The best thing about the new 2015 C-class is that it’s a Mercedes-Benz. We don’t mean to say that the last C-class wasn’t a Benz; of course it was. It was built in a Benz factory, wore Benz logos, and was sold in Benz dealerships to people who think ballcaps with Benz logos are the bee’s knees.
But Benzness wasn’t its foremost business, as it had to conquest buyers from BMW, Audi, and the like while also serving as a price-leading entry point to the brand in the U.S. These goals aren’t wholly incompatible, but they’re close, and the result was a car that never felt as gratifying or as luxurious as a Mercedes ought to. The smaller CLA-class is now a thing, however, and it can absorb the slings and arrows flung at a Benz built to please a spreadsheet.
Movin’ On Up
The new C thus has moved up and moved on; one needs only to sit inside for proof. Prices for the new W205 have risen versus those for the outgoing W204, but the extra bucks were put back into the car in the form of additional standard equipment, new engines and gadgetry, and a stunning interior. This is a mini S-class inside, with far richer materials than before, avant-garde design, and technology that enhances the experience. Hell, the C-class uses the S’s power seat and window switches, and it even offers that car’s perfume sprayer as an option. The detailing is superb; as one example, the outside of the spherical vents carries a piano-black finish that you see only when they’re turned. The interior is better than anything in the segment right now—your move, Audi.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
The richness of the cabin carries over to the driving experience. The C still aims to pick off 3-series and A4 buyers by the bushel, but it’s finally comfortable in its own (S-class–derived) skin, being a luxury car first and a sports sedan second. We drove C300 4MATICs—a rear-drive version of this model arrives early next year—with both the optional Airmatic adjustable air springs and without. We came to prefer the well-calibrated steel suspension, at least on the smooth roads of our test route outside of Seattle, as it offers a cushy ride yet is still firm enough to facilitate the occasional strafing run. (Our test examples were outfitted in Sport trim, which means a stiffer, lowered suspension. The C300 Luxury has a softer setup.)ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
The $1190 air suspension’s exclusive Sport+ setting tries to beat bumps into submission, while Comfort is too squishy, allowing for some head toss on heaving pavement and uncomfortable rear-end squirming under hard braking. The Sport mode delivers the same delicate balance of suppleness and capable handling as the steel setup, and it’s the setting in which we’d leave the suspension. Given that, we’d skip Airmatic and save some loot. Even without the air springs, you still can adjust the steering, transmission, and throttle through Eco, Comfort, and Sport settings using the standard Agility Select switch. While Agility Select sort of sounds like an energy drink by Löwenbräu, its preset modes are well delineated and you can mix and match any of the various parameters via the Individual program.
Bustin’ Some Moves
The C-class’s steering is weighty, direct, and accurate, and it prefers to communicate similarly to E- and S-class steering, meaning it speaks quietly until spoken to, coming alive only when you near the car’s limits. It’s a good partner for both sedate cruising and back-road runs. The brakes never call attention to themselves for good or bad, but they also never failed to deliver ample stopping power even as we snaked down the winding roads near Mount Rainier. The new C is a little longer and wider than the old one, but Mercedes claims a weight loss of up to 200 pounds due to a dense mix of aluminum and high-strength steel in the body shell. It certainly feels stiff from behind the wheel, with nary a squeak, rattle, or shimmy detected during several hours of driving.
The C300 is powered by a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 241 horsepower and a stout 273 lb-ft of torque. It delivers its output smoothly and without much whining, although it’s not the punchiest accelerative experience even with the throttle sensitivity set to Sport or Sport+. The seven-speed automatic never once tripped over itself or delivered the wrong gear, and it engages its ratios quickly and surreptitiously. The powertrain’s biggest demerit is the slightly rough re-ignition of the engine when the standard stop-start system engages. The four-cylinder will be plenty for most buyers, but the C400 4MATIC and its 329-hp twin-turbo V-6 is also available. Starting about a year from now, the lineup will expand to please eco-nerds and hooligans alike, with a plug-in hybrid, a diesel, and a burly AMG version all in the pipeline to America.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
Gettin’ Down with Technology
Among the Alabama-built C’s new technologies is Mercedes-Benz’s latest telematics setup, including a standard, smartphone-like touchpad that beetles over the familiar COMAND knob. The pad offers haptic feedback and new functionality like swiping through menus, the ability to enter data by writing letters with your fingertip, and pinching and zooming the navigation map. It also has a handy row of three “buttons” along its trailing edge that serve as shortcuts to the home screen, a pop-up audio menu, and a customizable carousel of favorite apps and functions that you can then swipe through. We found it to be very intuitive and responsive, but for those uncomfortable with The Future, the COMAND knob works just as it has in Benzes past. If that’s still too much, you might consider a used 190E.
In addition to the touchpad and Agility Select, the basic $41,325 C300 4MATIC has dual-zone auto climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless ignition, rain-sensing wipers, power folding mirrors, USB connectivity with support for iOS and Android phones, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, and a seven-inch center-stack screen. It also packs driver-assistance technologies such as the Attention Assist driver-drowsiness monitor, Pre-Safe collision preparation, and Collision Prevention Assist Plus, which can autonomously brake the car in the case of driver inaction (from speeds up to 124 mph) when the car in front is moving or slowing down, brake the car fully in response to stopped cars (at speeds up to 31 mph), and prevent rear-end bang-ups (up to 25 mph). As you’d expect of any luxury car, you can load up the new C with a pile of equipment.
Yes, the C-class has always been a Mercedes-Benz. But this stylish, satisfying, and confident new model means the car is now a Benz in terms of desirability and prestige, too.