First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-class / C250 / C350
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2011.
By Tony Quiroga of Car and Driver
Is a mid-cycle refresh successful if it makes owners of the current car feel like suckers? Absolutely. When the fourth-generation C-class arrived in 2007, the dour, cheap interior made us wonder if Mercedes-Benz was serious about calling it a luxury car. For 2012, Mercedes gutted it, refinishing the C with soft, rich plastics befitting the pricier E-class. There are new gauges with higher-quality displays, the seats are more comfortable, and the switchgear looks to have been lifted from the new CLS. It's so much nicer inside that we actually feel a little bad for customers who already bought a C-class.
Just as Fresh under the Hood
If Mercedes-Benz had stopped at the new interior, we probably still would have considered the remodel a triumph, but there are many more changes. Under the new aluminum hood, U.S. buyers will find one of two new engines, both of which will be paired with a seven-speed automatic. At the bottom of the lineup is the new C250. Available in August, the C250 will get a turbocharged 201-hp, 1.8-liter four. If you're in a big hurry, you'll find yourself regularly revving past 4000 rpm, but the turbo does provide a good percentage of its 229 lb-ft of torque from just 2000 rpm. Most of the time, the four is barely audible, but it emits a healthy growl when worked hard. Figure on a 0-to-60-mph time of about seven seconds flat. Fuel-economy numbers have not yet been set, but we expect to see a city number of about 23 mpg and a highway figure of about 31.
For those craving a bit more speed, the C350 has more horsepower, courtesy of a new V-6. For this engine, Mercedes adopted a 60-degree design, its ideal bank angle eliminating the need for a balance shaft. At high rpm, the V-6 feels slightly smoother than before, but not remarkably so. A high 12.2:1 compression ratio and direct fuel injection endow the V-6 with 302 hp and 273 lb-ft. Mercedes claims a 0-to-60 time of 5.9 seconds. Our brief drive of the C350 gave us enough confidence to call that guess conservative by about a half-second. The C300 sticks around, its carry-over 3.0-liter V-6 shuttling power exclusively to all four wheels. It is the only C-class available with 4MATIC.
Updated Looks and Safety Roster, Similar Pricing
To mark the inward changes, the C-class has a few exterior tweaks — basically, if it's plastic and on the outside of the car, it's new. New bumpers front and rear help update the C-class to the latest Mercedes-Benz styling, as do the new head- and taillights. Like before, Sport models have their grilles laid back with an inset Mercedes star; Luxury models get a more upright grille with a stand-up hood ornament. The overall effect of the changes is subtle, but it helps bring the C-class in line with the rest of Mercedes' sedans.
For the collision-prone, the C-class is now offered with the brand's latest safety equipment. To ensure you're awake, there's Attention Assist. To keep you in your lane, there's active lane-keeping assist, which vibrates the steering wheel when the car senses it has wandered from its lane. And active blind-spot assist will tell you if a car is lurking in your blind spot.
On sale this August, the 2012 C-class should come in at the same price point as today's car. We expect the C250 to command $34,500 — basically what a rear-drive C300 costs now — and the C350 should open at $41,000. The all-wheel-drive C300 4MATIC is expected to arrive in showrooms at the end of 2011. With this latest C-class, Mercedes has addressed the small sedan's major interior deficiencies and added a couple of compelling engine choices. If Mercedes can hold the line on pricing, expect to see a lot of disappointed owners of pre-face-lift C-classes — making this a very successful refresh.
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):