New & Used Mercedes-Benz C-Class: In Depth
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While the Mercedes-Benz C-Class was once the entry-level U.S. model, it has since grown into an adult luxury car more closely resembling the larger, more expensive S-Class flagship. For 2015, C-Class sedans are built in the company's Vance, Ala., plant, while coupes continue to be manufactured in Germany. Material quality, fit and finish, and design are all top-notch, class-leading.
Among the C-Class competitors are BMW's 3-and 4-Series cars, the Audi A4 and A5 and the Cadillac ATS coupe and sedan.
A plug-in hybrid version of the C-Class has been announced and should be available soon with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a hybridized seven-speed automatic transmission for total system output of 275 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque.
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 C 63 model.
The 2012 model year marked a significant change for the C-Class. In addition to a light facelift inside and out, a new C 250 model was introduced, with a fuel-efficient 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood. The C 300 (228-hp six) continued, while C 350 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 C 63 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 is free to become the compact luxury sedan it has 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 C 300 and the C 400. Initially, both will come standard with the Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, although the C 300 will get a rear-drive variant later in 2015. A 241-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four powers the C 300; the C 400 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 C 300 and C 400 are respectable. The 2.0-liter C 300 returns 27 mpg in the combined EPA cycle, while the new turbocharged six is not far behind at 24 mpg combined. The rear-drive C 300 does even better, at 28 mpg combined, or 25 city and 34 highway.
A plug-in hybrid version of the C-Class, dubbed C 350 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 C 63 AMG sedan has been announced, with a very similar formula to the last version. Its 6.2-liter V-8 has been replaced by a newer, twin-turbocharged AMG engine, however. The U.S. market will continue to get it only in sedan form at first, with a wagon model sold elsewhere. Redesigned C-Class coupes should be along shortly, as well, and will include a two-door C 63. For 2015, Mercedes continues to offer rear- and all-wheel-drive versions of the C350 coupe, as well as a C63 AMG two-door in the previous body style.