Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor
Sometimes appearances offer meaningful insight, and such is the case with the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250. In a field populated by assertive-looking contenders, the C250's sheet metal evokes something more laidback and traditional. Its lines express a quiet, somewhat sedate affluence that perfectly reflects the car's spirit.
With the C250, you get an accommodating nature that makes life easy for the driver. The car's suspension filters harshness with impassive efficiency, while its road manners register as effortlessly smooth, yet sharp enough to invite driver engagement. The car's outward visibility is excellent, making it simple to maneuver in highway traffic or crowded parking lots. Finally, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250's fuel economy won't turn your wallet inside out at the pump.
This segment of the sedan market is loaded with superlative choices, and models like the 2012 Audi A4 and 2012 BMW 3 Series may be more appealing to those who want a pick that makes a bolder, more youthful statement. But no car company does luxury like Mercedes-Benz, and the 2012 C250 is unparalleled in its ability to coddle passengers in an environment of thoughtful, well-bred refinement.
Lift the hood of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 and you'll find a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission. The engine delivers crisp acceleration that meets every challenge we throw its way, easily powering us up steep canyon roads and providing the quick burst of speed needed for effortless merging from freeway on-ramps. Still, it's worth noting that most of the C250's rivals are more generously endowed. You get 240 hp with the BMW 328i, 211 hp with the Audi A4 and 250 hp with the 2012 Volvo S60, and these three also best the C250 when it comes to torque.
Though the C250 isn't nearly as lively as more performance-oriented choices like the 328i, real-world handling is engaging enough. Driving dynamics are cooperative and assured, and it all comes together to make piloting this Mercedes an effortless treat.
At the track, the C250 hastened from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds — a quick enough dash, but well behind the times logged by rivals like the 328i (5.9 seconds) and the A4 (6.2 seconds). In braking tests, the sedan exhibited firm pedal feel that remained consistent throughout. It stopped from 60 mph in just 112 feet — a strong performance for this segment, and one that bests the braking distance of the 3 Series by 3 feet.
These days, many of the choices in the entry-level segment of the premium-car market prove that luxury and fuel efficiency can be a natural fit. This Mercedes is in step with that zeitgeist; an EPA rating of 21 city/31 highway mpg and 25 mpg combined makes the C250 reasonably considerate at the pump. We observed 25 mpg in just over 500 miles of combined city and highway driving.
Ride quality is one of the C250's key strengths. German cars are often touted for their ability to travel with a sense of serenity and solidity, and the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 is evidence that this reputation is well deserved. The car's suspension deftly tunes out surface unpleasantness, while at the same time managing to preserve an open conversation with the road.
Those seated in the front row enjoy seats that are supportive without being stifling. The bolsters are gentler than those seen in some rivals, providing a comfortable perch even for those with wider frames, while at the same time managing to keep bodies in place while cornering. Legroom is generous enough to be comfortable and is on par with that of others in this class, but taller drivers should know that headroom comes up a bit short relative to that offered by the competition.
A quiet cabin is one of the perks of C250 ownership. Both on surface streets and on the highway, the cabin remains as still as a Buddhist monastery, with little to report by way of wind, road and tire noise.
Luxury cars can sometimes fall into the trap of making even the simplest features complicated to use, but the C250 avoids this pitfall. Its optional COMAND electronics interface is reasonably intuitive — more so than similar systems offered by some rivals. The system allows most features to be accessed in mere seconds, without the need to click through an endless maze of menus.
Storage opportunities within the cabin are adequate but not exceptional. The center bin is reasonably sized but not roomy, and the same is true for the glovebox. The door bins, however, are fairly wide and deep.
Rear legroom is fine for those who are of average size and smaller, but taller passengers may be left feeling cramped; for more second-row legroom in this segment, you'd be better served by the Audi A4. It's a similar story when it comes to headroom, as that delivered by the C250 is decent enough, but passengers who are much taller than 6 feet might find themselves bumping their skulls on the headliner. Choices like the A4 and the Volvo S60 have a bit more to offer in this department.
Cargo capacity is average, with the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 offering up 12.4 cubic feet of trunk space; there's more room to be had with the Infiniti G and Volvo S60 (13.9 and 13.5 cubic feet, respectively). Outward visibility is one of this car's strong points, with its relatively thin roof pillars affording the driver clear sight lines.
Design/Fit and Finish
From a sheet metal perspective, the C250 comes across as being relatively soft-spoken. The 3 Series commands attention with a hood that bulges and ripples like a track star's thigh, and the A4 grabs your eye with its broad-shouldered stance and masculine grille. This Mercedes, in contrast, makes a less assertive statement, with fluid lines that speak more of luxury than performance.
The car's cabin is attractive and upscale, though from a design perspective, it feels less ambitious and special than those of rivals like the S60, which impresses with its uniquely Scandinavian approach. Materials quality is decent, though there are some plain-looking plastics in evidence.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 is an ideal match for drivers who want an entry-level premium car that emphasizes comfort and luxury. With its easy driving dynamics and superlative outward visibility, it's perhaps the most accommodating and cooperative car in its segment. However, if assertive sheet metal and sporty handling top your list of priorities, picks like the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series make a better fit.
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