2015 Mercedes C-Class: Big Baby Benz

By Frank A. Aukofer, September 20th, 2014

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class -- nicknamed the "baby Benz" -- has been the bread-and-butter, best-selling Mercedes since 2007 with 2.4 million sales worldwide. Entering 2015, one company exec remarks, "It's safe to say our baby Benz is all grown up."

Manufacturer photo: The all-new C-Class heralds a new chapter for Mercedes-Benz and sets new standards in the premium mid-range class
Manufacturer photo: The all-new C-Class heralds a new chapter for Mercedes-Benz and sets new standards in the premium mid-range class

No kidding. The all-new 2015 C-Class ("C" designated for compact) now has the heft, look and feel of a midsize luxury performance car, not much different from the Mercedes E-Class of some years ago. However, based on its passenger and trunk volume, the government still classifies it as a compact car.

It validates the traditional cautionary advice in the car biz: If you want to sell cars in the United States, each successor model must become more powerful and grow, if only a little bit. The new C does that, at 3.7 inches longer than its predecessor. Most of that was intended for the back seat, but it delivers just adequate head and knee room. The center rear position, with a hard cushion and floor hump, should be reserved for punishment.

The new C-Class moves up a notch because of the advent of its smaller sibling, the front-wheel drive CLA. Depending on how much churning goes on, the CLA could become the new bread and butter model.

As always, the C-Class continues on a rear-drive platform, although at its 2015 introduction it's offered only with the Mercedes all-wheel drive system, called 4Matic. Later in the model year, Mercedes will offer the C300 in rear-wheel drive. A diesel engine and a plug-in hybrid model also are in the offing.

Manufacturer photo: The all-new C-Class heralds a new chapter for Mercedes-Benz and sets new standards in the premium mid-range class

strong>There are two models now: the C300 is powered by a turbocharged 241-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Its upscale garage mate, the C400, comes with a bi-turbo 329-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine. The 300s are expected to account for the bulk of sales -- as many as four out of five. All versions use a slick, well calibrated seven-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

Either the 300 or 400 version would prove satisfactory with most Mercedes buyers. The C400, with its V-6 engine, obviously is the better performer, although the extra weight up front makes it a bit less nimble in the corners.

However, there always exists a subset of buyers who absolutely must have the more powerful version -- and the C400, with its twin-turbo motor, obliges. For those who desire even more, Mercedes eventually will offer an AMG version built by the company's hot performance division.

Still the lesser-powered C300 doesn't disappoint and shaves a good bit off the C400's sticker price. The C300 4Matic starts at $39,325 and, with options on our tester that included voice controlled navigation, Distronic adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, rear collision protection, 19-inch wheels, AMG interior and exterior styling touches, upgraded audio, pushbutton starting with stop-start technology and sport seats, it checked in at $52,735.

As is becoming more common among some luxury cars, all of that did not include leather upholstery. The standard seat covering, an artificial material, is called MB-Tex. If you want real leather, which is slightly less sticky, it comes as part of a $2,300 interior package.

Manufacturer photo: The all-new C-Class heralds a new chapter for Mercedes-Benz and sets new standards in the premium mid-range class

For the more powerful C400, the base price is $49,515 and, with options that included the air suspension system and leather upholstery, came to $65,210 on the second test car.

A healthy slather of aluminum allowed Mercedes to engineer a weight loss of around 200 pounds, contributing to improved fuel economy. The hood, doors, fenders, roof and trunk lid all are made from aluminum, helping the tested C400 to a 22/29/24 mpg rating on the EPA's city/highway/combined fuel consumption cycles. EPA on the C300 4Matic is 24/31/27 mpg.

The standard suspension system uses steel springs and, in the C300, is more than up to the task of delivering good handling and a decent ride as long as you understand that you will be duly informed about bumps and other road irregularities. Buyers can choose among base, sport and comfort setups.

The optional ($1,190) air suspension system does a marginally better job of absorbing the rough stuff. It has adjustments for stiffness and self-leveling to accommodate different loads. But the standard steel suspension system works well enough to muffle any need to spend the additional bucks on the air setup.

Overall, if the new C-Class cedes its bread and butter designation to the CLA, then it has the potential to become Mercedes-Benz's new scones and jam model

Specifications

Base price $39,325 (as tested: $52,735)
Curb weight 3,417 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Epa mileage rating 24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 18.0 gal.
Horsepower (net) 241 at 5500 rpm
Motor type turbocharged 4-cyl. w/DFI
Overall length 184.5 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 273 at 1300-4000 rpm
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD compact sedan

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