THE compact premium saloon segment of the market is one of the most competitive there is.

Big names like BMW, Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes slug it out for bragging rights to the best small saloon on the market.

This in turn has driven the quality and technology used in these cars to new heights.

Take the C-Class. It’s not too fanciful to say the cabin of this model wouldn’t have disgraced an S-Class limousine too long ago. It’s that good.

Traditional cars like the C-Class may not be as popular as they once were but they are still hugely important to manufacturers who see them as the tempting entry point to their wider range of models.

That’s why Mercedes has left no stone unturned in an effort to make this C-Class the best ever.

It looks great; a bit like a shrink-wrapped E-Class, only sportier. There are visual links to the bigger car everywhere, most obviously the power bulges in the bonnet and the dramatic front grille with the iconic three-pointed star badge.

The range consists of four-cylinder petrol and diesel units, all with 48-volt mild hybrid assistance to help improve fuel economy.

Even the entry level 1.5 petrol model has a healthy 201 bhp on tap, although it was the 197bhp C220d that Mercedes sent for evaluation.There’s also a C300d with 261bhp should you crave more power. All of them come with a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard.

The trim levels have been, er, trimmed to just Sport and AMG Line (which can be augmented with optional Premium and Premium Plus packs).

The link with the posh S-Class is stronger than you may think.

The C-Class was developed on the MRA platform, the same as used by the Mercedes super limo, so it benefits from the same fanatical attention to detail in terms of noise, vibration and harshness.

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On the road it feels calm and collected. Noise from the diesel powerplant is a distant hum and disturbance caused by the wind and road surface is negligible.

With 440Nm of torque available from 1,800rpm, you never feel outgunned in the 2.0-litre diesel and there’s plenty of acceleration in reserve at all legal speeds.

The C220d has an engine mode for every occasion. Choose from: Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. In town I used Comfort to soften the worst excesses of our roads and cruising the motorway is best left to Eco mode which eeks out the maximum mileage from every precious gallon of diesel.

Driven in a leisurely fashion more than 60mpg is well within your grasp giving the C220d a range of more than 500 miles between fill-ups (more if you are careful with your right foot).

So the engine’s a good ‘un and the handling is comfy but it’s the interior that makes the C-Class a bit special.

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Despite the almost coupe-esque body, there’s more room inside for passengers and everything you can see or touch is made from top quality materials.

The 12.9-inch digital instrument pack is a model of clarity and the 11.9 inch portrait infotainment screen is generous by the class standards. It borrows from the S-Class and, as you’d expect, feels snappy and inuitive to use. The graphics are pin-sharp and you swipe left or right for options just like a computer tablet. If you’ve used an iPad or similar you’ll feel instantly at home.

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Even the entry level models have a generous tally of equipment, including cruise control, climate and leather trim.

The days when German cars felt spartan without a raft of costly extras are long gone.

And the days when the C-Class felt like the poor relation in the Mercedes line-up are also long gone. This is a genuine pocket S-Class with a cabin that’s more than a match for anything in the sector.

As they say in motor racing: competition improves the breed.

How does it stack up?

PERFORMANCE: With a big slug of torque at just 1800 rpm the C220 pulls like a train.****

CABIN: Best-in-class by far. Looks and feels like an S-Class. *****

PRACTICALITY: The boot has 450 litres of capacity and there’s good passenger room inside.***1/2

VALUE: Built like a Swiss watch. You pay a premium over lesser makes but, in this case, it’s worth it. ****

Specifications: Price: from £28,035 Engine: 4-cyl diesel Max power: 197 bhp Max torque: 440NM Top speed: 152 mph 0-62MPH: 7.3 seconds MPG on test: 58.4

SUMMING UP: A beautifully built car with a brilliant engine with wide appeal. All the car you could ever want.

Want to know more? Visit the Mercedes C-Class website here