Now in its fourth generation, Mercedes' bread-and-butter C-Class 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 C is available as a sedan (detailed here), as a wagon that's sold exclusively in Europe and as a sleek-looking coupe. Buyers who want a faster version of the C-Class should look at the fire-breathing, tire-shredding Mercedes-AMG C63.
For the latest model year, the Mercedes has added a C450 AMG model that fills the gap between the regular C and the AMG-tuned C63.
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.
Buyers can choose between the C300 and the C450 AMG. A diesel-powered model dubbed C300d and a plug-in hybrid called C350e will be added to the lineup shortly.
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.
The C450 AMG reaches 60 mph from a stop in 4.9 seconds thanks to a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that makes 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft. of torque. The six spins all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The C450 AMG 4MATIC also packs an AMG Adaptive sports suspension borrowed from the Mercedes-AMG C63, an uprated version of Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive system with a 33/67 front-to-rear power split, quicker steering and a sports exhaust system with a throatier growl.
The C300 returns 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway with rear-wheel drive, and ordering all-wheel drive lowers those figures to 24 and 31, respectively. The C450's mileage checks in at 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.
Trim Level Breakdown
The C300 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped by all-season tires, a temporary spare tire, keyless start, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power heated door mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic halogen headlights, perimeter lighting, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, an eight-speaker sound system, tinted windows, cruise control and power windows.
In addition to a more muscular look, the C450 adds a sport exhaust, a gloss black accents all around, red seat belts, a sport steering wheel, aluminum trim on the dash, brushed aluminum pedals, keyless entry, a universal garage door opener, a brake hold function and SiriusXM satellite radio with a six-month trial.
Highlights from the long 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, navigation, a heads-up display, an in-car WiFi hotspot, a heated steering wheel, a class-exclusive air suspension on both axles, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, heated seats, 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 and the Cadillac ATS and even the Acura TLX. Inevitably, the compact C also faces competition from Mercedes' own CLA.