A little longer and much lighter than last year's car, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class builds on a successful formula of four- and six-cylinder engines, an upgraded suspension and stunning new cabin design. All-wheel drive and segment-leading safety features make this C-Class one of the best small luxury sedans you can buy today.
What Is It?
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class marks the fourth generation of what was, until recently, the gateway to a three-pointed-star hood ornament. That role now falls to the new compact CLA-Class sedan and frees up the C-Class to grow in both size (almost 4 inches longer and 1.5 inches wider than the outgoing model) and stature. It also helps justify the existence of the smaller CLA-Class sedan.
The C300 4Matic is the base model C-Class and comes standard with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. A rear-wheel-drive C300 is scheduled to join the lineup in early 2015. The C400 4Matic offers a V6 engine and all-wheel drive only. The sole transmission is a seven-speed automatic with manual shift capability.
The C300 4Matic blends an impressive list of standard and optional features, including four customizable driving dynamic modes, a 7-inch display with touchpad control for controlling entertainment and vehicle settings, and forward collision warning with automatic braking.
Options include 19-inch wheels, a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, LED headlights, heated and ventilated seats, a navigation system that adds an 8.4-inch display with crisp 3D graphics, and a premium Burmester audio system.
Pricing starts at $41,325 for the C300 4Matic. Adding a V6 under the hood pushes the starting price to $49,515.
What Body Styles and Trim Levels Does It Come in?
For now, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class comes in just two flavors: C300 4Matic and C400 4Matic ("4Matic" denotes all-wheel drive). The C300 4Matic uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It's a dramatic departure from the outgoing C300 4Matic, which used a 3.5-liter V6, but the smaller engine actually delivers more low-end power and nearly the same peak horsepower. It also promises better fuel efficiency than the larger engine.
The C400 4Matic, meanwhile, gets a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 rated at 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. This, too, is a smaller engine than its predecessor, yet it makes more power.
The C300 4Matic can be further tailored with Luxury or Sport sub-trims. The Luxury trim is a more traditional Benz approach, with 17-inch wheels, softer suspension tuning, walnut trim, a louvered grille and, most importantly, a standing star on the hood.
The Sport trim trades tradition for performance with a choice of 18- or 19-inch AMG wheels, a firmer suspension, upgraded brakes, sport seats, AMG body styling and a flat-bottom steering wheel. No classic grille or hood ornament here. Instead, the star is a large, round badge that bisects a simple, two-bar grille design. The C400 4Matic comes in Sport trim only.
The C-Class sedan can be further tailored with a handful of packages and stand-alone options, including an adjustable "Airmatic" air suspension ($1,190), which is offered on the C-Class for the first time. Opting for the Premium package adds LED headlights, heated front seats and a Burmester audio system, while the Interior package brings ventilated leather seats, customizable ambient lighting and a power-adjustable passenger seat with memory function.
The Multimedia package ($2,690) adds a navigation system with a 8.4-inch tablet-style display and voice control, a 10GB hard drive for music storage and real-time traffic and weather. Finally, the Driver Assistance package ($2,800) distills advanced safety technology from Mercedes' larger sedans and adds adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, steering assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. A rearview camera is also available.
For buyers who don't require all-wheel drive, a rear-wheel-drive C300 will follow in early 2015. A diesel model, a plug-in hybrid and a high-performance AMG model will eventually fill out the lineup.
How Does It Drive?
What a difference 200 pounds makes. That's roughly the weight difference between the new C-Class and its predecessor, largely thanks to increased use of aluminum in the body panels. From the driver seat, it means a sedan that feels more direct and alert. The C300 4Matic in particular, with its smaller engine, crisp power delivery and all-wheel drive, feels light and sharp on its feet. The C400 4Matic is no slug, but after driving both cars back to back, the V6's added mass is apparent. Then again, so is its additional power.
A longer, leaner body isn't the only upgrade to the C-Class's handling. A revised four-link design gives the front suspension more independence from its fixed moorings for better steering response. C-Class buyers can also choose from among four suspension setups.
The standard tuning balances ride quality and handling in a way that's acceptable in a wide range of conditions. The Sport suspension has a much firmer, performance-biased setup, while the Luxury package delivers a comfort-oriented ride. Then there's the newly available Airmatic air suspension. It allows you to adjust the suspension to one of four dynamic modes: Comfort, Eco, Sport and Sport+.
With the Sport setup and a set of optional 19-inch wheels, our C300 test car was noticeably firm around town. It's great for those who like to feel every crack and crevice in the road, but it's probably too extreme for the average commuter.
Is It Worth Stepping Up to the V6?
The turbo four-cylinder blends power and fuel economy in a lightweight package, making the C300 4Matic feel like a proper small sport sedan. But the smaller engine is less charming under heavy acceleration, when quick sprints to highway speed generate a raspy racket under the hood. Although the cabin is nicely insulated from road roar, the noise of a four-cylinder under hard labor still sounds out of place in a Mercedes. It's a reality we're adjusting to as nearly all small turbo engines, luxury badge or not, share this characteristic.
But these are isolated moments. For most buyers, the C300 4Matic is the right combination of performance and efficiency, with sprints from zero to 60 mph requiring just 6.5 seconds during our testing. The V6 holds the advantage of power and refinement, at the expense of slightly more dulled handling. We also found the seven-speed transmission more prone to low-speed lurching while decelerating and braking when paired with the V6.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic also delivered impressive feel and stopping power during our instrumented tests. From 60 mph, its best stop measured just 114 feet, and the distances were consistent in test after test.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
Settling into the cabin of the C-Class is a reminder of money well spent. Our test car came with leather seats and a dash wrapped in MB-Tex synthetic leather (both included in the Interior and Sport packages), complemented by chrome and dark open-pore ash wood accents.
A single piece of ash, laser-cut to accommodate vents and controls, flows gracefully down the center stack while the door panels combine wood, soft-touch surfaces and chrome speaker grilles in a tasteful display that's tightly fused with each end of the dashboard. The C-Class is simply an elegant, classy place to sit and drive.
With a wheelbase of 112 inches, the new C-Class has a couple of extra inches between its wheels compared to the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. It doesn't result in a significant advantage in terms of head- and legroom versus its competitors, but the cabin does feel plenty spacious for the class. It's a similar story when it comes to cargo space, as the C-Class has 12.8 cubic feet of space in the trunk, which splits the difference between the Audi and the BMW.
What Kind of Driver Interface Does It Use?
The C-Class comes with a standard 7-inch or optional 8.4-inch tablet-like display for infotainment and navigation. The free-standing display is fixed, but mostly looks like an iPad perched atop the center vents. You briefly sympathize with designers (where else do you put this thing?) but ultimately it's a wayward moment of inelegance in an otherwise stunning cabin.
Not quite as egregious is the new touchpad controller mounted forward of the armrest. Floating above the long-serving COMAND dial controller, the touchpad mimics tablet and trackpad gestures like swiping, pinching and tapping. A swipe upward reveals a shortcut to audio functions, for example. Tapping to confirm a command is acknowledged with haptic (pulse) feedback. It's an interesting interface, and only Mercedes knows if it's meant to replace the current dial-and-button array.
We'd advise the automaker against it, for now anyway. For all its sheen and wonder, the touchpad isn't quite ready for prime time. We found it overly sensitive to swiping motions, often scrolling past a desired submenu. The alphanumeric function, which allows you to trace letters and numbers into the navigation system, displays the same kind of scrawl you might find when signing your name into a credit card processor at the grocery store. Fortunately, the dial and buttons act as a redundancy to the touchpad and we found it faster to simply twist and scroll our way through the navigation, phone and entertainment menus.
How Safe Is It?
Antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag are standard safety features on the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
A collision mitigation system called Pre-Safe now comes standard (it was optional on the last C-Class) and monitors the traffic ahead by radar. If the system detects an imminent collision, it warns the driver with audible alerts and initiates braking if necessary. Pre-Safe works in tandem with braking assist, which pre-loads brake pressure to shorten stopping distances.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic is rated by the EPA to deliver 27 mpg in combined driving (24 city/31 highway). That's 2 mpg better than the current C250, which delivers less power from a smaller engine to the rear wheels only.
The C400 4Matic is estimated to return 24 mpg combined (21 city/29 highway), also an increase of 2 mpg combined compared to the closest current model.
During its stay with us, the C300 delivered an overall average of 25.8 mpg. On our standardized test loop, the combined number was 25.4 mpg.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The BMW 3 Series still gives the C-Class its toughest run for the money. It has long set the benchmark for bridging luxury and performance. But the 3 Series has softened a bit recently, especially in its steering feel. The performance and excitement gap between a 3 Series and a C-Class equipped with the Sport package is no longer so wide.
The Audi A4 gets better every year and delivers handling to rival the 3 Series, if lacking some of the feedback. The Audi's stylish design, high-quality interior and smooth turbo four-cylinder engine make it the equal of its contemporaries, although it's only available with front- or all-wheel drive. Among these three, it's hard to go wrong and really comes down to personal preference.
There are others to consider. The Lexus IS offers two V6 engines (one impressive, the other underwhelming) and an upscale interior, but lacks the handling finesse of the German models. The Cadillac ATS delivers capable handling and an upscale interior. Likewise, the Acura TLX and Infiniti Q50 feature premium cabins and respectable performance, but don't excel in any one area, nor do they carry the badge cachet of their European rivals.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
This is as close as Mercedes-Benz has come to delivering a downsized version of its S-Class flagship. The new C-Class is far more refined, comfortable and elegant-looking than its predecessors and gives up little to its competition when it comes to performance and features.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
If you're one of the few enthusiasts who has to have a manual transmission in their luxury sport sedan, the C-Class has nothing to offer. And if all-wheel drive is something you consider unnecessary and restrictive to your driving habits, the C-Class won't have anything for you until 2015.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.