Full-scale Benz in scaled-down package

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Published: December 27, 2014 12:06:03 AM

The 2015 C-Class sedan restores the balance in the Benz universe with a car that is a real Mercedes: overengineered, overbuilt and somewhat overpriced.

Mercedes-Benz has always had its particular mojo. Made up of precise engineering, often impressive quality, an epic racing history and a few Nazi parade cars, this mojo was scalable. Even the most ordinary diesel-powered Mercedes taxicab in Stuttgart had the same recognisable Germanic vibe as an SL roadster touring the Riviera or a Unimog multi-purpose vehicle tilling a farm. A big Mercedes felt like a little Mercedes and also like all the Mercedeses in between.

But that mojo has been rattled lately. There are now so many Mercedes—the company sells five SUV models in the US alone—that some dilution of the mystique can’t be helped.

The company calls some of its four-doors coupes; there are hybrids and electrics to go with the diesels and gas burners; and when the cable guy comes over to rig up the Wi-Fi, there’s a good chance he’ll pull up in a Mercedes Sprinter van. Worst of all, there’s the front-drive CLA “four-door coupe” that occupies the bottom of the line-up and drives an awful lot like a Hyundai Sonata with worn shocks.

Then, just when it seemed as if the Mercedes faithful would have to get used to the creeping ordinariness, along comes the 2015 C-Class sedan to restore the balance in the Benz universe. This is a real Mercedes: overengineered, overbuilt, somewhat overpriced—and over here.

At its core, the new C is a conservatively engineered car. Like the three previous generations of the C-Class, it’s based on a straightforward steel structure with some aluminium panels and a rear-drive chassis. The two C-Class sedans currently offered here, the C300 and C400, will feature the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system that Mercedes offers on most of its vehicles. A rear-drive version of the C300 will go on sale early next year.

The C300 is powered by a 2-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder rated at 241 horsepower, and the C400 has a twin-turbocharged 3-litre V6 knocking out 329 horsepower under its hood. Both engines get direct fuel injection, variable valve timing and other technologies aimed at ensuring plenty of torque at low engine speeds. And low-end torque is what they deliver, with the C300’s 4-cylinder producing a constant 273 pound feet from 1,300 to 4,000 rpm, while the C400’s 6 makes 354 pound feet from 1,600 to 4,000 rpm. Each uses a 7-speed automatic transmission.

New four-link suspension systems, front and rear, hold up the new C-Class. A self-levelling air suspension with driver-selectable ride modes can be added. Variable-ratio and variable-assist electric-power steering is part of the mechanical package.

Most of the technology available on the S-Class can now be found on the C, either as a standard feature or an option. This includes the Intelligent Drive suite of technologies including standard Attention Assist, which monitors the driver for inattentive or drowsy behaviour and can use the optional navigation system to suggest a rest stop. There’s also an available Enhanced Active Lane Keeping Assist that can nudge the car back into its lane by applying the brakes on one side.

This is the first C-Class that feels as substantial and uncompromised as its big brothers. Yes, running on an 111.8-inch wheelbase and stretching out 184.5 inches long, this is the largest C-Class yet. In fact, that wheelbase is only 1.4 inches shorter than the current E-Class sedan’s and 1.6 inches longer than that of the seminal W124-generation E300 midsize sedan of 1986. The introduction of the CLA has allowed the C-Class to grow larger.
Open a door and it unseals with a whoosh as if you should apply for a visa before entering. Finished in optional brown leather, the interior is striking, comfortable and sweetly lined with wood. The surface shapes are similar to those in the S-Class, but more inviting and, well, playful. That’s especially true of how the screen for the navigation system floats above the three centre air vents. An Air Balance package of cabin air purification and fragrance is offered for $350. You can skip that and insist that your passengers use a deodorant soap.

The steering wheel is relatively small in diameter, relatively thick-rimmed and absolutely flat on its bottom. It’s an instantly more engaging invitation to the driver to have fun than you’ll find in other Mercedes sedans. The transmission is still controlled by a wand behind the wheel, and because it’s up there, there’s not a pointlessly large shifter taking up acreage on the centre console.

The console has a track pad and dial from which to control the Comand interface, which alternates from being amusing to being utterly frustrating depending on the task. You can make manual shifts with paddles behind the steering wheel.

The C300’s 4-cylinder engine is virtually silent. This is a version of an engine rated at 208 horsepower in the CLA, where it’s mounted transversely and is not as well isolated as it is in the C-Class. The 4 is too good to dismiss. It’s so easygoing that most buyers will never feel as if they’ve settled for second-best.

The C400’s V6 growls when started and always has a trill to its exhaust note. It’s a muscular engine that can roar into Marshawn Lynch beast mode when the car sees an opening it wants to exploit. Based on the EPA rating, the C300 can return an impressive 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway; the C400’s numbers come in at 21/29.

Car and Driver measured the C400 4Matic romping from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds and through the quarter-mile in a blazing 13.3 seconds at 107 mph—solid numbers for a muscle car. Edmunds.com tested the C300 at 6.5 seconds from 0 to 60.

All the virtues of a big S-Class sedan have been scaled down to make the new C-Class immensely attractive. In addition, the C is less intimidating, more efficient, more fun to drive and easier to park. That’s a new and better kind of Mercedes mojo.

John Pearley Huffman

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