You are driving the new Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI down a dual-lane road at 80km/h, cruising at a safe distance from the car in front.
Traffic slows, so do you. Lights ahead, so the C-class winds down, then smoothly brakes to a halt. The engine unobtrusively turns off to save fuel while you're stationary.
A somewhat uninteresting tale of suburban driving, except that you haven't touched the accelerator or brake pedals once during the whole process. Not once. There's plenty to talk about with Mercedes-Benz's C-class facelift - more than 2000 new components, apparently.
But I'm betting the big news for buyers of compact-executive models will be the availability of high-tech equipment previously restricted to the marque's larger luxury cars. Like Distronic Plus, which is basically cruise-control-with-everything. It not only keeps you the correct distance from the car in front, it can also automatically bring you to a halt.
Such technology is not exclusive to Mercedes-Benz, nor is it cheap at an additional cost of $4600, as part of a package that includes lane-change and blind-spot warning systems. But MB's system is especially effective and in this segment it is a selling point over Audi and BMW. Only Volvo can match it.
Distronic Plus is just so smooth, easy to use (a simple tap of a steering column wand activates it) and effective that you click it on all the time. The C-class is so good at driving itself there's a temptation to simply sit back and enjoy the cabin. The instrument graphics are old-school, but that seems to work in the Mercedes-Benz environment. One of the most important changes is that the fold-up sat-nav screen has been banished in favour of an integrated high-res display. Our $87,500 C 250 CDI is one of the stars of the new line-up. It has the same 2.1-litre diesel engine as the 200 CDI, but two turbochargers that boost it to 150kW/500Nm. And it returns 5.1 litres for 100km in the combined cycle.
The twin-turbo engine is a marvel. It does great work in the E-class, although in that application it's become as famous for its unpremium diesel clatter as for its blend of performance and economy. You still won't mistake the powerplant for anything other than a diesel in the C 250 CDI, but this model is noticeably more refined and with a bit less German sedan to push along, a lot more sprightly too. A seven-speed automatic is standard.
The C-class goes about its business unobtrusively, but always with excellence. It doesn't seem unashamedly luxurious like an Audi A4, nor does it wriggle around the seat of your pants in an overtly sporting manner like the BMW 3-series. But it just does everything so well and suffers none of the quality (BMW) or dynamic (Audi) compromises of its rivals. As a compact-premium package the C 250 CDI is pretty close to perfect.
How does Distronic Plus work? A radar at the front of the car keeps tabs on the vehicle ahead and automatically adjusts the cruise control to suit. If the system detects that the gap between your vehicle and the one ahead is suddenly closing too fast, it will give visual and acoustic signals to warn the driver to take over. And yes, when you're at the lights you do need to get that right foot working - as traffic moves away it takes a quick tap of the accelerator to tell Distronic Plus that you want it (and the engine) to reactivate.
* Audi A4 TDI 2.7 - $81,990
* BMW 325d - $89,500
* Peugeot 508 GT HDi - $65,990
* Volkswagen Passat CC R-Line TDI - $69,500
* Volvo S60 D5 AWD - $71,990