2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan Review
New engines highlight Mercedes' appealing compact car.
- Mercedes cachet
- Excellent ride and handling
- Appealing engine lineup
- Small rear seat
- High price of entry
- New 4-cylinder starts at higher price than last year’s base V6
Mercedes-Benz last offered a C-Class with 4-cylinder engine in the 2005, the C230. That supercharged four rested under the hood of a sedan and, God forbid, a 2-door hatchback. The C230 was largely unloved by the automotive press and the buying public, so it faded into history rather quickly. Six years later, with fuel prices much higher, a 4-cylinder engine in a luxury car isn't so taboo. Mercedes is responding by adding a turbocharged four to its compact car while also updating its V6 to be more powerful and fuel-efficient.
After driving both new engines, we're glad Mercedes revived the four and revamped its six.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is offered as a sedan or coupe. (This review focuses on the sedan, because it was the only one available at the time.) The model lineup starts with the new 4-cylinder C250, which is offered in Sport or Luxury trim. It then moves on to the C300 4Matic Sport or Luxury, the C350 Sport and the C63 AMG. Sport models get firmer suspension settings, AMG-inspired body styling, aluminum interior trim and staggered 17-inch tires on alloy wheels. Luxury models feature softer suspension settings, burl walnut interior trim and comfort headrests.
Notable standard features in the C250 and C300 4Matic include vinyl upholstery, sunroof, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone link and audio streaming, HD radio and a USB port. The C350 adds heated front seats, Sirius satellite radio, iPod interface, Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system and memory for the driver's seat, mirrors and steering column. The C63 AMG gets sport seats, aluminum paddle shifters and a firmer adaptive sport suspension.
All C-Classes come with a full suite of safety equipment. Over and above typical standard features, the C-Class has front pelvic airbags, a driver's knee airbag, active front headrests, Adaptive Brake with Hold function and Attention Assist. Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and rear side airbags are also offered.
Under the Hood
Four engines are available for the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The new 1.8-liter turbocharged four is standard in C250 models, and makes 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. The C300 4Matic comes with a carryover 3.0-liter V6 that produces 228 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. C350 models have a new 3.5-liter V6. It replaces a V6 of the same size but features more technology and more power. Horsepower is up to 302 from 268 and torque increases to 273 lb-ft from 258. The high-performance C63 AMG features a 6.2-liter V8 that cranks out 451 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque in standard trim and 481 horsepower when the Development Package is ordered.
All of the engines but the 6.2 come with a 7-speed automatic transmission. The 6.2 has a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Fuel-economy ratings are 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway for the 1.8; 18/25 mpg for the 3.0; 20/29 mpg for the 3.5; and 13/19 mpg for the 6.2.
While the body and suspension get few changes for 2012, the C-Class's interior is redesigned. The dashboard now features a hooded center stack that covers a standard 5.8-inch screen. The gauge cluster has a 4.5-inch information center with a gold hue in the middle of the central speedometer.
Like other luxury cars, the C-Class has a central control system that Mercedes calls Comand. It handles the communications, navigation and entertainment functions through a rotating knob on the center console, a group of buttons on the center stack and the center dashboard screen. Comand takes some getting used to and requires more steps than simple buttons, but it eliminates the clutter of dozens of buttons and becomes easy to use after a learning curve.
The new interior design features soft-touch materials for all of the touch points as well as the dashboard, befitting a luxury car. Sport models come standard with aluminum trim and Luxuries get burl walnut, both of which are attractive. Overall, the look and feel is improved with the new design.
The standard upholstery, however, is MB Tex, a form of vinyl, not leather. In fact, MB Tex is used for all trim levels, even the $59,075 C63 AMG. It looks a lot like leather, so most won't complain, but leather should be standard in a luxury car.
With any upholstery, the front seats are comfortable and supportive, with decent bolstering for aggressive driving. The C63's sport seats have more pronounced adjustable bolsters that can fit smaller folks snugly but don't open wide enough for larger occupants.
The C-Class falls down in rear-seat space. Even an average-sized adult won't fit behind another of the same size, as rear legroom is too tight and headroom is limited. The back seat is best left to kids.
A split-folding back seat is optional — though it should be standard. It folds easily enough to create a load floor with a covered step in the middle. The trunk has a rather small opening but is fairly deep, with a decent 12.4 cubic feet of space. Fold that back row down and you'll be able to carry larger, longer items.
On the Road
Though small, the turbocharged 201-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine offers plenty of power for everyday needs. There is little, if any, turbo lag, and power is peppy. It's fairly refined, too, as the turbocharger helps smooth out some of the typical 4-cylinder whine. Zero to 60 mph takes 7.1 seconds. That's the same figure as the C300 4Matic, which is powered by a 3.0-liter V6. The 3.0-liter engine is smoother, but far less efficient.
The new 3.5-liter V6 features more technology than the outgoing model to boost both power and fuel economy. The 3.5 feels very strong in the C-Class, and it's tuned to emit an aggressive, rumbling exhaust note. Zero to 60 mph takes only 5.9 seconds, making the 3.5 feel almost like a V8 while delivering only two mpg fewer than the four.
The 6.2-liter V8, though tuned tamer than in other AMGs, still makes the C63 a rocket. It feels torquey and pulls strong from a stop. That's in contrast to the BMW M3 4.0-liter V8, which revs higher and more freely and seems to perform better at higher speeds. The C63 accelerates from zero to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, and if you opt for the Development Package, which adds 30 horsepower, that falls to 4.3. The M3 is about as quick, which makes for a great match race.
All but the C63 have a 7-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly but isn't always that responsive during performance driving. The available steering-wheel shift paddles help in this regard. The C63 has a dual-clutch automated manual that snaps off quicker shifts and still works well when left to shift like an automatic.
From behind the wheel, the C-Class feels solid, yet agile and precise. In fact, the feel is very much like its larger brother, the E-Class. The C may be smaller, but it is just as substantial. Sedan buyers have a choice of Comfort or Sport models, with suspensions to match. Comfort models provide a smooth ride and capable handling. Sport models feel more agile, with more road feel. The ride is firmer but not harsh, though many Rust Belters may find it too hard. Both have steering that is quick, though without a lot of road feel. That changes in the C63, which has a tighter, more direct steering feel. Same goes for the brakes. They are strong and predictable in the lower line models, but the C63 has bigger binders that promote a greater sense of confidence. All around, the C63 is quicker to respond and higher strung than the lower line models.
Right for You?
The Mercedes-Benz brand holds an undeniable cachet, and with good reason. The cars are beautiful and luxurious, and they boast excellent build quality and vaunted German engineering. If all that sounds appealing to you, the C-Class is the most affordable way to own a Mercedes-Benz. The sporty character, quality interior and strong engine lineup should appeal to most buyers, but the small rear seat will turn off families.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Mercedes-Benz provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.