Before the swoopy Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class came along, the German brand's most accessible model was the C-Class. It was a solid if somewhat uncharismatic entry-level luxury sedan, but when the CLA's $29,900 starting price undercut the C, the new kid on the block allowed room for the all-new 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class to grow-both literally and figuratively. Grow it did, in spades: not only does the new C have a bigger footprint, it also moves upscale with more sensual sheetmetal and a swanky interior that seems inherited from its high-priced sibling, the überluxurious S-Class.
The C-Class's official MSRP has yet to be announced, but we're expecting the new model lineup to start in the high $30,000 range, a bump up from its previous entry point of $35,800.
Two Driving Flavors... So Far
The C300 4Matic and C400 4Matic all-wheel drive models will hit showrooms in September, 2014, while a rear-wheel drive C300 model will follow in the first quarter of 2015. As with nearly all Mercedes-Benz models, the inevitable AMG variant will arrive with aggressive bodywork, considerably more power, and tighter suspension. Expect a coupe version down the line, as well.
The C300 4Matic is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 241 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque, which is good for a 0 to 62 mph sprint in under 6.6 seconds. Motivating the C400 4Matic is a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 with 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. While the 4-cylinder is plenty grunty, the bigger engine's robust torque and expensive sounding intake resonances make it addictively quick and likely worthy of the added premium. Both models get a 7G-Tronic transmission, though the gearbox seemed to shift more smoothly in the C400 version than it did in the Euro-spec, rear-wheel drive C300 model. Steering also differed between the two, with the all-wheel drive C400 feeling slightly less connected to the road than the C300, likely due to repositioned steering geometry which accommodates the all-wheel drive system.
Better Living Through Aluminum (and Air)
The C-Class benefits from an all-new aluminum chassis, which expands its proportions by 3.7 inches in length and 1.6 inches in width while jettisoning up to 220 pounds of mass. Even better: the new models boast up to 20 percent better fuel economy thanks to lightweight construction and strategic use of ultra high-strength steel.
Available on the new model for the first time is an Airmatic air suspension system, which can be set to "Comfort," "Eco," "Sport," and "Sport +"-settings which also control throttle response, transmission, and steering effort calibration, and can also be adjusted separately in "Individual" mode. While we certainly noticed a difference between modes, the "Sport +" end of the spectrum didn't feel quite as edgy as, say, Porsche's version of Sport +. The suspension generally offers decent body control and a fair amount of variability within modes, though the runflat tires seem to work against the suspension, transmitting more shock to the cabin than we would like.
Trickle Down Luxury... and a Healthy Dose of Technology
Mercedes-Benz's all-new C-Class feels more premium than its predecessor not only because of its more fluid styling and upscale interior finishes (which include available open-pore wood, and nary a hint of the hard plastic that lurks in some corners of the CLA), but also thanks to engineering borrowed from the big S-Class sedan. Take, for instance, the new 4-link front axle design, which enables greater isolation from intrusive bumping forces.
The cabin also feels more posh and mature than before, while gaining available tech features like a touchpad just ahead of the Comand control wheel which can be used to navigate and "draw" entries. One of Apple's first implementations of CarPlay is optional, as well as a head-up display which projects nav and speed info onto the windshield. Active lane keeping assist also takes the C-Class one step closer toward the road to autonomous driving, and you can be kept company by the optional Burmester surround audio system, which fills the cabin with full, rich sound. Though it doesn't quite deliver the full gravitas of the bigger and fancier S-Class, the 2015 C-Class proves that Mercedes-Benz has come a long way in the entry-level luxury war, and will likely win over a new set of buyers seeking entrée into this accessible arena.
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