Clarence Barnes: You know, it wouldn't be right to call the mid-cycle refresh to the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class just a few minor tweaks. With a new coupe model and loads of new components, the C-Class has really added some shine to an already solid reputation.

Amanda Salas: I agree with you, Clarence. This five-passenger luxury compact is strong on performance and loaded with those creature comforts, making it a fierce competitor to the Lexus IS350, BMW 335i and the Infiniti G37.

Clarence: You know, at first glance, you might not notice the C-Class sedan's exterior changes: a subtle reworking of the bumpers; new one-piece jewel case taillights, a new aluminum hood that meets the headlamps in a way that accentuates the sculpted Mercedes look.

Amanda: That seems to be the point-bring the C-Class styling in line with the rest of the brand while bringing the dedicated coupe driver into the mix.

Here in the cabin, some serious reworking has the C-Class looking a lot more sophisticated, like the CLS-Class. Everything on the dash is a lot nicer, including the way the integrated color display fits into place.

Clarence: And there's an impressive list of luxury-minded features starting with standard power tilt/sliding sunroof.

Amanda: The Nappa-leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel is now standard equipment as well.

Clarence: Optional features include this 12-speaker Harman Kardon Logic7 surround sound system, a panorama roof and high-tech driving aids like Lane Keeping Assist and Blind Spot Assist that were previously offered only on the more expensive Mercedes models.

The C-Class comes with a choice of three engines, all sending power through a seven-speed automatic transmission. You can get a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4 making 201 horsepower in the C250 like the one we're testing today, a three-liter V6 making 228 horsepower in the C300?

Amanda: ...or a 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 in the C350. With 34 additional horsepower than last year's C350, the new V6 launches it from 0 to 60 in less than six seconds.

Clarence: And, thanks to the long-awaited addition of direct injection to the C-Class engines, it delivers better fuel economy than last year's model: 20 miles per gallon city, 29 highway.

Amanda: That's actually better than the smaller C300!

Clarence: But for the more frugal shopper, this new C250 will be the real draw. Based around the less costly turbocharged 1.8-liter engine, it's the least expensive and gets good fuel economy of 21 city, 31 highway.

Amanda: With pricing starting at just under $35,000 for the sedan and a little over $37,000 for the new coupe, you'd have to really nitpick to find fault with what Mercedes-Benz has done to the 2012 C-Class.

Clarence: Although it's not exactly an all-out sport sedan, if you opt for the C350 you'll be driving a credible challenge to the BMW 335i, and at a price that's about $2,000 less.

Amanda: Making a long list of improvements and adding an all-new coupe mid-cycle may be rare for a manufacturer, especially Mercedes-Benz.

Clarence: But in the case of the C-Class, what has evolved is a rare breed of luxury compact car. We like the end result, and we think you will, too!

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