New & Used Mercedes-Benz C-Class: In Depth
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The C-class is a family of small cars offered by Mercedes-Benz. Once the entry-level Mercedes model in the U.S., the C-Class has now grown up and out of that role and is now a very adult car that looks and acts like a smaller version of the brand's S-Class flagship.
Offered as a luxury two-door coupe and a four-door sedan, the C-Class takes on competitors such as the Cadillac ATS coupe and sedan, the Audi A4 and A5, and the BMW 3- and 4-Series. Beginning with 2015 models, four-door C-Classes are now is built in the U.S. at a newly expanded assembly plant in Alabama. C-Class coupes for the 2015 model year are carried over from the previous generation, and continue to be built in Germany.
MORE: Read our 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class review
The C-Class luxury sedan replaced the former Mercedes 190E in American showrooms in the 1994 model year. The first generation of the C-Class was a conventional sedan with relatively safe styling and a range of economical four- and six-cylinder engines. Of course, there was also a V-8 engine used in a high-performance AMG variant, of which only limited numbers were imported to the U.S.
Mercedes launched its second-generation C-Class in 200. The car's design went curvy, a daring departure from the boxy first attempt, but something more in lime with the brand's designs of the day. A year after the sedan, a C-Class SportCoupe (really a three-door hatchback) debuted. It didn't sell well, in part due to price and also because of its odd silhouette; it left the U.S. lineup in 2005. Mercedes created a follow-up hatch coupe called CLC, which was launched overseas for 2008.
The third generation of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class arrived on the market as a 2008 model, on a new platform, upmarket styling derived from the bigger S-Class and new levels of quality and refinement. Most notably, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class set two distinct styles, with separate Luxury and Sport models that catered to different types of C-Class buyers (Sport models were our favorites, as they have better performance, and ride quality doesn't suffer).
No major changes were implemented from then through 2011, with recent model years offering the choice of two V-6 engines--a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter unit and a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter mill--as well as a 451-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 in the high-performance AMG C63 model.
The 2012 model year marked a significant change for the C-Class. In addition to a light facelift inside and out, a new C250 model was introduced, with a fuel-efficient 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood. The C300 (228-hp six) continued, while C350 models gained a new 302-hp, 3.5-liter 60-degree V-6. Also, a new Coupe model joined the range, as did the brilliant C63 AMG Coupe, with its 457-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 and 186-mph top speed.
For the 2013 and 2014 model years, few changes were made, although Mercedes-Benz phased in its mbrace2 telematics system, with emergency assistance, destination planning, a smartphone app, a suite of in-car apps, and new controls for teen drivers or valet parking. For the final 2014 model year of the sedan, Mercedes offered a limited-edition run of the C63 AMG dubbed the Edition 507.
The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Now that Mercedes has the compact CLA-Class as an entry point, the C-Class is free to become the compact luxury sedan it's inched toward since it was new. The 2015 C-Class sedan sports a new architecture, excellent interior styling and features, and advanced safety equipment, all put together in a way that creates a very charming, very good luxury sedan.
Exterior styling on the C-Class is striking, a scaled-down homage to the S-Class without being a mimic. Inside, the cabin continues themes first shown on the big S-Class, with large round vents, a flowing center console, and inlaid metallic-look panels that speak to a grade of luxury higher than the C has ever had.
Two C-Class models are offered for 2015: the C300 and the C400. Initially, both will come standard with the Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, although the C300 will get a rear-drive variant later in 2015. A 241-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four powers the C300; the C400 gets a 329-hp twin-turbo V-6. Air suspension is standard, as is a seven-speed automatic transmission. Plug-in hybrid and diesel C-Class models are expected within the next couple of years, and Mercedes has already unveiled the V-8 C63, which will arrive for 2016.
The cabin of the C-Class is larger, with more rear-seat leg room. The highlight, though, is the avant garde console that houses features like a Burmester sound system and a new touch-controlled COMAND infotainment system. Material quality, fit and finish, and design are all top-notch, class-leading.
Crash-test scores haven't yet been published. The C-Class has myriad new safety systems, many bundled under an Intelligent Drive package. It includes adaptive cruise control and steering assist, a stereo-camera system that further aids lane-keeping and semi-autonomous functions, brake assist, active parking assist, and a 360-degree camera system.
Fuel-economy ratings for the 4Matic versions of the C300 and C400 are now available. The 2.0-liter C300 returns 27 mpg combined in the EPA cycle, while the new turbocharged six is not far behind at 24 mpg combined. Rear-drive versions should do better, of course.
A plug-in hybrid version of the C-Class, dubbed C350 Plug-In Hybrid, is on the horizon. It combines a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a hybridized seven-speed automatic transmission for total system output of 275 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. It can drive for 20 miles on electric power and should return impressive fuel economy. The system is related to that in the S550 Plug-In Hybrid and offers many of the same fuel-saving technologies and tricks. A new version of the C coupe is expected soon as well.