If its makers are right, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 sedan in Sport trim will be the best seller of the revamped C-Class range. This is not a new generation, but a re-working that involves more than 2,000 different parts.
Some of the most obvious changes are seen at the nose. The new headlamps are reminiscent of the SL two-seat grand tourer. There's also a restyled front lip that incorporates LED daytime running lights. Under the hood - now aluminum for less weight - is a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. By following the current trend of smaller engines enhanced by turbocharging, Mercedes-Benz can offer more power and improved fuel consumption at the same time. The new 1.8-liter engine produces a punchy 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque, while still returning 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Mercedes says all this adds up to a 24 percent improvement in efficiency.
Before that power is sent to the rear wheels, it goes through a standard-issue, seven-speed automatic transmission. This setup acts with a commendable smoothness, but gear changes take a little longer than we'd like. The purring little turbo four propels the C250 at a reasonable rate - standstill to 60 mph requires 7.1 seconds and top speed is 130 mph - with hardly a sound coming from its exhaust pipe. For most situations and for a majority of Benz drivers, this is pitched just right. But if anyone wanted to exploit the car's highly capable chassis a little further by taking some corners at a faster rate, gears will need to be selected manually, because the auto side isn't programmed to keep up. This is also the point where the 3,428-pound curb weight makes itself felt as the engine tries to motivate such mass.
This gives a driver plenty of time to admire the new dashboard, now fashioned from high-class, soft-touch plastics plus aluminum highlights. The Sport trim also includes a flat-bottomed, three-spoke steering wheel that really does look the part. The cabin provides plenty of passenger space throughout, with comfortable places wherever elbows might fall. Although there isn't a lot of room for rear adult passengers to tuck their feet under the front seat. The trunk, however, is generous with its cargo area; at least three sets of golf clubs will fit in there.
Many safety features are included as standard equipment, such as driver attention assist, brake assist and nine airbags. Among the options are blind spot monitoring, satellite navigation and parking assistance, bringing what has traditionally been big-car features into a more affordable vehicle. Incidentally, connecting an Apple iPhone to the car's infotainment system via Bluetooth is easy enough not to need the manual.
This compact premium sedan often turns out to be the first experience of Benz ownership. Historically, 90 percent of Mercedes's compact premium four-doors have worn a Sport badge, because this is the model that appeals most to younger buyers. But there are alternatives. The C250, for example, also comes in Luxury trim for those who seek comfort more than sharp handling. There's a V6-powered C350 Sport, which provides a much more energetic 302 hp and 273 lb-ft, along with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for a sportier gear-changing experience. For those living in the snowbelt, the company will still offer a C300 4Matic with all-wheel drive. Or how about the mouth-drying, palm-soaking, pulse-racing C63 AMG with 451 horsepower, priced from $58,905?
The most dramatic addition to the C-Class range, though, is the Coupe, available for the first time. This is a true coupe, no funny rear doors or hatchback. Even though opinion on the looks may vary, the shape seems to be elegant and well proportioned. At last, here's something Mercedes can put up against the BMW 3 Series coupe and the Audi A5. This model comes in Sport trim as either a C250 or C350, no Luxury option, but there is also an AMG version (reviewed separately).
Naturally, rear headroom is more limited, but a male adult of medium build won't complain too much. At least not on a short journey. And the standard panoramic sunroof in the coupe does not reduce headroom further when it's open.
This car doesn't even bother to muster up a little middle seat in the back - it's a four-seater, max. Yet it still manages to accommodate a similar amount of trunk space to the sedan. And the way the front headrest sinks down into its seat, while the whole shebang moves forward to provide access to the rear quarters, is pretty cool.
From behind the wheel, there's really no difference between the coupe and the sedan. In fact, the coupe is a tad heavier, despite having two fewer doors.
This introduction of a new body style, in addition to multiple revisions, has the effect of bolstering the whole C-Class range, making it a more attractive choice for drivers of diverse tastes. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is available now, with the C250 sedan starting at $35,675 (including $875 destination charges). That's a little more than the outgoing model, but the company has included more standard equipment and claims a 4.1-percent average improvement on the deal. Expect a premium of around $2,500 for two-door versions.