The 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, like many Mercedes models these days, offers a bit of something for everybody. Life can be as hum-drum and normal as a C 300 Sedan, or as nutty as a 503-horsepower AMG C 63 S Cabriolet. The dynamite AMG might be double the price, but both cars fall from the same tree. Variety is great, and if Mercedes wants to provide such varied options on its small and nimble C-Class chassis, that’s all the better for us.
This isn’t the most popular “C” in the U.S., though. That crown belongs to the GLC, which as crossovers tend to be, is far more family friendly and utilitarian than any C-Class variant. Even the world of small Mercedes sedans is getting more complicated, as Mercedes is encroaching further onto C-Class territory with the redesigned CLA-Class. The two are similar in size and not that much different in price, but the two are totally different beasts underneath. While the CLA shares its front-drive architecture with the entry-level A-Class, the C-Class sets itself apart with a unique rear-drive platform, V6 and V8 engine options, a more refined driving experience and a higher-quality interior. Plus, you can get the C-Class in two-door Coupe and Cabriolet body styles. In other words, it’s the nicer car, which should be expected for its higher price point. It’s also the one that still competes favorably with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and various other compelling sport sedans despite being older than nearly all of them.
What’s new for 2021?
Not much is changing in the 2021 C-Class lineup. However, there are a couple equipment updates to note. Mercedes is making the previously optional 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster standard equipment for all body styles. Additionally, heated seats are now standard for the Sedan and Coupe, but not the Cabriolet.
Lastly, the Sedan has a new Night Edition package available. This adds a ton of black exterior trim, 19-inch AMG wheels, “Night Edition” badging, AMG sport seats with blue and gray stitching and the AMG Line steering wheel in leather and Dinamica faux suede. You can only get this model in white, black or blue paint.
What’s the C-Class interior and in-car technology like?
The C-Class has an interior fit for an E-Class, which is to say, it’s very nice inside. Mercedes’ waterfall center stack design and mix of genuine luxury materials make it a leader in both beauty and style despite getting on in years. The most questionable choice is the car’s stuck-on tablet-look infotainment system, but the screen is gorgeous and vivid enough that it’s hard to dislike looking at it. A vast array of materials and colors can be selected from. You can smother the doors and center stack in a number of classy wood styles, or glitz it up with aluminum and carbon fiber. Although, as we discovered with an AMG C 63 S Coupe test car, you can certainly overdo it and end up with something a bit garish and eye-wateringly expensive.
Tech is typically one of the top reasons to buy a Mercedes-Benz over the competition, but the C-Class isn’t at its best right now. The 10.25-inch infotainment screen (not a touchscreen) runs the older Comand system, which is slower and less feature rich than the new MBUX software found on most other Mercedes (including the cheaper CLA and more expensive E-Class). It also forces you to use the frustrating glossy touchpad and/or rotary interface for all tasks on the screen, as opposed to the MBUX touchscreen on the CLA and other more recently redesigned Mercedes products. We are happy to see the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster come as standard this year, as the old analog cluster felt dated for 2020.
How big is the C-Class?
As the competition around it continues to grow (namely, the new 3 Series), the C-Class finds itself toward the back of the segment in size. A CLA-Class is just as long as the standard C 300 Sedan now, but it’s still a touch down on passenger space, especially headroom. The Sedan, Coupe and Cabriolet are all very similar in size depending on their trim, coming in with similar length dimensions despite their differing body shapes.
At 35.7 inches of rear legroom for the sedan, it’s big enough for a couple of adults to fit in relative comfort. That’s nearing 3 Series size and just about identical to the Audi A4 and Alfa Romeo Giulia. Skip the Coupe and Cabriolet if rear seat space is important to you. Both of those only offer 32 inches of rear legroom and make getting in and out a lot more difficult. That’s smaller than the new 4 Series Coupe (size winner) and close to the Audi A5 Coupe.
The Sedan’s trunk at 12.6 cubic-feet is also predictably bigger than the Coupe (10.5 cubic-feet) and Cabriolet’s (8.8 cubic-feet) trunk. You lose even more space in the convertible when you put the top down, too.
What’s the C-Class’ performance and fuel economy?
The C-Class gives you four different levels of performance: C 300, AMG C 43, AMG C 63 and AMG C 63 S. All four flavors are available in all three body styles, so choices are aplenty.
A base C 300 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Shifting is handled by a nine-speed automatic transmission, and you have the choice between rear-wheel drive and Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive. Mercedes estimates a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds for a RWD Sedan. EPA estimates for every ’21 C-Class weren’t available at the time of this writing, but we do know that several versions improved from last year by 1 or 2 mpg combined. Among those is the popular C300 4Matic Sedan, which achieves 23 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined. The RWD version gets 23 city and 35 highway, according to Mercedes, but a combined figure isn’t listed. Coupes and Convertibles tend to be 1 or 2 mpg combined worse that the equivalent sedan.
The first step up the performance ladder is the mid-tier Mercedes-AMG C 43. This model gets an “AMG-enhanced” 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 engine that makes 385 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. Power is routed through a nine-speed automatic and then directed to all four wheels via a rear-biased AMG-massaged all-wheel-drive system. The 0-60 time drops to 4.5 seconds for the sedan. Fuel economy figures weren’t available, but we doubt they’ll improve much beyond 2020’s estimate of 19/27/22 mpg for the Sedan.
The big step up is the AMG C 63, which puts the AMG 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 under the hood. It produces 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque in this guise, which is good for 0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds (Sedan). Power is sent to the rear wheels only, though, so be mindful when mashing the gas. Shifting duties are handled by a quick nine-speed multi-clutch transmission. Fuel economy is shockingly OK (again, by 2020 figures), with 18/27/21 mpg ratings that are hardly worse than the C 43.
The most potent C-Class is the AMG C 63 S, which takes the same 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 and pumps power up to 503 horses and 516 pound-feet of torque. The sprint to 60 mph can be done in 3.8 seconds for the sedan or 3.7 seconds with the Coupe, the quickest of the bunch. Once again, power is only sent to the rear wheels and shifting is done via the nine-speed multi-clutch transmission. Fuel economy is the same as the non-S.
What’s the C-Class like to drive?
Just like the engine options go, the C-Class is largely a mixed bag of good, better and best to drive. The standard C 300 is quick and a surprisingly good handler. It’s nimble and rides well, but there isn’t much of any theater to the driving experience. A new BMW 330i is more enjoyable, but the C-Class holds a slight edge in refinement for daily driving.
The AMG C 43 steps it up a level. Its V6 sings through narrow, twisty roads, propelling the car from corner to corner at much quicker rates. The steering feels naturally weighted, and you can put the wheels just where you need them. The brake pedal runs a generous arc from initial bite to real clamping, and its suspension keeps nasty road action away from occupants. It’s a good middle ground if you want a conservatively spicy C-Class.
As for the AMG C 63 and C 63 S, these couple rocket ships are a handful to drive. This is where the difference between Coupe and Sedan becomes more obvious, as Mercedes sets the Coupe up to be the most aggressive driver of the bunch. There’s no need for any more power than the 503 horses found in the S, either. It’s impossible to lay the power down from a stop without torching the rear tires, even with launch control. Punching it at 30 mph returns much better straight-line results, but the rear end is constantly on a mission to come around. AMG’s infinitely adjustable traction control system helps here, but it’s best to just allow the car to reel you in. Mercedes could make this car a better handler by hiding its approximately 4,000-pound weight better. It’s a scary-fast bruiser with huge levels of lateral grip that is best explored on the racetrack.
What features are available and what’s the price?
The cheapest C-Class is the C 300 Sedan, and it starts at $42,650, including the $1,050 destination charge. If you want 4Matic all-wheel drive, that’ll be another $2,000 on top. Mercedes doesn’t offer trim levels, instead letting folks choose from a vast array of packages and options as they see fit.
A base C 300 still comes with a long list of standard equipment including 18-inch wheels, keyless entry, power trunk, LED lights all around, a sunroof, heated front seats and a number of driver assistance features. Stepping up to the C 43 and C 63 both come with their own set of additional luxury features, but you pay a pretty penny more for the extra performance and tech.
Prices vary depending on body style and level of performance, so we’ve laid out a full breakdown of them below.
– C 300: $42,650
– AMG C 43: $57,550
– AMG C 63: $69,650
– AMG C 63 S: $77,250
– C 300: $48,250
– AMG C 43: $60,050
– AMG C 63: $71,700
– AMG C 63 S: $79,300
– C 300: $54,750
– AMG C 43: $66,550
– AMG C 63: $79,050
– AMG C 63 S: $86,650
What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?
All 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class models come with blind-spot warning, forward collision warning and Mercedes’ Pre-Safe technology(preps cabin by tightening belts, auto adjusting headrests and closing open windows). For $1,700 you can get the Driver Assistance package that comes with a laundry list of safety technologies, including adaptive cruise control with start and stop functionality in traffic, Active Steering Assist (advanced lane centering), Active Lane Change Assist (changes lanes for you), Evasive Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist (keeps you from hitting a car in your blind spot), Congestion Emergency Braking, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function (city/intersection assist), Active Emergency Stop Assist (monitors the driver), Pre-Safe Plus (prepares car for rear end accidents) and some other less notable features. It would be great if all these were standard, but they’re also more advanced and better executed than other driver assistance systems, so they’re at least worth the price of entry.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan received a Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and we expect the 2021 version will as well. The latest C-Class has curiously not been fully crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.