2011 Mercedes-Benz C Class Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
April 25, 2011

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans aren't that spacious for back-seat riders, but they offer top-notch luxury along with a sporty flavor that takes aim at BMW.

The compact 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is offered in a bewildering array of possibilities overseas, but here in the U.S. it comes only in a few combinations—all four-door sedans, with gasoline V-6 or V-8 engines, taking on entry luxury and sport models like the Audi A4, the BMW 3-Series, the Lexus IS, the Infiniti G37, and the Cadillac CTS.

While there's only a single sedan body style available in the C-Class, it's anything but a one-trick pony. C300 and C350 models are both offered in both Sport and Luxury guise, and there's quite the aesthetic difference between them. The Luxury models carry the familiar Mercedes-Benz grille and a three-pointed star as a hood ornament, along with trim and wheels that give you that austere classic Benz look, if that's what you're in to. Sport models forgo the ornamentation for a flat badge on the grille, as well as a different, less glitzy front-end look—and, for 2011, get new LED running lamps (in bi-xenon-equipped models) instead of fog lamps. The differences between Sport and Luxury models carries through to the interior as well, though it's mainly a matter of trims; in the Luxury, you'll find burled walnut, chrome, and a four-spoke wheel that lives up to the austere Benz image of yore. If you want something more in line with BMW, the Sport is the pick.

Both of the V-6 engines offered on the two primary C-Class models give this compact luxury sedan plenty of oomph, and you're only likely to see much of a difference when taking out the stopwatch or if driving very fast with a full load. Zero to 60 with the C300, which offers up a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine, is 7.1 seconds, while the C350 Sport can get to 60 in 6.1 seconds and antes up a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. Sport versions are highly recommended, because the ride quality doesn't suffer much at all for its more aggressive cant; the Sport sedan also gets bigger wheels and brakes, as well as a dual exhaust to go with its lower, more tightly sprung suspension.

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At the top of the line, is the brilliant (and slightly wicked) C63 AMG, powered by a massive 6.2-liter V-8 that rumbles out 451 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. The C63 shoots to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and can press a top speed of 155 mph even higher, to 186 mph, with an optional sport pack. The seven-speed automatic shifts in a different manner than the rest of the C-Class, with rapid, decisive changes. AMG also tightens handling down to the bare essentials, with almost no body roll, as well as a revised front and rear suspension, a wider track, quicker steering, and big 18-inch wheels with 14.2-inch front disc and 13-inch rear disc brakes.

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class models provide the utmost comfort for front occupants, but those in back, even if they can get in, will be left wedging their legs against the back of the front seats. In all fairness, when looking at rival models like the Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series, that's just how it is in this class. While the base C300 does include some barely luxury-grade plastics, overall the C-Class models come with distinctive materials and excellent fits and finishes. Cabins are well hushed from road and wind noise, though you do hear the engine more than some might expect in a luxury car (Luxury models are quieter).

Whether you go with the Luxury or Sport models, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz comes as a well-equipped luxury sedan. All 2011 C-Class models get Bluetooth connectivity; a power sunroof; dual-zone climate control; power windows/locks/mirrors; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; power front seats; and cruise control. And options include a music hard-drive system, nav system, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, and xenon headlamps.

The C63 AMG includes leather upholstery; an AMG gauge pack; a sunroof; dual-zone climate control; Bluetooth; Sirius; a telescoping steering wheel; cruise control; and a garage door opener.

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2011 Mercedes-Benz C Class

Styling

Two completely different styling themes, over a pleasant design inside and out, gives either luxury or sport buyers something to be happy about.

While there's only a single sedan body style available in the C-Class, it's anything but a one-trick pony. C300 and C350 models are both offered in both Sport and Luxury guise, and there's quite the aesthetic difference between them. The Luxury models carry the familiar Mercedes-Benz grille and a three-pointed star as a hood ornament, along with trim and wheels that give you that austere classic Benz look, if that's what you're in to. Sport models forgo the ornamentation for a flat badge on the grille, as well as a different, less glitzy front-end look—and, for 2011, get new LED running lamps (in bi-xenon-equipped models) instead of fog lamps. Both have the same somewhat busy exterior shape, with an arc rising from the front end and tapering to the rear. The theme is more dramatic and edgier than the former C-Class, and it's a larger car that looks more expressive and imposing when it's on the road.

The differences between Sport and Luxury models carries through to the interior as well. The Sport wears a three-spoke steering wheel and either matte aluminum, burled walnut, or black maple dash trim in sparing amounts, and it has more drab plastic than the Luxury, which dons burled walnut, chrome, and a four-spoke wheel. Overall, the C-Class has the more angular, less flowing look that's been introduced in many of the brand's recent models, with a well-organized cabin with large and clear gauges, plus distinctive-looking door panels and, unfortunately an audio-system interface that's just a little too overwrought with identical black buttons. Somewhat awkwardly, the audio and navigation display is tucked behind a hinged dash panel that sits up while the screen's in use; it works in some vehicles (like the Cadillac CTS family), but it feels cobbled on here.

Also part of the C-Class family is the high-performance C63 AMG. Building on the cues of the C-Class Sport models, the C63 is hard to mistake from the outside, as it looks far more aggressive, with wide performance tires on huge AMG wheels, along with unique AMG spoilers and trim throughout, inside and out. And if it's not enough, the raspy AMG exhaust system comes with twin chrome tailpipes.

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2011 Mercedes-Benz C Class

Performance

The 2011 C-Class sedans, especially in Sport guise, offer a more responsive driving experience than might be expected, while the C63 AMG is one very wild but controllable ride.

Both of the V-6 engines offered on the two primary C-Class models give this compact luxury sedan plenty of oomph, and you're only likely to see much of a difference when taking out the stopwatch or if driving very fast with a full load. Zero to 60 with the C300, which offers up a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine, is 7.1 seconds, while the C350 Sport can get to 60 in 6.1 seconds and antes up a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The C300 has a standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed automatic, but the C350 can only be had with the automatic.

Whether in a Sport or Luxury model, the powertrain stays remarkably smooth and composed, with a nice linear power delivery with either engine. The seven-speed automatic that's offered throughout the range shifts cleanly and offers a manual-shift mode for more engaged drivers, but it can feel a little slow to respond. The C-Class range is primarily rear-wheel drive, but the C300 can be ordered with 4Matic all-wheel drive, which is set with a 45:55 rear torque bias and shifts more torque to the front wheels as the rears begin to slip.

Handling in this generation of C-Class was much-improved over previous versions, and Sport models are ever closer to the standard set by BMW. All C-Class sedans have an Agility Control suspension, which uses mechanical switches to change suspension tautness and reduce body motion, while still giving the C-Class a well-controlled ride. The same Sport/Comfort button that speeds up gearchanges and throttle response feeds more feel into the steering and stiffens the suspension. Steering response is quicker that you'd probably expect from a Mercedes, but it's not quite as direct as BMW's 3-Series, and though it loads and unloads nicely the feel can be quite numb. A Dynamic Handling Package was new last year for rear-drive Sport sedans; it fits the suspension with electronically controlled shocks, even faster steering, and AMG 18-inch wheels.

Sport versions are highly recommended, because the ride quality doesn't suffer much at all for its more aggressive cant; the Sport sedan also gets bigger wheels and brakes, as well as a dual exhaust to go with its lower, more tightly sprung suspension.

At the top of the line, is the brilliant (and slightly wicked) C63 AMG, powered by a massive 6.2-liter V-8 that rumbles out 451 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. The C63 shoots to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and can press a top speed of 155 mph even higher, to 186 mph, with an optional sport pack. The seven-speed automatic shifts in a different manner than the rest of the C-Class, with rapid, decisive changes. AMG also tightens handling down to the bare essentials, with almost no body roll, as well as a revised front and rear suspension, a wider track, quicker steering, and big 18-inch wheels with 14.2-inch front disc and 13-inch rear disc brakes.

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2011 Mercedes-Benz C Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class has a well-finished, quiet cabin, but it clearly prioritizes the front-seat occupants.

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class models provide the utmost comfort for front occupants, but those in back, even if they can get in, will be left wedging their legs against the back of the front seats. In all fairness, when looking at rival models like the Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series, that's just how it is in this class.

In front, the wide, flat-bottomed seats are excellent; they don't have much side support but they give the type of support that's good for all-day drives. The driving position in the C-Class is quite good, too, between the telescoping steering wheel, the power driver seat, and the car's tall, glassy cabin. C63 AMG models have similar packaging but get snug-fitting AMG sport seats that will keep you pinned in place in the corners.

The rear seats still are one of the most significant drawbacks of this car. Somehow, Mercedes designers either ran out of space between the front seats and the trunk, or they assumed C-Class buyers won't be using the back seat, but available space back there isn't adequate for most full-sized adults. Average frames will have enough headroom to be comfortable but will still be short on legroom; and taller adults will have to contort to fit in. The trunk is a little small as it is, at 12.4 cubic feet, but this time around Mercedes-Benz didn't forget about interior details; there are plenty of cupholders, door pockets, and a sizable glove box, plus a big center console.

While the base C300 does include some barely luxury-grade plastics, overall the C-Class models come with distinctive materials and excellent fits and finishes. Cabins are well hushed from road and wind noise, though you do hear the engine more than some might expect in a luxury car (Luxury models are quieter).

7

2011 Mercedes-Benz C Class

Safety

The 2011 C-Class offers a good safety-feature set; but to those seeking the safest car in this class should be concerned about some of its crash-test ratings.

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans earn top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but some conflicting crash-test results call into question whether the C-Class is one of the safest options in this already safety-conscious class.

Those, from the federal government and part of its revised and more stringent tests being conducted on 2011 models for the first time, show the C-Class as only earning four stars overall, including a good five-star side performance but just three stars in the frontal test. And while the new side pole test—which simulates a sideways collision with a tree or pole—isn't yet figured into the overall score, the C-Class managed an imperfect four stars.

The equipment is there, though; all models come equipped with dual front, side, curtain and pelvic airbags, and they offer a rearview camera and rear-seat side airbags.

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2011 Mercedes-Benz C Class

Features

While the C-Class is missing some top-tech options that Mercedes-Benz offers in its larger cars, these sedans have a solid feature set.

Whether you go with the Luxury or Sport models, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz comes as a well-equipped luxury sedan. All 2011 C-Class models get Bluetooth connectivity; a power sunroof; dual-zone climate control; power windows/locks/mirrors; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; power front seats; and cruise control.

But there are plenty of chances to pile on options. Top picks include a voice-activated navigation system; Sirius Satellite Radio; a 4GB music hard drive; a media interface for iPods and other MP3 players; a DVD entertainment system; a panoramic sunroof; heated seats; xenon headlamps; a keyless ignition system; trunk- or roof-mounted spoilers; and power lumbar adjustments for the seats. The only things missing are top active-safety and tech features—like active cruise control.

The C63 AMG includes leather upholstery; an AMG gauge pack; a sunroof; dual-zone climate control; Bluetooth; Sirius; a telescoping steering wheel; cruise control; and a garage door opener.

6

2011 Mercedes-Benz C Class

Fuel Economy

C300 and C350 models aren't particularly green, and while the C63 AMG is an enthusiast status symbol, it could be embarrassing if you have environmentally conscious friends.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class models really aren't very green, if you judge it based on fuel economy and carbon footprint, as most of the energy used over the lifetime of the vehicle concerns tailpipe emissions. Base C300 models are the most fuel-stingy, but even their 18 mpg city, 26 highway ratings are nothing to brag about. Ratings range down to 17/24 for the C350 and C350 4Matic models, and the high-performance C63 AMG is the environmental black sheep of the family, at 13/19.

Mercedes-Benz has been offering a turbo-diesel V-6 in the E-Class, called the E350 Bluetec, and even this model gets 22/33. But thus far the automaker hasn't offered any fuel-efficient alternative for the C-Class in the U.S.

That's bound to change, though. If you like the C-Class package but aren't a fan of the unimpressive fuel economy, you might want to hold off until later this year, when the 2012 model will get a new 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine—and an EPA highway rating estimated at around 30 mpg.

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