Mercedes-Benz completely changed the C-Class for 2015. A ground-up redesign endowed the C with a new architecture with more aluminum, which gave engineers rein to design a larger car that still weighs about 200 pounds less than the previous version.
The lighter weight makes itself known in the C-Class' performance profile. Over the course of a few generations, it's truly met the BMW 3-Series, head to head, for performance, ride, and handling—and this year's new C450 AMG takes down the mid-line 3er by the neck.
This year's base engine carries over from 2015. It's a 2.0-liter turbo-4, as installed in the C300, that delivers 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Coupled to a 7-speed automatic and either rear- or all-wheel drive, it's plenty fast for most drivers, with 0-60 mph times registering in the mid-6-second range. It feels wonderful and whizzy in the way that the compact CLA45 AMG does; the engine finds its boost almost instantly, and while it doesn’t build to a high-rev frenzy or crackle like in the CLA45, throughout the rev band it feels strong and its turbo is staged well.
With this newest chassis and steering and suspension, the C-Class can finally claim a lock on the same level of handling as the 3-Series, or even our current favorite, the Cadillac ATS. Steering in the C-Class is electrically assisted, but it's one of the best systems available today among luxury cars. Its variable ratio is precise and accurate, delivering predictable results for a given steering input; and there's just a bit of real feedback from the road surface. It's also fairly quick in its ratio, requiring just about 2.2 turns lock-to-lock, making tight maneuvers, especially when parking, that much easier.
The suspension the new chassis rides on is improved as well, still offering standard steel springs in its base configuration, but now available with the first air suspension system to be offered in the compact luxury segment. The continuously variable damping system can be adjusted through a range of settings including Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Sport+ modes, along with an Individual option that allows the driver to tweak the settings to their own preferences.
In practice, the Airmatic suspension yields a comfortable, smooth ride and, thanks to a progressive-rate tune on the air-spring system, surprisingly little total body roll at the limit. While that sounds good, it's a little disconcerting, keeping oddly flat in all but the tightest corners. You're not quite as "in touch" with the base car at times when you want it to momentarily play the role of sport sedan. That's better attained in the relentlessly flat-cornering C450 AMG Sport or the AMG C63 twins.
The delightful new mid-range C-Class is the C450 AMG Sport, a model that replaces the former C400. Both carrying a twin-turbo V-6, the C450's engine is an entirely new architecture as well, and it delivers 362 hp, up from 329 hp in the former powerplant. Like its predecessor, the new twin-turbo V-6 engine is potent, and feels strong in any gear or rev range; it pulls willingly whether passing at 60 mph, which it can reach in about 4.9 seconds, or accelerating from a stop. The engine's note, though muted, is pleasant, with a good balance of induction and exhaust sounds penetrating the cabin at lower engine speeds, giving off that classic AMG whuffle. It's much, much closer to the C 63 AMG in output and mission, while leaving the truly bonkers acceleration and track-ready responses to its purer AMG kin.
Covered separately, the C63 AMG is a piece to behold. Sold as either the Mercedes-AMG C63 or C63 S, it ushers in an entirely higher plane of performance with a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine. In the C63 it's rated at 469 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, while the C63 S gets 503 hp and 516 lb-ft. The resulting acceleration is brisk, if not quite as mental as the Caddy ATS-V: the C 63 will hit 60 mph in 4.0 seconds; the C63 S takes 3.9 seconds and can hit 180 mph.
The AMG models offer improved steering feel, thanks to a separately engineered front end and AMG-tweaked steering assist. Adjustable dampers control ride quality, standard all-wheel drive and an electronic locking differential control power application (and aid handling). The all-wheel-drive system is set with a 33/67 torque bias, and offers electronic torque vectoring across the rear wheels. Brakes are upsized; the transmission has five modes of control, including a true manual, rev-matching mode; and a sport exhaust mode gives the V-6 a muscular takeaway.
Together with 18-inch staggered wheels (19s are an option), the whole setup feels much crisper, much more tied together, than the standard non-AMG C-Class range—and more than the competition from BMW.