That kind of volume, and even more so, that kind of volume at the price that Mercedes will ask of the 2015 C-Class – supposed to be not far above the $35,800 asking price of the current car – has required new engineering and production solutions. Inside, the impressive new cabin is also the product of intense efforts to manufacture Upper East Side quality at Upper West Side prices.
Read on – and peruse the captioned image gallery – to find out more about the details inside and under the skin that Mercedes hopes will make the "C" in C-Class stand for "Compact Conqueror."
The C's aluminum hybrid body is 48-percent aluminum compared to 9 percent currently, and has necessitated different build techniques in different factories. The aluminum roof panel is mounted on the assembly line, but in Tuscaloosa, for example, the panel is affixed in the body shop, attached to the steel body with screws and 10-millimeter spacers. After emerging from the paint shop, the spacers keep everything friendly during curing since aluminum and steel expand at different rates. In the trim shop, the roof is bonded to the body with adhesive. Other factories don't use spacers – tabs on the aluminum roof panel are used to attach it to the body. But because the bodyshell rotates 360 degrees in the Tuscaloosa plant during painting, which it does not do in other plants, it was decided to use a method more substantial than tabs.
Various components currently made of multiple steel pieces have been combined into one aluminum piece on the coming car. The rear axle transverse beam needed more than ten steel parts, now it's one aluminum part that is six pounds lighter. The front damper strut assembly has gone from five steel pieces to one aluminum piece. These unifications boost rigidity, as do reinforcing struts placed throughout the front of the bodyshell, at the beltline, low down in the aluminum doors and even in places like the ring-shaped aluminum piece around the door handle openings. Impact fasteners are used to affix some of the aluminum components to the bodyshell where metal is strong enough to do so.
Mercedes says the new C-Class has the lightest bodyshell in the segment, the 220-pound weight-loss versus the current car equating to a fuel economy improvement of 20 percent while maintaining current power output. Power will be increasing, though, in the two engines that go on sale first: the 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder in the C300 gets 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, which is about an 18-percent increase in overall power compared to the 1.8-liter in the C250; the 3.0-liter, direct-injected, bi-turbo V6 in the C400 gets 329 hp and 354 lb-ft, 27 hp and 81 lb-ft more than the 3.5-liter V6 in the current C350. They will shift through a carryover seven-speed automatic, with a nine-speed gearbox developed in-house on the way.
The cabin theme is intelligence and emotion, with merged designs from three Benz studios, one of them being the Como, Italy studio normally focused on concept and pre-production models. Mercedes wanted the cabin perceived as one class higher than the segment, but in reality it outshines the E-Class. Gone is the hard black plastic, replaced by aluminum, foils, a galvanized material and some S-Class knobs among the simplified switchgear. The bass system on the optional Burmester audio system – another migrant from the S-Class – is built into the body architecture. Without need for bass speakers in the doors, there's room for large cubbies.
The center console anchors the interior, highlighted by its waterfall flow out of the wing-profile IP and three round vents in "silver shadow" finish (inspired by the third-generation SL). The veneer atop the console is one piece with a laser-cut cover for the cupholders where the console curves into the center tunnel. We'll get three different wood trims to start in the US – Burl Walnut, a more modern Brownwood and Black Ash. We will not get the open-pore matte wood treatment going in the AMG model.
The tablet display atop the center stack will get the driver's attention as much as it got ours. The high-placed design is best for helping drivers keep their eyes on the road and using the screen as a prominent design element "is the most modern expression." There will be a seven-inch unit on base models, an 8.4-inch screen fitted with the COMAND Online package, utilizing bonded glass that runs to the edges. "Online" means online for everyone this time, the 2015 C-Class offering hotspot functionality (hooray). Even if you don't order COMAND Online, your C-Class is still pre-wired for navigation – you can buy an SD card from the dealer for about $600 that has a Garmin navigation interface operating through that seven-inch screen.
Hovering over the COMAND controller is a touchpad developed in-house and fitted in all US cars, with aluminum sides supporting its black, shiny surface. The scratch-resistant control surface is configured for various fingertip gestures: one-touch to select, two fingers to swipe, pinch-to-zoom for navigation, two-finger rotation for fan speed. Haptic feedback comes with certain operations, or if you're writing characters onto the touchpad the car will speak each character you write in. Fast and slow gestures are recognized, and while one finger movement usually correlates to one selection choice, that changes in the audio menu with items like cover flow and radio stations. Behind the control surface are three touch-sensitive, illuminated icons for Back, Favorites and Audio keys. The COMAND knob still performs its current functions for those who prefer rotation. And in this car the iPod connection is standard, with two USB connections in the center console plus an SD card slot.
Whereas the current C-Class has three gauges with a small digital information screen in the center gauge, the 2015 C-Class dash is two gauges separated by a larger information screen that can display anything from the center console screen.
Audi has traditionally gotten our vote for best interiors, and with good reason. Having sat in this new car, the 2015 C-Class cabin is well turned out – certainly just as nice as anything from the Ingolstadt brand at this price, but embodying a different philosophy from anything Audi as well as the BMW 3 Series it really wants to dethrone. Mercedes is taking the concept-as-production idea debuted on the S-Class and bringing it down to the C. The C-Class is not only nicer, but much more mature. Combine that with the larger exterior dimensions, the extra room inside and 17-cubic-foot trunk, evolved Intelligent Drive features, heads-up display, window airbags, available four-mode Airmatic suspension among other new developments and the 2015 C-Class appears to set to make an even bigger name for itself in the class.