2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
In years past, the C-Class never figured out what it needed to be. It was, at once, the entry-level Benz that stole buyers from other brands, meaning that it needed to be as cheap as possible, and the Mercedes answer to the 3-Series, meaning it needed to spare no expense in a search for excellence. The result was a rather forgettable car. After the introduction of the $29,995, FWD CLA-Class, Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon says that the company was free to move the C-Class upmarket a bit, in order to create a car that could really try to dominate this segment. To test this theory, we flew to Seattle and drove the new C around the area's beautiful and twisting mountain roads.
We'd seen the pictures of the interior, so we expected the ambiance of a miniature S-Class, and we were certainly not disappointed. The seats are supportive, comfortable, adjustable, and covered in supple and soft leather. Beyond the seats, however, was where the C became something truly special. The center console, which is covered in a minimally sealed wood that actually feels and looks like natural wood truly is the center-piece of the interior. Wood in cars is usually lacquered so heavily that it's virtually indistinguishable from fake wood, and this trend in one of our favorites. The rest of the cabin is punctuated by pops of tastefully designed silver elements. Things that are often clearly afterthoughts, like the vents and speakers, are pleasing to the eye and hand here. It's a fantastic place to spend some time, and excellent naps were had by passengers throughout the drives. Even the weird nav screen that more or less looks like someone glued an iPad to the dash doesn't look that bad in person.
The technology has been updated as well, and COMAND is now operated by a small touch pad on the center console that hovers over the old dial. The touch pad is great, intuitive, and easy to use without having to ever glance down, which is refreshing in a world full of touch screens. We appreciate how useful touch-operated devices can be, but we don't want to have to take our eyes off the road to use them. With the new pad in the C-Class, the perfect compromise has been found, and we can't wait for Mercedes to get rid of the dial, which is only there because old people don't like change.
With the optional Driver Assistance Package, the car will practically drive itself. Between the adaptive cruise control, which can even bring the car to a complete stop in traffic, and the lane-keeping, which will really do the vast majority of the work for the driver in most circumstances, a tired driver can really choose to let the car help out so much that the person behind the wheel is more of a supervisor than a driver. It's both a little unnerving and very impressive.
The real question on our minds, however, was whether or not the C-Class could rise to the bar that the previous generation 3-Series set for handling and sportiness. The current 3-Series fell far, far short, and we were a bit worried that electric steering was just going to ruin this whole segment. It hasn't. With the chassis, suspension, engine, and transmission set to "comfort" the C is smooth, powerful enough, and exactly what one is hoping for in a luxury car. Gone are the rough edges and underwhelming engines of last generation, and here instead is an experience that is as close as one can get to an S-Class for $38,000. Push the switch up twice, setting the aforementioned systems to "Sport+" and the experience changes drastically.
The turn in is crisp, the steering communicates as well as one can expect electric steering to communicate, and the body roll is contained well enough to really have a good time throwing the C through some corners. The base 2.0L turbo is certainly sufficient and has enough low-end torque to put a smile on an enthusiastic driver's face, but the V6 is lovely. We're just going to come out and say it: As a sports sedan, a C400 is miles ahead of the new 335i. Although it might be more fun, it never starts feeling like it has attempted to take on a BMW's style and characteristics; it still behaves in a more stately manner, like a Mercedes should. As Marcus Aurelius once said, "to refrain from imitation is the best revenge."
It is indeed more expensive than the outgoing C-Class, but it certainly provides a better value. The RWD C300 starts at $38,400, AWD costs another $2,000, and the C400, which is sadly only available with AWD, starts at $48,590. This is, of course, a Mercedes, so thousands and thousands of dollars can be spent on tempting options, like the aforementioned Driver Assistance Package. Although the V6 is wonderful, the great torque of the 2.0L makes it hard to justify the $10,000 that those two extra cylinders cost. Unless you really have some money to burn, go for the C300.
Now we just can't wait to see what AMG does with this fantastic platform.