Beginning with the refreshed model that arrives mid-year, M-B is no longer shying away from fours: A new C250, with a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, is the new base model for the U.S., and with M-B anticipating nearly half to be sold with the four, it's the new volume model as well.
M-B expects sales for the new coupe and sedan combined to be incrementally higher than the current sedan.
It's certainly not the first time Mercedes has offered a four-cylinder in the C-Class. In the 1990s, the automaker offered a four-cylinder C220 in the U.S., then later, this past decade, a supercharged C230 Kompressor.
The last time the C-Class was fully redesigned, we were told that four-cylinder models wouldn't be coming back anytime soon—dealerships pushed back, and the customer demand wasn't there. Now it seems just a few years later that's all changed.
Refinement, fuel prices, CAFE make it different this time
Why? Stronger, smoother four-cylinder engines with more appeal; preparedness for higher fuel prices; and a concern about raising the company's fleet fuel economy are all strong reasons to bring four-bangers back.
The new engine in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe and sedan produces up to 229 pound-feet of torque; that's eight more pound-feet than the V-6 it replaces. And with a flatter torque curve, even though peak power is lower than that of the V-6, 0-60 acceleration will be the same, at 7.1 seconds. "So from a customer perspective it's a win-win," declared Bernhard Glaser, general manager for U.S. product, who added that the new engine offers more driving involvement than the outgoing engine—as well as more torque.
"That's just the driving part. The other thing that comes under consideration is the dramatically improved fuel economy—15 percent better," Glaser said. The new engine returns 21 mpg city, 30 highway (24 combined); that's significantly better than the 18/26 ratings of the current 2011 Mercedes-Benz C300.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class will be offered in three different models: C250, C300 4Matic, and C350. The 350 still comes with a 3.5-liter V-6, but it's up in power, to 302 hp, thanks to a new BlueDirect direct-injection system (and will boast a five-percent improvement in fuel economy). As before, separate Sport and Luxury models will bring a separate set of equipment, and a different look, to cater to those who want more of a sport sedan or a comfortable, luxury-oriented model.
C250, with 1.8T, is new core model
The four-cylinder is intended to be the new bread-and-butter of the lineup, not a limited-production price leader. "In the C-Class it's going to be our core model. This engine will replace the C300, so we expect it to be 45 to 50 percent of the model mix," said Glaser. "We have very high expectations."
Four-cylinder installations could be even higher in the sedan, hinted Glaser, while the V-6 could be a more popular choice in the Coupe. "You will probably have a higher share of V-6s in the coupe, because it's a more performance-oriented segment," he said.
The C-Class is Mercedes-Benz's highest-volume model in terms of sales, with more than a million sold since its 2007 model-year launch.
No objections to four-banger this time
And according to Mercedes-Benz, this time around its dealerships didn't have any objections to the engine downsizing.
"Everybody's very excited about this C250. It's the engine, but it's actually the whole package. " Glazer pointed to the extensive facelift that the C-Class models will get this summer. "There will be 2,000 new parts."
In addition to new interior and exterior details, the 2012 C-Class gets an all-new generation of telematics systems, including new 3D displays, Bluetooth audio streaming, text-message display, and a center-armrest USB port. Active safety is also upgraded, with available Attention Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Parking Assist, Parktronic, Lane Keeping Assist, and Blind Spot Assist.
Glaser pointed to the last severe spike in gas prices and how it changed consumer bahavior. "Four cylinders, all of a sudden, were in high demand when gas prices were above $4 a gallon...There's a short memory, unfortunately, but in the long term, gas prices will increase."
"And then we have the 35.5-mpg fleet challenge by model year 2016," added Glaser. "So obviously our product strategy has to be set up in a way to also comply with the regulatory environment."
Performance on par with existing C300 V-6
"As long as there is no compromise to the customer with the new car—and there is no down side—you get better fuel economy, you get better driving performance, and you don't sacrifice even 0-60, which is on par with the outgoing model, it's a win-win situation," Glaser asserted.
The luxury automaker is very closely evaluating a four-cylinder turbo-diesel in its GLK crossover and, according to some reports, is also considering such an engine in its next-generation C-Class, slated to be build in Alabama.
The 2012 C-Class remains built in Germany.