” torque.
Our particular C200 was also (strangely) equipped with an AMG appearance package, with AMG wheels and running boards – which we ended up wishing it didn’t have (more on that later).
One benefit of this being a wagon instead of an SUV was that it had plenty of cargo space – it was able to swallow all our bags no problem (and remember, we had to pack enough for 4 people for 2 weeks in some remote parts of Scotland).
Although we’d planned to share driving duty, in the end I was the only one to drive – meaning I drove this car the entire 500+ miles around the top end of Scotland, along some very varied terrain (more on that experience in a later post). But the car handled it very well – with a few exceptions, which aren’t really its fault.
- Quite comfortable: the seats were plenty adjustable and it was easy to find a comfortable driving position. While not super huge in terms of legroom (front or rear), it wasn’t cramped either, and we had no complaints despite spending many hours each day in the car driving from place to place.
- Plenty of interior space: as mentioned, it was able to hold all our luggage without any trouble, and it was able to fit all 4 of us as well without feeling cramped.
- Good safety features: all the usual stuff was there; active lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, 360 degree cameras – all of it.
- Reasonably good fuel economy: I wasn’t able to do any proper tests of course, given the route we had to drive, but it did very well – it had a reasonably big tank and we didn’t have to fill up that many times.
- Good visibility: I never had a problem with blind spots, and the rear visibility was pretty good, too – the back window was not super-small like it can be in a lot of cars these days.
- Really nice big touchscreen & gauge screen: modern Mercedes-Benz vehicles generally do quite well in this regard, and this was no different. It had a huge center screen and a completely digital gauge screen. The gauge screen was very customizable – I really liked it – and the main screen was plenty big, especially given how it was mounted. It was right in the center of the dash, and it was taller than it was wide – kind of like a Tesla screen layout, in that regard.
- Being on the “wrong ” side of the car: although this isn’t the fault of this car specifically, it did have some effects. The brake & gas pedal layout is the same regardless of which side of the car you drive on, so in this car the gas pedal was over on the right as usual – but this put it by the door, instead of by the center of the car as I’m used to. Conversely, this also meant my left foot was crowded up against the drivetrain tunnel – there was no “dead pedal” to rest it on. This was probably the only thing about the car that felt “cramped,” and probably wouldn’t have been an issue in a left-hand drive model.
- Throttle difficult to modulate at low speeds: cars with small engines and turbos can sometimes be tricky at low speeds, as you try to modulate your throttle input at low speeds because when the turbo kicks in there’s naturally a burst of power. This gets amplified when you throw an electric motor into the mix. In city driving I often found it difficult to get the car moving at just the right speed – I’d push the throttle and almost nothing would happen, so I’d have to mash it down… and then either the engine or the turbo would kick in, and I’d surge forward a bit, making for a bit of a jerky ride for my passengers. Given that I was with the car for 2 weeks and still wasn’t quite used to it yet does not bode well for the long-term experience.
- Low to the ground: we had initially requested an SUV for a reason: we were going to be on some very rough roads along the remoter parts of the North Coast 500 route, and we wanted a bit of ground clearance to help with that. The C200… did not have much ground clearance, and the AMG package’s side running boards didn’t help. Despite my best efforts and despite going sometimes only creeping along, we still scraped the bottom of the car a few times. On top of that, being so low made it tricky for my wife’s parents to get in & out (and, if I’m being honest, it was tricky at times for me, too).
- Navigation a bit of a mixed bag: the built-in navigation was sometimes amazing, and sometimes completely useless. This is hardly specific to Mercedes, but still… it was frustrating at times to search for a place, only for the car to come up empty… while Google Maps found it no problem. And we had to use the car’s navigation frequently, as we were often in places with no cell signal. Not a huge deal, mind you, but still annoying at times.
- Screens take a long time to become active after starting: again, this is probably not specific to this car but more to Mercedes’ system fleet-wide, but it still annoyed me to have to wait so long after starting the car to be able to do anything in the infotainment system. Yeah, that startup animation is cool… the first time you see it; not so much the 50th time.
- Safety systems can be annoying when they go wrong: the lane-keep assist in particular was a bit of a shock to me, as I’d never experienced active lane-keep assist before. When I felt the steering wheel jerking to the left or right, it very much surprised me… and then it started to annoy me. Now, granted, we were on some very, very narrow roads at times where I needed to really get close to the edge of the road to let another car pass, and at those times the safety systems (understandably) wouldn’t want to let me do that. And, yeah, sure, I could always override it… but on some narrow roads near cliff edges, it was unnerving to have the car jerking the wheel out of my control. And on at least one occasion, the car was reading white flowers that grew along the side of the road as lane markers, and tried to keep me inside of those as if they were the edge of the road!
- Sensitive brakes difficult to modulate sometimes: like the throttle, the brakes were difficult to modulate sometimes. There wasn’t much feedback from the pedal about how much stopping power you were applying, which sometimes made for a bit of a jerky ride.
Overall, the C200 was a fine wagon – in fact, I saw quite a few others while we were on our trip, so it must be reasonably popular. It can comfortably carry 4 adults plus a decent amount of cargo in comfort with reasonably good fuel economy with lots of safety features – and at the end of the day, what more can you ask for?