With a new, smaller breed of luxury cars arriving in the U.S., including Audi’s A3, BMW’s 2-Series, and Mercedes-Benz’s CLA-Class, the previous small-luxury cars are moving up—and the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is most certainly among them. Upgrades to appearance, equipment, technology, and safety put the new C-Class head and shoulders above the previous model, and at the front of its highly competitive class, too.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about the 2015 C-Class is its striking exterior. You’d even be forgiven for mistaking it for the much larger and more expensive S-Class from a distance. That, however, is by design: the upscale look matches the newly upscale positioning of the C-Class, telegraphing the upgrades inside the car with its impactful new look. Inside, the styling upgrade is even more apparent, and even more in line with the S-Class. Large round vents, a flowing center console, and inlaid panels in the door all speak a design language that’s usually reserved for larger and more expensive cars. Even so, downsized to C-Class proportions, they still work beautifully.
Due to reach the U.S. market this fall, the 2015 C-Class will launch in just two forms, both coming with standard 4Matic all-wheel drive: the C300 and the C400. The smaller designation denotes a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The larger, the C400, gets a twin-turbocharged V-6 engine good for 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. Later on, a rear-drive version of the C300 will become available, and diesel and hybrid versions are also expected to be offered in America. All announced versions of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class in the U.S. will use a seven-speed automatic transmission.
As the most potent form of the 2015 C-Class to reach America (short of the AMG model due in early 2015), the C400 has rather a lot riding on its shoulders in terms of performance. But the C400 4Matic, which comes standard with Mercedes’ Airmatic suspension, does not intend to be a sport sedan first and foremost. Instead, it’s a luxury sedan with ample power and a planted, stable ride. Pushed a bit harder, the C400 will deliver surprisingly little terminal body roll and very brisk passage through winding roads, but ultimately, it won’t invite trips to the local track for a high-performance driving experience. We don’t count that as a demerit, however, as the 2015 C400’s on-road demeanor is expertly balanced, putting passenger comfort and confident dynamics at the fore.
The C300 hasn’t yet been made available for testing, but we have spent time in the slightly less-potent, but otherwise largely identical European-market C250. Though it’s down about 30 horsepower on its American-market counterpart, the C250 exhibited plenty of power for passing, merging with fast traffic, and even a spirited canyon run or two. We were able to test this model with rear-drive as well as all-wheel-drive; taking the power application duties away from the front wheels livens the steering up noticeably, but even in this form, we wouldn’t call it a true sport sedan. Fortunately, the more diminutive C-Class still offers as much luxury and refinement as the larger-engined C400, so the overall experience remains one of balance and poise.
A highlight of the new 2015 C-Class is its interior, which is the new class leader in terms of style and sophistication. Even apart from the headline option items, like a Burmester sound system, new touch-controlled COMAND infotainment system, or Mercedes’ suite of safety technologies called Intelligent Drive, the cabin of the new C-Class exudes luxury in a way that none of the existing alternatives from other brands—or even Mercedes’ own outgoing C-Class—can manage. Material quality, fit and finish, and design are all top-notch, class-leading. There’s no aspect of the cabin that feels like a cut corner or a cost-savings measure. Optional trims include a gorgeous open-pore black ash wood that feels like it comes from a car several classes higher.
The luxurious cabin has grown larger for the new generation as well, a freedom gained by the introduction of the smaller CLA-Class below. Greater wheelbase means more rear-seat leg room, and while six-footers won’t have abundant space for knees, elbows, or noggins, they’ll fit with adequate comfort for even fairly extended drives. The front seat is spacious, with plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room, though the width of the (rather beautiful) center console can impinge on side-to-side knee room for the longer-legged.
Mercedes’ suite of technology in the C-Class puts it almost on par with the E-Class and S-Class in terms of safety and driver assistance. In fact, many of the systems are identical to the others, while a few are arriving in the C-Class first, before moving to there set of the lineup. The Intelligent Drive package rolls up many of the headline aspects, and includes Distronic Plus 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 surprisingly effective 360-degree camera system, among other features. A head-up display can relay navigation instructions, vehicle speed, and other driving data. The new COMAND infotainment system gets Mercedes’ latest mbrace2 app suite and an all-new touchpad controller that hovers above the familiar (but now knurled) COMAND control wheel. This new touchpad system offers gestural input, including swipes, pinch-zoom, and tap/click maneuvers, all familiar to computer or tablet users. While we appreciate the added layer of control over the COMAND system, suing the standard control wheel below without making unintentional inputs to the touchpad can be difficult at first, and there’s a definite learning curve to getting the desired reactions from the COMAND system through the touchpad input.
As an all-new model that hasn’t yet arrived in the U.S. for retail sale, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has yet crash-tested the car. Likewise, the EPA hasn’t yet established gas mileage ratings for either the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 or C400.
- Bold new styling
- High-torque turbocharged engines
- Improved interior design
- Extensive weight savings
- High-tech safety options
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- The likely disparity between high-end and base models
- No rear-wheel-drive option at launch
- COMAND infotainment continues to lag on appearance