2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class First Drive
A New Leader For A Class Long Defined By BMWs
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class have long defined their respective segments. Implicit in this statement is the unspoken notion that the C-Class never has been as good as it could be, or rather should be. Worse still, the C-Class in general, and the last-generation W204 in particular, simply didn’t define its class. The BMW 3 Series has long had the C-Class’ number both dynamically and in terms of sales. Meanwhile, the Audi A4 is considered better-looking, with a more luxurious interior and generally greater desirability. Mercedes-Benz has emerged from the woodshed and is back for another crack at a segment long defined by the 3 Series and cars that want to be just like the 3 Series (Lexus IS, how you doin’?). The question then becomes: Is the 2015 C-Class capable of defining a crowded, important segment and joining its larger siblings as a true class leader?
I sampled two versions of the new W205, the C250 and C400. These were both highly optioned cars with the optional AirMatic air-suspension (standard on the C400 with 4Matic all-wheel drive), Intelligent Drive (a raft of safety features including the ability to partially drive itself) and the Multimedia package, the latter increasing the navigation screen’s viewable area from 7 to 8.4 inches. To confuse you a little, we’re not getting the C250 in the U.S., though that car would work quite well here. I suspect it shows up in a year’s time to do battle with the BMW 320i. Instead of the C250 we’ll be receiving the more potent C300, which sports a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four (happily replacing the old, underwhelming 1.8-liter turbo) only producing more power, 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque compared to 208 hp and 258 lb-ft from the C250. The C400, meanwhile, comes packing a potent 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 good for 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. These two will eventually be joined by a C-Class diesel and at least one hybrid, possibly two, with one variant being a plug-in with an approximately 10 kilowatt-hour Tesla-sourced battery. All W205s come with a seven-speed automatic transmission, with the lone exception of the never, ever, no-matter-what not-coming-to-America six-speed manual C180.
What immediately stands out when you’re behind the wheel of the 2015 C-Class is the interior. For cabins at this price point, it is revolutionary. Those of you fortunate enough to have spent time inside the new W222 S-Class will be immediately familiar with the surroundings. Shared between the two are the S-Class’s Eames Chair-look seat controls, the fancy Burmeister speaker grilles, the cabin perfumer, the knurled Command wheel, the round, pearl-necklace air vents, the heavy-duty, high-quality switchgear and high-res, user-friendly graphics in the nav screen. New to the C-Class – and eventually trickling up to the S-Class – is a small touch pad above the Comand wheel. It provides for redundant control of most functions as well as pinch-to-zoom control over maps, though the touchpad’s real purpose is to allow the quick entry of Chinese characters. Having both input devices on top of each takes a bit of getting used to, as it’s easy to accidently click something when you’re only interested in the scroll wheel. Still, your hand quickly adapts and the added functionality is useful. Soon you’ll even be able to get Apple CarPlay, which allows parts of your iPhone to be displayed right on the C’s screen. There’s also a colorful head-up display, and when trimmed out in the right wood (might I suggest Open Pore Ash Black?) the center waterfall-like console is a thing of beauty. Big picture: The 2015 C-Class interior will delight owners and spook the competition.
When I first drove the new S-Class, my takeaway was that the full-size techno-limo doesn’t steer all that well compared to say a Jaguar XJ, but does everything else in an exquisite manner. Truly, one of the finest automobiles the world has ever seen. With the 2015 C-Class, Mercedes has decided to build a baby S-Class rather than a 3 Series -- or should I say Cadillac ATS -- competitor. The truth is that there are scores more luxury buyers than there are sports sedan enthusiasts. Ask BMW why the damping rates are so different between the 3 Series sedan and 4 Series coupe. As such, and I hope I’m not breaking any hearts here, but the W205 isn’t a born canyon carver. Riding on a 3-inch longer wheelbase (a tad longer than a W124 E-Class – nearly 112 inches), the new C-Class is designed to deliver, first and foremost, a luxurydriving experience. The C250/C300 delivers on that promise in spades. The ride on the air suspension (a segment first) is sweet, especially on open stretches of highway or mildly broken pavement. I should also point out that the brakes have the typical Mercedes feel with engagement right at the top of the firm pedal. Start turning the steering wheel in anger and you realize the rear-suspension travel isn’t quite long enough and the rear bushings are a bit too squishy. My driving partner commented that the C250 rode just like his Mercedes-Benz 190E – no bad thing at all. How many entry-level C-Class owners will spend time trying to kick the tail out? I’ll just let you ponder that one.
The more powerful and heavier C400 is a different story. First of all, the C400 comes standard with all-wheel drive. Couple that to the heavier V-6 powerplant and it’s obvious that the C400’s weight balance is much more nose-heavy than the C250/C300. The handling wasn’t as crisp. The ride was both more wallowing and clunkier than the C250, and the shifts were more sluggish. Still, with four adult, American males inside, everyone was comfortable and you had to stop and look for peccadillos. Despite what some Mercedes engineers later told us, I’m not convinced the particular C400 I drove was a finished product. The transmission could use a remap and the suspension could use a retune, and a few of the early-build gremlins need to be ironed out -- a trunk that doesn’t always close, errant rear seatbelt warnings and air conditioning that refused to blow cold. But don’t make mountains out of molehills. The 2015 C-Class doesn’t go on sale until September and that gives Mercedes plenty of time to make them correctly. .
Glance at the new C-Class and you’ll mistake it for a S-Class, the design is that similar. Spend some time with Mercedes’ volume model however, and you become aware that looks are more than skin deep. I’m happy to report that for the first time, the C-Class feels cut from the same cloth as the E- and S-Class cars. It doesn’t feel like any corners were cut nor were any compromises made. The 2015 C-Class has the right stuff in the right places. Class, meet your new leader.