• Mar 25, 2011
The Baby Benz Becomes More Like Its Big Brothers

2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class - Click above for high-res image gallery

When it comes to automobiles, money is usually the limiting factor. Endowed with unlimited dough, who wouldn't drive their dream car?

For those inclined toward luxury, the full-size Mercedes-Benz S-Class coddles its drivers with massive comfort and technology that compensates for nearly every common human frailty exhibited behind the wheel. The S-Class, however, remains beyond the means of most drivers.

Developed to make three-pointed quality, safety and luxury more attainable, the W 201 sedan was introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 1982. Known as the 190, this compact sedan stands as the direct forerunner of the C-Class. Some 8.5 million sales stand as M-B's commercial proof of concept over four generations. And the way things are going, those sales are set to continue.

Continue reading First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan...

Photos copyright ©2011 Rex Roy / AOL

The 2012 C-Class is not an all-new car, but instead a revised 204 series (introduced in 2007). What's new? For the U.S. market we get refreshed front and rear styling, three more-efficient engines, a new gearbox, a revised interior and driving aids previously only available on M-B's more expensive models, including Lane Keeping Assist, Brake Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Blind Spot Assist and Parktronic. And yes, this means no diesels for us. No manual gearboxes, either, but that's not so surprising.

All the engines reside under a new aluminum hood and behind a facelifted nose featuring new headlights. Around back, new LED taillamps complete the visual modernization.

2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan side view2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan front view2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan rear view

Powertrain details begin with the fact that our three new engines all run direct fuel injection. The 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque, and is available in the rear-wheel-drive C250. Those wanting all-wheel drive get the 3.0-liter V6 making 228 hp and 221 lb.ft. in the C300 4Matic, while the top-of-the-line rear-drive powertrain is the 3.5-liter V6 making 302 hp and 273 lb-ft, an increase of 34 ponies over 2011's C350.

All engines run through the company's seven-speed 7G-Tronic transmission. The combination of direct injection, an extra cog in the gearbox and a small overall weight savings help boost fuel economy by up to 15 percent. The gains are bigger in other markets, where an engine stop/start system is also standard. That feature will be coming to the U.S. when fuel economy pressures justify the additional complexity and cost of the system. Mercedes hasn't released final EPA figures, but offered preliminary combined numbers (by engine) of 24 mpg, 20 mpg, and 21 mpg, respectively.

Like overall efficiency, dynamic performance is also improved. Daimler says to expect a 5.9-second 0-60 mph dash for the 3.5-liter and 7.1 seconds for the other two powertrains.

2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan engine

As luck of the press-fleet draw would have it, our ride on the twisty roads of Tenerife (the largest of Spain's Canary Islands) was a rear-wheel-drive C350 equipped with the Elegance package. The Stateside equivalent would be called the Luxury model. Significant differences separate this model from the Sport: a four-spoke steering wheel, either rich brown ash or burr walnut and wide S-Class-style headrests with side bolsters (great for resting passengers).

While Sport C-Class models (known as Avantgarde editions in the EU) possess a sportier countenance with a CLS-style grill, AMG-style three-spoke steering wheel and gloss black ash, our C seemed to be the execution that most entry-level luxury buyers are looking for. There's something proper about looking out over the Three-Pointed Star standing proud over the chrome radiator surround. Ditto for the inside's rich wood appliqués and soft Nappa leather.

Our unit had the optional Audio 20 system with integrated navigation and a high-resolution (800x400 pixel) seven-inch screen. Like so many other vehicles, the C's new system is Internet-capable using Bluetooth tethered to a data-capable smartphone. Compared to the operation of the 2012 Audi A6 (with the optional fully-integrated, built-in data link), the new M-B system felt clunky. During a demonstration on the island, acquiring Web access and doing anything productive took too many clicks and rotations of the COMAND controller. Given Audi's introduction of a touchpad (A6, A7 and A8), this aspect of the revised C-Class seems behind the curve. Good thing this is another one of those non-U.S. features for now, so Mercedes has time to get it right before it makes the trek across the Atlantic.

2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan interior2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan front seats2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan steering wheel2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan audio system

Volcanic activity raised Tenerife out of the water off the Northwest coast of Africa. It's simultaneously a beautiful vacation spot for Europeans and an excellent place to drive a new Benz briskly.

The C350 drives solidly, in the manner of a small big car. There's no suspension chop or harshness. The new C has slightly revised suspension geometry and a brace of new bushings. The basic steel-spring setup (struts in front and an independent multi-link design in back) carries over. Dampers on all models automatically adjust between two ride settings and there are three available suspensions calibrations: Luxury, Sport and AMG. Our tester's softest suspension didn't offer any driver-controlled adjustability and its range isn't as broad as the higher-performance versions.

Our C350 also included a Sport/Comfort switch that modified the seven-speed's shift schedule. As you'd expect, the transmission moved up shift points and held gears longer. The hydraulic power rack-and-pinion steering also heavied up in Sport mode and delivered more feel, but don't expect the tactile sensations of a sports car.

2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan driving

Even in Sport mode, this is a sporty sedan, not a sport sedan – more of a baby S-Class, not an Infiniti G. Cornering is clean and predictable; there's no toss-and-set, just a smooth roll-and-stick. Pushed hard, however, and there's a little understeer. Push harder and M-B's electronic stability control works to prevent oversteer (expectedly) and understeer (unexpectedly). Yup, in some situations, the ESP actually induces additional yaw. The ESP makes the new C-Class feel totally locked down, yet it further robs the car of the playfulness you feel behind the wheel of a BMW 3 Series.

The V6 is quiet at light throttle, but wakes up with some pedal. It sounds good at lower revs where most C-Class driver will spend their time. On the far side of the tach, the engine's note isn't particularly sonorous. It's not raspy or thrashy, just not very nice.

2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan headlight2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan wheel2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan taillight2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan exhaust system

Showing that no place on Earth is perfect, our drive was rudely interrupted by a jackknifed semi. An alternative route gave us some miles of easy cruising, and in this more typical driving environment, the C350 drove easily and quietly. There was little road noise, but we were surprised by some decidedly un-Mercedes-like wind noise around the A-pillars. Exceptionally strong crosswinds coming in off the Atlantic may have been to blame, and such breezes are tough to develop for. More time behind the wheel will reveal whether wind noise is properly managed.

After a few more hours behind the wheel, the C-Class continued to feel like a small S-Class. What does the C give up aside from room, stature, status and the feeling like you're gliding over the Earth? Drivers who haven't piloted a modern S-Class won't miss much. However, we noticed details such as the feel of the COMAND knob. The S's is larger and feels as if it's milled from billet aluminum. Additionally, the flagship has a tiny volume control next to the bigger puck, and the feel and utility are far superior. Details like this cost something and are not usually found in this price segment.

2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sedan rear 3/4 view

While the 2012 C-Class is already on sale in Europe, we'll get the new sedan, coupe, AMG sedan, and AMG coupe this Fall. (According to Mercedes-Benz, America's reluctance to accept station wagons means we won't be getting the C-Class Touring models. For shame.) Pricing hasn't been announced for the States, but given global competitiveness, expect Monroney labels to closely overlay the current C-Class range.

As fuel prices rise and forced fiscal conservatism continues to impact buying decisions, Mercedes executives couldn't have hoped for a better environment to launch the best Baby Benz ever, and for buyers unable to pony up for an S, the C-Class easily fits the entry-level luxury bill.

Photos copyright ©2011 Rex Roy / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      The C has had the 7-speed for quite some time. Not new.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yup, my wife's 2010 has the 7-speed. It's a very nice transmission.
        • 3 Years Ago
        To be accurate, this 7-speed is a revised box capable of the start/stop function we don't get (yet) in North America.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Around back, new LED taillamps complete the visual modernization." I don't understand how it is modernization when most German manufactured cars are now being imported to the U.S. with 2 color taillamps (red/white) versus years of supplying safer 3 color lamps: red/amber/white, amber for turn indicators.
        • 3 Years Ago

        I used to hate American cars for doing this. So many times in traffic that "feature" makes it harder to distinguish between braking and a potential turn.

        It's so repulsive when I see that on a luxury car, it reminds me of the rusted out e150 that was next to me when I first realized that tail lights should have 3 colors. And it's just such an unacceptable oversight from a safety perspective. I'm a motorhead through and through, but I won't buy a car that isn't safe enough. My favorite safety feature is the turn signal indicators on the side view mirrors. More cars should have that.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Totally agree! It's not like amber LEDs don't exist. And it can't be a matter if styling, since the MBs use a white lens and BMWs use a red lens but illuminate it with amber LEDs in the EU and Asia. Audi downgrades the US lights even further, combining the brake lights and turn signals into one. Amazing to see the core tech (LEDs) be so advanced but the end result be so out of date, especially in a German car.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have a hard time understanding why anyone would pick this car... especially for the price that they would be asking for it ($40k+).

      The styling of all M-Bs have been downhill for years now and this restyling of the C doesn't change that. The interior is even worse - the company had more modern-looking interiors back in the 80's for pete's sake.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I'm pretty disappointed by the cost-cutting that's making them drop start-stop for the U.S. market. Luxury cars should have the latest tech, and especially when premium fuel is pushing $5 a gallon in many U.S. states I don't see how it makes any sense to skimp out on us when everyone else gets start-stop. I expect cost cutting in economy cars but for a product that's supposed to be a luxury car it's pretty lame to see this.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Every car has cost cutting in it.

        Do you doubt for a second that even the S-class could be better?

      • 3 Years Ago
      "There's something proper about looking out over the Three-Pointed Star standing proud over the chrome radiator surround." You can see the chrome radiator surround?? Are you lying on the hood? I don't think any driver has seen the front grill chrome since the 190's. Better check your facts before romanticizing what is essentially a German taxi.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Those headlights make it look like a Å koda Octavia. Nice one Mercedes.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm sorry, but this Mercedes is terrible inside and out. They last good C-class was this 2007...


      Everything about this car is blah. The beige doesn't help either.
        • 3 Years Ago
        spoke to soon there bro ! LOL
        • 3 Years Ago
        I guess they agree with you, Mike, even though we basically said the same thing. Odd.
        • 3 Years Ago
        The new shape of the headlights are a step back.

        Reportedly, the quality of the materials in the interior have improved a little, but still, not enough for the pricepoint (BMW did a much better job improving the quality of the materials in the new X3; granted, that's a whole new gen rather than a refresh).

        There have been worse generations of the C Class; this one isn't bad.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I thought the W203 C Class (2000-2007) were the worst ones ever. Styling that looked dated in a couple of years and low quality interiors. Actually the low quality wasn't just the C class but everything from MB during that time period. I used to have to take my folks 2001 S500 in to get serviced and would get various M Class and C Class cars as loaners. The interior quality in those cars were a joke (and the S class wasn't that much better).

        They upgraded to an 2008 S550 a couple of years ago and the quality looks much better than the last S Class.

        I actually like the styling of the W204s. Classic looking car that will probably age well. Can't really comment on the interior or quality (perceived or actual) as I haven't sat in one.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Navigation, heated seats/cooled seats, LED lighting and a moonroof. How much does that cost on this car?

        Once you have those things, you're basically driving a scaled down, fuel efficient, easier to park S-class. I'm glad Mercedes finally updated this car's interior because the last year C-class looked terrible.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I agree. The 2007 model C-Class is still a looker and IMO looks better then the current one.
        • 3 Years Ago
        That c-class you linked has bland, dated styling, but that's all subjective. If you're talking about quality, then the new c-class is by far the better car. I believe the styling on the new c-class is much better and much more aggressive.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Mercedes-Benz" ownership doesn't mean what it used to, hasn't for a while. $349/month factory lease deals?? Practically anyone can get into a new Benz these days.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I agree with the guys above me. I've been in this car multiple times... If the C-Class is supposed to represent Benz... its doing a bad job. It looked cheap and felt cheap inside.

      IDK what it is about new cars... the materials being used feel cheap.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wow, the Mercedes instrument panel puts me to sleep. I would not buy this junk made in Mexico.
        • 3 Years Ago
        It is made in Germany, not Mexico.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Here I was defending the baby Benz. As the driver of a 1988 190D 2.5, I am a huge fan of the small car that has big car solidity. As usual, I am severely disappointed that this car is not offered with a diesel, nor a manual. Both would go a long way towards rewarding those who really appreciate the brand and its history.

      When I heard news of the 1.8T, I was actually quite excited, thinking that fuel economy would be excellent and that the car would be responsive. Again, disappointment appears in the forms of a lack of manual AND no AWD on the C250...why do they even bother carrying that old 3.0L lump?

      I am also not a big fan of the update to the front end of Benzes these days, they all are starting to look like bottom-feeding fish with LEDs. When the W204 came out in 2007, I loved the styling, but was disappointed with the harsh ride/wind noise/poor interior quality/inefficient engines.

      Seems as though I'll never be satisfied...I wanted to give the Benz a chance, but this update is inexcusable. They had 4 years to fix these issues, and they seem to have done little in that time.
      Aria Aric
      • 3 Years Ago
      Mercedes C Class is one of the finest work from Mercedes that i have seen. liked all the feature which was recently launched in india http://www.indiandrives.com/2011-mercedes-c-class-in-india-review.html
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hard to believe, but I would not trade my '84 300D Turbodiesel straight across for a new C Class. Older is better, and no computer aboard.
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