The C-Class is Mercedes-Benz's entry in the entry-level luxury sedan segment. More customers choose a C-Class than any other model of Benz, and the Stuttgart-based manufacturer strives to imbue the little sedan with traditional Mercedes levels of technology, comfort and build quality.
This year - which will be the current C-Class' last before it's replaced by the next-generation model - the sedan receives only minor changes, including a standard split-folding rear seat and upsized 18-inch wheels for the C350.
The C-Class sedan is available in three different models, each with a different engine: the C250, C300 4Matic and C350. A smooth-shifting seven speed automatic is the only transmission choice for the C-Class.
The C250 is powered by a direct fuel-injected 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, rather than a 2.5-liter as suggested by the name (German automakers no longer strictly preserve the link between model name and engine displacement). The little engine sips fuel and produces 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque from just 2000 rpm, good for a zero-to-60 mph sprint of about seven seconds.
The midrange model, the C300 4Matic, received a new powerplant for the previous model year. It remains the only variant to include all-wheel drive. The old 3.0-liter V6, with its 228 ponies and 221 lb-ft of torque, has now made way for a detuned version of the C350's 3.5-liter V6. That engine retains direct injection but makes a more competitive 248-horsepower along with 251 lb-ft.
The C350 is the sprinter of the family, utilizing a direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 that cranks out 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque and enables zero-to-60 mph runs comfortably under six seconds. It also gains an ECO Start/Stop system to gain a few more miles out of a tank in the city cycle. The new engine was needed to justify the price difference compared to the more torquey turbo base engine.
All C-Class models feature a stop/start system that shuts down the engine when the car comes to a rest to save fuel, then automatically starts the motor once the driver hits the gas pedal. Fuel economy is rated at 21/31 mpg and 20/29 mpg for the C250 and C350 models, respectively. The C300 4MATIC returns 20/27 mpg.
The C-Class can be had in Luxury or Sport guise. "Luxury" models include a traditional Mercedes hood ornament above an upright grille, along with understated wheels and fascia trim. "Sport" models are differentiated by a large Mercedes badge set into a somewhat more rearward-leaning grille as well as a more aggressive front fascia (including LED lights) and wheels; the C350 comes only as a Sport model.
The interior is dominated by a prominent trim panel (finished in wood or an imitation aluminum) that stretches from the center air vents along the passenger side dashboard, adding visual width. Behind an aggressive three-spoke, 12-button multifunction steering wheel lie deeply recessed tubular gauges featuring a 4.5-inch color display in the center of the speedometer, which can call-up numerous screens and functions related to audio, telephone, navigation and vehicle settings.
A fixed 5.8-inch central display screen is surrounded by a stepped hood that flows across from the instrument cluster and continues into the passenger side through a subtle character line. The head unit includes a Bluetooth interface for wireless audio streaming and hands-free phone operation, an FM phase-diversity twin tuner, MP3compatible CD drive, HD/AM/weatherband and a USB port in the center console.
Standard and Optional Features
Major standard features include a power sunroof, dual zone climate control, eight-way power seats and Bluetooth audio streaming.
The optional Premium Package adds power front seats with driver memory, split-folding rear seats, SIRIUS satellite radio, 4-way power lumbar support (driver only), iPod/MP3 Media Interface (in center console), Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 surround-sound system and Heated Front Seats) and the Multimedia Package (COMAND system with hard-drive navigation), enhanced voice control for audio, telephone and navigation, SIRIUS real-time traffic service, in-dash six-disc DVD/CD changer and SD card slot, Gracenote media database, 10GB hard-drive with Music Register and a rearview camera.
New additions to the options list for the latest model year include the AMG Sports Package Plus, which brings enhanced exhaust tuning, a special sport interior with contrasting seatbelts and 18-inch sevem-twin-spoke wheels, in addition to a radar-based cruise control system, which is offered as a stand-alone option.
All C-Class models boast Agility Control, which provides the benefits of both soft and stiff shock absorbers. Each twin-tube shock absorber is fitted with a hydraulic by-pass piston that acts like a very soft shock absorber to effectively dampen road noise and tire vibration. However, over bumpy or uneven roads, the by-pass piston is out of the picture, a move that preserves the improved steering and handling response of a stiffer shock absorber.
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the C-Class Sedan will only add to that reputation. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the car boasts nine supplemental restraints including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with curtain and side air bags to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions.
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 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 the Lane Tracking 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 Lane Tracking 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 rivals to the C-Class: the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Lexus IS, as well as the Cadillac ATS and Acura TSX - all compete against Mercedes' small sedan.