By KBB.com Editors
For many, the Mercedes-Benz name represents the pinnacle of automotive design and good taste. While they may not have the means to climb into a new S-Class, the upwardly mobile still have a shot at joining the exclusive M-B club without breaking the bank. Mercedes-Benz' most affordable offering, the 2011 C-Class, comes loaded with style and content. Starting around $35,000, the C-Class must contend with the likes of the Audi A4, Infiniti G37 and Cadillac CTS. And while some will note the C-Class lacks such technological gadgets as adaptive cruise control and adaptive headlights, it is still a lot of car for the money. More importantly, it is a lot of Mercedes-Benz for the money.You'll Like This Car If... You May Not Like This Car If...
If bang for the buck is more important than the Mercedes-Benz name, makes from Audi, Infiniti, Lexus and even Hyundai provide more features for about the same or less money.What's New for 2011
For 2011, C-Class Sport models gain LED daytime running lights (DRLs) and black inlays around the headlamps. All C-Class Sedans come with a new headlamp switch and ESP controls relocated to the instrument cluster.Driving It Driving Impressions
In the Luxury trim, the C300 delivers an enjoyable ride, responsive handling and a quiet cabin. Acceleration with the 3.0-liter V6 is brisk and passing power is ample, even at high speeds. In Sport trim a six-speed manual transmission brings out the C300's playful side, making us wish for more aggressively bolstered front seats. The high tech Agility Control, which selectively stiffens or softens the shocks in response to road conditions and steering input, performed as promised. Like the C300 Sport, the C350 rides on larger tires and sits about an inch closer to the ground. While handling is improved over the Luxury model, ride comfort is somewhat diminished and cabin noise levels see a slight increase. The 3.5-liter V6 packs a bit more punch than the base engine, but does not offer a manual transmission, saddled instead with a seven-speed automatic with manual shift feature. Unfortunately, the sometimes slow-to-come shift points often make it more enjoyable to just leave the lever in the "D" position.Favorite Features
Panoramic Glass Sunroof
When open, the roof exposes half the cabin to the open air and, when closed, delivers equal quantities of sunlight to front and rear passengers.
With 450-watts, 12-speakers and surround sound LOGIC7 technology, the system is good enough on its own. Add in a six-gigabyte storage unit for uploading songs, voice control and PCMCIA slot, and the C-Class delivers one of the most advanced audio systems in its class.
A blend of the old with the new best describes the C-Class interior. Optional leather seating and tasteful wood inlays surround the cabin, but the power-extendable LCD display screen and multifunctional central controller are far from traditional. The front seats are wide and somewhat flat, which is fine for the Luxury model but definitely lacking in the support that would be appropriate for the Sport. The optional panoramic glass sunroof opens the C-Class interior, making it feel larger and more airy. A few oddities stand out, namely the less-than-intuitive steering-wheel controls for the information screens and audio system.Exterior
The once-sedate C-Class comes alive with eye-catching sheetmetal and two different grille designs (one for Luxury, the other for Sport). Following the styling of the elegant S-Class, the C-Class appears more on design's cutting edge. A long wheelbase and body give the car a substantial road presence as well as adult-sized interior dimensions. Mercedes-Benz loyalists will quickly notice the Sport model's transference of the three-pointed Mercedes-Benz star from the hood to the grille, a first for a Mercedes-Benz sedan. Racy alloy wheels, a lowered suspension and AMG-inspired lower bodywork complete the Sport model's aggressive look.Notable Standard Equipment
Standard features for the 2011 C-Class include a power sunroof, eight-way power front seats with manual lumbar control, Bluetooth connectivity, eight speaker 100-watt sound system with auxiliary input jack, 17-inch alloy wheels, agility control selective dampening suspension, dual-zone automatic climate control, central controller and a motorized LCD display. The C300 Sport features a six-speed manual transmission, while the 300 Luxury and 350 Sport have a seven-speed automatic. Standard safety features include eight airbags, adaptive braking, traction and stability control, active front head restraints and extensive use of high-strength steel.Notable Optional Equipment
Among the more noteworthy options are Mercedes-Benz' 4MATIC all-wheel drive system (C300 models only), DVD navigation, 450-watt harman/kardon LOGIC7 surround sound audio with iPod connectivity and a six-gigabyte music storage register, Keyless Go, leather seating, panoramic glass sunroof, bi-xenon headlamps, universal media interface, a rear sunshade and 18-inch alloy wheels. The Dynamic Handling Package adds an active dampening suspension, along with faster speed-sensitive steering and 18-inch alloy wheels. Standard on the C350 and optional on the C300 are auto-dimming power folding side mirrors, 10-way driver's memory seat, a power adjustable steering wheel, heated front seats, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, rain-sensing wipers and split-folding rear seats.Under the Hood
For most C-Class drivers, the 3.0-liter V6 should prove more than adequate. With 228-horsepower and ample torque, this engine delivers a nice balance between fuel economy and performance, taking only 7.1 seconds to go from zero to 60 miles per hour. Although the C350's 3.5-liter V6 delivers 40 more horsepower and shaves one second from the C's zero-to-60 time, it costs some $6,000 more than the C300 and offers neither the manual transmission nor the 4MATIC option.
228 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
221 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2700-5000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/26 (gasoline), 13/19 (E85, automatic), 17/24 (4MATIC)
268 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
258 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2400-5500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/25
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the C300 Sport starts around $35,000, while the C300 Luxury starts closer to $37,000. 4MATIC all-wheel drive adds about $2,000 to the bottom line. Pricing for the C350 begins around $41,000 and tops out near $54,000 with all the options. A comparably equipped Audi A4 costs about the same but offers features not available on the C-Class, while a loaded Infiniti G37 also costs slightly less and has more horsepower than the C350. Before you begin shopping, be sure to check the New Car Blue Book Value price, which shows what others in your area are paying for their C-Class sedans. As with all Mercedes-Benz products, the 2011 C300 and C350 are expected to retain above-average resale value, better than and the Cadillac CTS, on par with the Audi A4 and Infiniti G37, and just shy of the Acura TL.