In a just world, everyone would be able to enjoy the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The flagship for the German luxury brand and the harbinger of countless new automotive technologies – seatbelt pretensioners, crumple zones, stability control, adaptive cruise control, full LED lighting – is a pricey thing, though.
And that’s where the C-Class comes in. Available for almost a third of the price, the C-Class looks like its big brother and usually isn’t too far behind in terms of technology, premium materials, or fit and finish. Redesigned for 2022, the fifth-generation C-Class carries on the proud tradition of its predecessors and in the process makes a strong case for the dollars of ordinary customers who just want a taste of the good life.
– Exterior Color: Selenite Gray
– Interior Color: Black
– Wheel Size: 19 Inches
In terms of exterior designs, the C-Class actually outdoes the S, in my humble opinion. It’s more naturally proportioned, the 187.0-inch body presenting a longish hood with a sporty dash-to-axle ratio. The front end wears squat headlights, while the fenders appear stretched taut over the body. In back, squinty taillights mimic the S-Class, but the rear of the car – from fenders to deck to bumper – are pert rather than bulbous. This is a handsome, compact sedan.
The cabin is nearly as lovely as the S, too, at first blush. The C-Class carries the same display arrangement in the same places, and broadly matches the S-Class’s materials above the beltline. The dash on my tester wore soft black leather and pinstriped wood that’d be the envy of any other car in the segment, while cheaper, harder plastic appeared lower and out of the eyeline. Piano black trim on the center console is more acceptable on a $44,000 compact than a $100,000 flagship, but I’d still rather see the C-Class’ handsome wood in its place.
– Seating Capacity: 5
– Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
– Cargo Capacity: 12.6 Cubic Feet
I’m a sucker for the C-Class’ seating position. I’ve spent ample time with the third, fourth, and now fifth-generation models and they’ve all matched up in this way, with a low hip point, a supportive chair, excellent sightlines and a perfectly positioned steering wheel. Life is less good in the back, although the Mercedes has slightly more legroom than its chief competition.
Ride quality and noise, vibration, and harshness are as good as this segment gets, although it’s worth noting my AMG Line tester wore 18-inch wheels and Pirelli Sottozero winter tires rather than the 19-inch alloys and Goodyear Eagle F1s that are standard with the sporty package. There’s little wind noise, either, owing to the slipper 0.24 drag coefficient.
– Center Display: 11.9-inch Touchscreen
– Instrument Cluster Display: 12.3 Inches
– Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: Yes/Yes
The C-Class, like the S-Class, carries the latest and greatest version of the MBUX infotainment system. Bright, vibrant colors on both the center touchscreen and digital cluster, along with excellent responsiveness from the latter, make this a lovely system to deal with on a daily basis. The augmented reality functions in the navigation and head-up display have received mixed responses from my colleagues, but I adore their aid when I’m in foreign territory. My tester also carried a Burmester 3D surround audio system, although it is one of the brand’s more unremarkable efforts – good thing it only costs $650.
The one fly in the ointment are the touch-capacitive controls on the steering wheel. They’re clumsy, accepting left and right swipes as up or down inputs. Mercedes older controls might not have looked as elegant, but they were far more predictable.
– Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4
– Output: 255 Horsepower / 295 Pound-Feet
– Transmission: Nine-Speed Automatic
Like just about everything else in the class, the C-Class’ turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is a lovely little powerplant. There’s little lag off the line and a strong surge of torque even as the engine speed increases. The nine-speed automatic gearbox stays the heck out of the way, thankfully, but it’s also deeply uninteresting when using the smallish paddle shifters. The transmission simply doesn’t reply quickly enough (customers that care about such things should investigate the AMG options).
Despite the presence of sportier options, the C-Class is an engaging enough steer. The AMG Line adds standard 19-inch wheels and aggressive Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, although they feel unnecessary in a mainline Mercedes product (my tester wore seasonally appropriate Pirelli Sottozero winter rubber on 18-inch wheels). If you want properly aggressive handling, the C43 feels like a more complete package. Even with the non-standard Pirelli tires, though, the C300 tolerated sporty driving with quick reflexes and predictable body motions.
– Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 2 (Hands-On)
– NHTSA Rating: Not Rated
– IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick Plus
While the C-Class has just about everything short of Mercedes’ new Drive Pilot level three system, the automaker’s decision to charge extra even on the range-topping Pinnacle trim is a disappointment. At $1,700, the Driver Assistance Package is a one-stop shop, at least.
The full suite works extremely while on road, too, activating at the press of a button and responding readily to lane intruders or slow traffic. Automatic lane changes are a fun party trick, too, although they’re there more to aid the driver than allow them to take their hands off the wheel and say “Hey, watch this” (not that I did such a thing).
– City: 23 MPG
– Highway: 33 MPG
– Combined: 27 MPG
– Base Price: $43,550 + $1,050 Destination
– Trim Base Price: $48,550
– As-Tested Price: $63,440
The C-Class joins the rest of the Mercedes lineup by adding a number of trims. Prices start at $44,600 (including a $1,050 destination charge) for the base C300 Premium, climb to $46,850 for the mid-range Exclusive, and end at $48,550 for the Pinnacle featured here. A 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is available on all trims and adds $2,000 to the price tag.
But while there are trim levels now, the C-Class retains a lengthy options sheet. The Selenite Gray car I reviewed had an as-tested price of $63,440. Yeah, $13,000 in options is nothing to sneeze at, but at least finding savings is easy. I’d do away with the AMG Line Night pack, which charges $3,050 for sportier wheels, a firmer suspension, and a more stylish body while also mandating $1,650 in leather upholstery. Cut the $1,000 panoramic sunroof, and that’s nearly $6,000 saved. The Driver Assistance pack is an easy “yes,” though, and the augmented reality navigation is as good as anything else on the market. Neither costs more than $2,000.