• The C 300 receives a more powerful, more efficient engine
  • Freshened design adds new style inside and out, as well as new infotaiment options
  • Mercedes-AMG C 43 models offer more performance than the C 300, at a lower price than the range-topping C 63

It’s not as if the Mercedes-Benz C-Class was getting stale. Just three years after debuting in fifth-generation form as essentially a downsized S-Class, the C-Class still felt head and shoulders above most other compact luxury sedans. That revamp for the 2015 model year was so thorough and its design inside and out so elegant, that from a distance the C-Class still passes as Mercedes’ six-figure flagship.

But given its role as the best-selling global model in the German luxury automaker’s lineup -- a position it has held for a decade -- and the constant nipping at its heels by competitors ranging from the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series to the Volvo S60 and Alfa Romeo Giulia, Mercedes isn’t chancing spoilage.

Thus, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class family gets an update that enhances its power, efficiency, technology and design. The refresh spans the entire 2019 Mercedes C-Class range, which is among the most diverse in its class with a sedan, coupe and cabriolet. (Sorry, wagon fans, the U.S. still doesn’t receive the “estate” that’s available overseas.) Beyond just body style, the C-Class also boasts a diversity of powertrains and drive configurations of rear-wheel drive (RWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).

The base model remains the C 300, powered by a new, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and available with RWD or AWD. Stepping up from that is the Mercedes-AMG C 43, which uses a twin-turbo V6. At the top remains the Mercedes-AMG C 63 with its hand-built twin-turbo V8. A hybrid C-Class is also set to return, but Mercedes is keeping mum for now on details other than its forthcoming arrival.

The 2019 Mercedes C-Class is set to go on sale this fall, but Mercedes gave us the opportunity to test Euro-spec models it in its home country and the neighboring Luxembourg.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

C 300 – The bread and butter gets better

For most entry-level luxury car buyers, the C 300 will be more than enough. This is even truer with the upgrade for 2019, which sees a bump of 14 horsepower, from 241 to 255. This enables the C-Class to swiftly run to 60 mph in around 6 seconds, plus or minus a few ticks depending on body style. On roads that spanned from cobble streets and narrow byways to Germany’s famed no-speed-limit autobahn, the new C 300 C-Class models proved wonderful companions, each body style touting its own personality.

The sedan, the most popular model, feels spryer than the previous model, while exhibiting a nice exhaust growl in the process. True to Mercedes-Benz, the ride prioritizes comfortable cruising, and was plush in both around town driving and in high speed -- and we mean high speed -- scenarios. On the German autobahn, the new C-Class cruised at 100 mph like it was a walk in the park, and continued to feel confident when pushed to its 130-mph governed limit.

But in a segment where every rival touts sportiness and athleticism, the C-Class can dish that out too. It comes by way of the dynamic select, which can be toggled between Comfort, Sport and Sport+ (Individual and Eco modes are also on hand). Toggling from the default Comfort mode to the Sport modes changes the car’s personality in tangible ways. It’s like it does a quick wardrobe change, switching from business wear to a fitness outfit. The car holds gears for faster and more aggressive acceleration, and optimizes the steering and chassis for athleticism. As a result, the 2019 C 300 turns into a more dynamic, fun-to-drive sedan. By our seat-of-the pants feel, it doesn’t have quite the sharpness of a BMW 3 series or Audi A4, but it’s respectably agile in corners and flingable enough to be fun. Back in comfort mode, we still crown the Mercedes as the plushest sedan in its class.

On the efficiency side of things, official EPA ratings are still to come, but Mercedes reps estimate the 2019 C 300 will be approximately 4 percent more fuel-frugal than the current model.

C 300 Coupe and Cabriolet

For those craving a sportier experience, there’s the C 300 Coupe and Cabriolet. These 2-doors are more individualistic, seating four passengers instead of the sedan’s five, and each boasts a svelte design. 

The Cabriolet feels less rigid, something of a given since it swaps a metal roof for a retractable fabric top. It’s a tick slower off the line, but the difference is nominal at a few tenths of a second. What the C-Class Cabriolet excels at is the very thing it’s made for: top-down, luxury-car cruising. What it lacks in outright agility it makes up for in experience. The aroma of grassy fields, the warmth of sun on skin, and the wafting of air in your hair are part and parcel to this particular C-Class experience.

The C 300 C-Class Coupe, meanwhile, has the rigidity of the sedan and the flair and athletic stance that comes with a coupe. It’s fun to push, and looks great while doing so.

Regardless of body style, what all three C 300 models have in common is a great transmission. Mercedes’ automatic is possibly the best such example of a 9-geared cog-changer that we’ve experienced. It is smooth, refined, and yet doesn’t hesitate to kick down when prodded. Where other such transmissions can feel indecisive, Mercedes’ unit gets busy getting down to work.

Freshened design, new infotainment, better driver-assistance

Beyond just more power, this refreshed C-Class improves upon itself in both design and function. As we’ve previously reported, the 2019 Mercedes C-Class gets a new front and rear exterior design, new grille pattern, and standard LED lighting.

Inside, one of the more pronounced new features is a 10.25-inch screen that can be had in place of the standard 7-inch display. To the left of that and directly in front of the driver, is an available 12.3-inch digital dash that can relay everything from speed to navigational maps. Together, the setup isn’t as slick as the dual, flush-mounted screens of the E-Class and S-Class, but they do help keep the C-Class among the most tech-savvy of compact luxury sedans, right up there with the Audi A4.

Another notable upgrade is the steering wheel. Like its larger and pricier E-Class and S-Class siblings, the new C-Class’ steering wheel gains two small touch pads that enable you to flip through digital menus while keeping your hands on the wheel. It can be tricky at first, but after a day of driving we began to learn just the right amount of pressure needed to make the system work.

The C-Class’ driving and safety aids also get enhanced. Thanks to improved camera and radar systems, Mercedes’ compact luxury cars can “see” up to 1,640 feet ahead, including 295 feet in 3D. The vehicles’ side and rear views have also been enhanced. This translates to improved functionality in semi-autonomous driving via the available Distronic system that bundles functions like active cruise control and active lane-keeping assist.

More: 2019 Car Reviews: First takes on new models

Mercedes-AMG C 43 – notably upping the ante

Stepping up to the Mercedes-AMG C 43 model truly takes the experiences of the C 300 to the next level. And to us it’s a perfect Goldilocks between the base model and the expensive, range-topping Mercedes-AMG C 63. Also unlike the C 63, the C 43 comes standard with Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which makes it the better choice for all-weather driving.

Still, the C 43’s 31/69 percent front/rear torque split makes it feel like a rear-drive car. And its 385 horsepower – a 23-horsepower bump thanks to larger turbos – provides impressive performance. With the extra grunt, the new C 43 can hit 0-60 mph in as little as 4.5 seconds.

Beyond the notably faster acceleration times compared to the C 300, the Mercedes-AMG C 43 is a more dynamic performer. Its AMG-specific tuning of the steering, suspension and chassis makes this model feel more athletic and simply more fun to push, all without being punishingly stiff or trading on the C 300’s inherent comfort. And like the C 300, the AMG-tuned 9-speed transmission is quick, refined and purposeful. Steering-wheel-mounted paddles allow specific control of gear changes, should you wish.

Gripes are few. Restarts of the engine’s fuel-saving idle start/stop system can feel rough in the AMG models, and the Euro-spec models we drove didn’t have extendable sun visors, though that became standard for U.S. models last year.

We also suspect that the C-Class’ MSRP will remain above that of rivals. Mercedes will announce pricing of the 2019 C-Class closer to the vehicles’ launch in the fall, but for reference the 2018 C 300 sedan begins just over $41,000, while the Mercedes-AMG C 43 sedan starts over $54,000.

What we do know is that, thanks this mid-cycle freshening, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz C 300 and Mercedes-AMG C 43 are set to remain benchmarks among entry-level luxury sedans, while the lineup’s variety of powertrains and free-spirited coupe and cabriolet body styles will appeal to a wide range of luxury car shoppers.

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