Pros: More fuel efficient yet still sophisticated; plenty of Mercedes tech on board
Cons: Staid styling
What's New: Standard mbrace2 telematics; available AMG Sports Package Plus; adaptive cruise now a stand-alone option; 3.5-liter engine for C300 4MATIC; start/stop function for C300 4MATIC and C350 Coupe and Sport Sedan.
Although the automaker might be known for big sedans and 6-figure convertibles, more accessible models like the 2013 Mercedes-Benz C-Class are that brand's real bread and butter. Mercedes has sold no fewer than 8.5 million C-Class cars in the last quarter-century, and despite such missteps as the slow-selling C230 Coupe, the compact Benz has earned a solid reputation in a segment where value and functionality take precedence over luxury and performance.
First unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, the C-Class coupe is a sporty spin-off, but the 2013 C-Class sedan reveals just how far Mercedes-Benz has gone toward improving its entry-level 4-door. New start/stop technology contributes to better fuel economy for some models--the C300 4MATIC, especially--and direct-injected power plants and more sophisticated 7-speed automatic transmissions stretch every gallon. Engine tweaks and weight-saving measures such as aluminum body parts help as well. Engine output has also been boosted, with the V6 offering a gain of 34 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque over the previous generation. The larger 3.5-liter engine now powers the C300 4MATIC as well as the C350.
The C-Class sedan is available in four configurations: C250 (turbocharged inline-4, rear-wheel drive), C350 (V6, rear-wheel drive), C300 4MATIC (V6, all-wheel drive) and C63 AMG (V8, rear-wheel drive). Pricing for the C350 starts at $41,400, plus a $905 destination charge.
Although you wouldn't know it at first glance, the previous model year 2012 C-Class was the most comprehensively facelifted vehicle in Mercedes-Benz history, boasting more than 2,000 new components. It inherited a range of driver's aids from more expensive models, a trend Mercedes-Benz calls the "democratization of high tech." Its 2013 successor returns with more content included as standard equipment.
Comfort & Utility
Carrying over from the 2012 model is a sophisticated interior design. Thanks to a dashboard with an integrated color display, the C-Class interior closely resembles its stylish big sibling, the CLS. Upmarket touches such as a Napa leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter are standard, while the C350 adds such additional comfort and convenience equipment as a power sunroof, heated 14-way power front seats and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system.
The C-Class sedan's exterior design is subtle but elegant. Among the tweaks carried over from the redesigned 2012 model are a reworked hood, bumpers and headlamps, which now emphasize a front-end arrow form where the tops of the lights meet the aluminum hood. LED running lamps and taillights integrated with a one-piece jewel case lend a premium appearance both coming and going.
The C-Class's modestly designed exterior commits no sins. It's a balanced, likable and ultimately inoffensive body that takes an angular design direction in contrast to the more organically styled BMW 3 Series. While Japanese competitors such as the Infiniti G37 and the Lexus IS boast splashier lines, their designs might be more susceptible to going out of style. Call it staid, conservative or simply Teutonic, but we think the C-Class will look as good in a few years as it does today.
One big change for the 2013 model year is the addition of Mercedes-Benz's telematics platform, mbrace2, as standard equipment across the lineup. In addition to featuring automatic collision notification and roadside assistance using GPS technology, mbrace2 allows you to connect to the Internet, send routes or destinations to the vehicle's navigation system, remotely unlock the doors when keys are locked inside and access concierge services. Optional interior items include a multimedia package, which adds an 80-GB hard drive navigation system, voice control for audio, telephone, navigation, an in-dash 6-disc DVD/CD changer and a rear-view camera.
Despite bumps in horsepower and torque, C-Class engines have seen up to 15 percent improvements in fuel economy thanks largely to the addition of direct injection. The technology has become a mandatory part of any state-of-the-art power plant. It offers greater efficiency by more precisely controlling how and when gasoline is injected into the engine for combustion. Direct injection has been a long-awaited addition to the C-Class, having been introduced to all manner of cars, from exotics to subcompacts.
Direct injection isn't the only way C-Class engines gain their efficiency. A new heat management process prevents unnecessary coolant circulation, enabling faster warm-up cycles when outside temperatures are low. Camshaft adjusters are optimized for better low-end torque. A new start/stop system, which cuts the engine off at idle then restarts it seamlessly when the driver lifts off the brake, cuts fuel consumption. Taken together these improvements help every C-Class sedan earn Mercedes-Benz its BlueEfficiency classification.
Safety features include adaptive high-beam assist, attention assist, blind spot assist and lane-keeping assist, which warn the driver through vibrations in the steering wheel.
The cabin of the C350 test car was a tidy but fairly luxurious space; black, grain-finished surfaces abounded, and a thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel framed large, white-backed analog gauges. Trim materials offset an otherwise no-nonsense demeanor. The tester was clad in AMG trim, sporting real aluminum across the steering wheel, dashboard and center console. Other variants feature black ash or burled walnut bits for a richer, more traditional feel.
The C350 sedan drives with a sense of confident calm. Retuned suspension improves responsiveness, and adaptive shocks enable a smooth ride over most surfaces and stiffen during high-speed cornering or abrupt steering input.
While negotiating twisty mountain roads, the C350 offered a reasonable balance between ride comfort and control. Its 3,615-lb body hustled itself effectively thanks in part to a 5-arm multilink rear setup and the aforementioned automatic suspension stiffening.
The 302-hp V6, which Mercedes-Benz estimates will whisk you from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds, feels noticeably gutsier than the previous model, with assertive torque that pulls nicely in concert with the smooth-shifting 7-speed transmission. Although more engaging to drive than its predecessor, the 2012 C350 still veers toward the functional end of the spectrum, offering solid on-road manners that will satisfy all but the most performance-oriented drivers.
The 2013 C350 sedan's fuel economy is EPA rated at 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. In contrast, the turbocharged 4-cylinder C250 is rated at 22/31 mpg. The C300 4MATIC gets a fuel economy bump from its new engine and start/stop function. It's now rated at 20/28 mpg.
With its subtle exterior, uprated interior amenities, and efficient yet powerful drivetrains, the 2013 C-Class takes on the competition with a stronger arsenal of amenities and a more focused sense of purpose on the road.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 335i - Mercedes C-Class's arch rival, the 335i, is more driver oriented. The twin-turbocharged BMW delivers more torque at lower rpm (300 lb-ft at 1,400 rpm, versus the Benz's 273 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm), but it also costs about $2,000 more and has a very different feel than the Mercedes. The Benz is more of a stylish but utilitarian twist on the 4-door format and less of an all-out sport sedan.
Lexus IS350 - More of an apples-to-apples comparison with the C350 than the BMW, the IS350 is similarly priced at $39,070.
Infiniti G37 - Even lower in price at $35,800, the 6-cylinder G37 is on par price-wise with the C250 Sport Sedan. Like the Lexus, its design is more stylish than that of the C-Class.
It might not be quite as driver oriented as the BMW 3 Series, but that doesn't stop the 2013 Mercedes-Benz C-Class from being a strong proposition for luxury sedan shoppers. If the C350's $41,4000 MSRP is outside your price point, the more attractively priced 4-cylinder C250, which starts at $35,350 for the Sport sedan and $35,770 for the Luxury sedan model, should draw even more buyers toward the 3-pointed star.