He says, she says.

One car, two points of view. What interests her as an urban planner is the interplay between form and function. As a chauffeur, he is all about comfort and performance. Together, Shilpa Bhatnagar and Julian Van Marle test the C-Class in London.

I’m always calm and relaxed.

Shilpa Bhatnagar advises cities and companies on how to make their public spaces and premises more appealing. Julian Van Marle has been a driver and manager of a chauffeuring company for 14 years. Both live in London – and have professional dealings with the UK capital on a more or less daily basis: Julian’s clients are mostly here on  business, and Shilpa’s last project was centered on the area around London Bridge. While the urban planner generally gets around the city on foot to develop a feeling for the atmosphere of a location and its surroundings, Julian spends up to 18 hours a day in his car. When the pair meet up to test the C 300 h station wagon in London together, they agree that Julian should start off in the driving seat. The chauffeur is unfazed by the city traffic, steering the car confidently between the bicycles, buses, and taxis that often switch lanes without warning. “If I have guests in the car,” Julian says, “I’m always calm and relaxed. But when I’m on my own, I can probably be heard cursing from the other side of the street.”

C 300 h station wagon

Fuel consumption combined: 4.2–3.8 liter/100 km

CO2 emissions (combined): 106–99 g/km


I really like the hyacinh red metallic, but I guess it’s just a bit too unconventional for my clients. I might get away with picking them up without my chauffeur’s cap, but a bright red car would be a bit too much. I usually drive an S-Class for work, so despite its generous size, the C-Class feels positively compact. Most of my clients appreciate the feeling of space and comfort that comes with a Mercedes. What I like most is the performance – whether in urban areas or on the motorway. In a megacity like London, where mopeds, pedestrians, and cyclists are all vying for space with the cars and buses, the small red triangle in your exterior mirrors linked to the Blind Spot Assist can help prevent accidents on a daily basis. The audible warnings for obstacles are also extremely useful. I discovered the 360° camera in the C-Class when I was maneuvering out of a parking space – I wasn’t familiar with this technology. It’s pretty cool to have a bird’s-eye view of your immediate environment – an amazing invention.

All that’s missing is the propellers so you can dodge the rush-hour traffic by flying over it.

I love driving when there are no traffic jams. It doesn’t bother me if I have to drive twelve hours a day. My clients are a very varied bunch – business people mostly, but also celebrities and newlyweds. I was immediately taken by the large trunk in the C-Class. That often comes in handy in my line of work: once I had to transport a case of live falcons. I like to see my business as a mobile concierge service. We go shopping, pick up goods and generally try to be helpful as best we can. Some of my colleagues say that a chauffeur should not be a general dogsbody. But personally I enjoy the variety and I would rather have something to do than just sit around waiting. Once I drove to Paris to deliver a large bucket of roses to a fashion designer on behalf of a client. In exchange, he handed me a dress, which I delivered to my client at 4 p.m. the same day.


I liked the car as soon as I saw it. But when I got inside, I was really taken by the feeling of luxury in the interior. Design and aesthetics are so important to me – I even want my kitchen utensils to look good. Too often, elegance is neglected for the sake of function or comfort, but in the C-Class everything was just right. You can adjust the seats exactly the way you want them, the touchpad of the onboard computer is intuitive, and I thought the 3D graphic for the navigation system was amazing – we could see Big Ben and the London Eye. With a map like that you can enjoy a real and virtual tour of the city at the same time. With my job, I often prefer to get around on foot, since I have to get a feel for the places that feature in my projects. Obviously architecture and design have a role to play when it comes to deciding what changes to make to a place – but so, too, do history, culture, and economics.

Ongoing development is crucial for a world city such as London. But if it is to remain distinctive, London must never lose touch with its roots. I see a similar combination of progress and tradition in the C-Class. With its hybrid drive, the car offers the traditional performance of a diesel engine combined with the benefits of an auxiliary electric motor. It quite simply makes sense to save fuel in nose-to-tail traffic. When the car switches to electric mode in slow-moving traffic, it’s like a little moment of Zen. I have to admit, I let Julian do most of the driving. He’s a professional, and I feel a little intimidated by the chaos on London’s streets. But in the front passenger seat of the C-Class I felt as if I was in my own little bubble. It was so quiet and comfortable – like sitting in a hotel on wheels.