The C-Class is the bread-and-butter model of the Mercedes-Benz lineup. All new for the latest model year, the C stands out thanks to a fluid design, more generous dimensions and a wide array of high-tech features gleaned from the S-Class flagship.
The fourth-generation C-Class is 3.7 inches longer and 1.5-inches wider than the outgoing model, modifications that Mercedes explains are necessary because the average height of passengers is growing each year. In spite of its larger dimensions, the C is up to 221 pounds lighter than its predecessor thanks to a new body structure made from a combination of aluminum, high-strength steel and various composite materials. Increased rigidity and improved safety are some of the other by-products of the new architecture.
As before, the C is available with two front end treatments called Luxury and Sport, respectively. Heavily inspired by the S, the Luxury model wears an elegant three-slat grille with a small Mercedes three-pointed star that protrudes from the hood. The Sport variant falls in line with the front-wheel drive CLA-Class and the S-Class Coupe thanks to a more aggressive two-slat grille adorned by a large Mercedes emblem. Both variants are fitted with specific bumpers on both ends.
Mercedes has moved the C up a notch on the market in order to differentiate it from the similarly-sized CLA. The C's dashboard is more evocative than before and the cockpit is packed with high-tech features borrowed directly from the S-Class
An innovative smartphone-like touch pad located on the center console lets the passengers control the optional COMAND Online infotainment system with simple finger gestures. Occupants can also use the touchpad to enter an address in the navigation system (if equipped) or to add a contact to the phone book. Alternatively, COMAND Online can be navigated via a controller knob located under the touch pad, voice commands or buttons on the center stack.
The added length provides more space for both the front and the rear passengers, and trunk space checks in at 16.9 cubic feet. An electric parking brake, an electromechanical power steering system and Bluetooth connectivity come standard on all models.
Mercedes offers two versions of the C-Class respectively called C300 and C400.
The C300 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 241 horsepower at 5,550 rpms and 229 lb-ft. of torque at 6,500 rpms. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission, and buyers who need all-wheel drive can order the C300 with Mercedes' time-tested 4Matic system at an extra cost.
Offered exclusively with all-wheel drive, the C400 packs a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine rated at 329 horsepower and a healthy 354 lb-ft. of torque. The six-cylinder is linked to a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
Highlights from the list of options include a GPS-sensitive climate control unit can detect tunnels and switch to an air recirculation mode in order to prevent fumes from entering the cabin, an AIR-BALANCE system that discreetly dispenses perfume to dispel unwanted odors, a class-exclusive air suspension on both axles, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, keyless entry, heated seats, Sirius XM Satellite radio and a power-closing trunk lid.
Buyers can also choose from numerous electronic driving aids including Distronic Plus with Steer Assist, a semi-autonomous system that takes control of the car in a traffic jam.
The C-Class benefits from Mercedes' vast expertise in the field of safety. In addition to expected features like ABS and ESP, the C boasts front and side airbags, a kneebag for the driver, pelvisbags for the front passengers, a newly-developed windowbag and available side airbags for the rear passengers.
Also standard is an "ATTENTION ASSIST" system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S. A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the TFT screen that is integrated into the instrument cluster.
Optional safety equipment includes the Lane Keeping Assist system, which alerts the driver by simulating a rumble strip vibration in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane without the turn signals on. Part of Driver Assistance package, it operates at speeds above 37 mph via a system that recognizes lane markings, thanks to a small camera in the windshield and a computer that analyzes the video images.
The Driver Assistance package also includes Blind Spot Assist, which monitors both blind spots behind and to the side of the vehicle. Whenever a turn signal is activated with a vehicle in the blind spot, the driver gets visual and audible warnings.
There is no shortage of C-Class rivals on the market. In addition to arch rivals like the BMW 3-Series and the Audi A4, the C squares off against the Lexus IS, the Cadillac ATS and the Acura TSX. Inevitably, the compact C also faces competition from Mercedes' own CLA.