ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Until the automaker introduces something smaller and cheaper in the United States, the CLA is always going to be seen as an entry-level Benz -- attainable luxury and all that, whatever that means. Point is, its premium status will always be qualified (elements like the interior, which has more plastic than a typical Mercedes, won’t do anything to shift that perception).
Not so the C-class. This admittedly loaded example is extremely well bolted-together; the open-grained dark wood flowing up the center console, for example, could have been assembled by furniture makers for all I know. Note how, even across the movable panel that covers the cupholders, the grain is perfectly aligned. You get the sense that they’re showing off. That new touch-sensitive infotainment pad thing seems redundant; seems like flash for flashiness’ sake.
The Airmatic suspension, combined with the supportive but not aggressive seats, means that you’re basically floating down the road -- without the sleepiness of a Lexus. But it’s not really a blast to throw around, after the novelty of squealing rubber wears off (maybe different tires would help here).
Power is sort of an afterthought. There’s always plenty; changing drive modes from eco or comfort to sport or sport-plus impacts delivery, not output. Delivery is drama-free. It won’t take your breath away. So, too, with braking. There’s no invigorating bite, but those discs will slow you and your car down smoothly and predictably.
The C400 is a very mature car. Fun probably isn’t the right word to use to describe it, unless you particularly relish being coddled, but it does make you wonder what other creature comforts (aside from seat massagers, I guess) an E-class -- or even an S-class -- could possibly offer a driver and front-seat passenger.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 4Matic Sedan is a very mature car.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Graham really summed it up by calling the C400 a “very mature car.” That’s not a knock on the Benz, but it does go a long way toward distinguishing it from the BMW, Cadillac and Audi competition. If you want a playful weekend corner-carver, the C400 probably isn’t going to satisfy, but if you want your entry-luxury car to emphasize the luxury, you’ll love the C-class.
Side note: Though we’re talking about the V6-powered C400 specifically here, it’s important to note the C300 has a decidedly different character versus its staid older brother. The four-cylinder C300 is more adept at play without sacrificing luxury; we’ll look at that car more closely in an upcoming review, but check out a C300 if the 400 is too uptight for your taste.
Benz has done a fantastic job of translating the S-class styling dynamic to the C; it’s just a lovely place in which to sit and go about the business of driving. Our tester -- loaded, mind you -- had gorgeous matte black ash wood veneers and brushed metals throughout, but most of these elements are available on a C-class stickering for much less than our $64,000 model. During the vehicle launch even a few months ago, Mercedes operatives suggested the average transaction price of a C400 is expected to be in the mid-$50K range, and the car feels worth that price with a few exceptions.
What Is It? As the Mercedes-Benz C-Class gets bigger, which it will in the Fall of 2014, room opens up underneath it for a new entry-level Mercedes. That new entry-level Mercedes comes to us this ...
While I don’t love the turbo V6 in the C400 -- it seems slightly sluggish and less powerful than its specs suggest -- it’s impossible to fault M-B’s optional Airmatic suspension system. Just as they did in our long-term GL350 Bluetec SUV, the air springs and computers work magic in turns and on rough surfaces -- if you think your current car corners flat, you’ll need to recalibrate after experiencing an Airmatic-equipped car.
Otherwise, my only beefs with the C400 involve the infotainment system, which changes the brand’s excellent COMAND system just enough to force me to relearn how everything works, and a couple of odd rattles in our tester: There was an intermittent noise from the steering column, and a more persistent glass-on-weatherstrip noise from the driver’s side window -- I re-rolled up the window, checked the door closure, everything I could think of, yet it reappeared whenever I encountered rough surfaces. The redesigned C is the newest model to be produced in Mercedes’ Alabama assembly plant; whether my experiences stem from teething troubles on a new line or they’re just random occurrences remain to be seen.
Hopefully it’s the latter -- the new C-class is just too good to be weighed down by manufacturing issues.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 4Matic Sedan is equipped with a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 pushing out 329 hp with 354 lb-ft of torque.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: Say it with me now, folks: $63,000 for this fine German machine, now the second-lowest rung on the gilded ladder of Mercedes-Benz ownership, a former entry-level luxury car with $20,000 worth of options weighing down its Airmatic suspension. Sixty-three grand is silly money. That much in a C-class should come with a giant neon sign pointed out of the roof that says “I SHOULD NOT BE TRUSTED WITH A BANK ACCOUNT.” It would be a pretty unwieldy sign.
But, I get it. $63K for this makes sense, perversely, and even more so if you're spending someone else's money.
Let’s take a look at what our loaded C400 came with: a navigation system. Satellite radio. A touchpad right where your palm goes, where you can pinch and swipe to control both of these. Adaptive cruise control. Lane assist. Blind spot warning. Parking sensors galore. LED lighting. A power trunk lid. Heated and cooled seats. Swiveling headlights. An adjustable air suspension. Ambient lighting across the interior. Sport-plus mode, which dips into the revs even more and sounds a little more frenetic. There is a Burmester sound system in here, people. While it doesn’t have as many speakers or pop out of place as in the S63 AMG I once drove, but possesses the same intricately designed charm. It can steer itself, accelerate by itself, and brake to a complete halt -- by itself. It even has illuminated door sills, if you’re into that sort of thing.
In short, with every option checked, this is a scaled-down S-class -- minus the heated armrests and the inflated sense of old-money royalty and possibly the perfume thing.
I came into this car expecting to be disappointed by it. But the C400 is a very competent sports sedan, a lot of fun to drive, and a damn near facsimile of an AMG product. No, really. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 has the perfect amount of power for the car, at any time: when you want to kick it, the V6 never feels overwhelming, only tireless. That torque curve is as flat aswest Texas. The air suspension rides well, tuned for both larger crashes and small jitters, and virtually eliminates body roll. The steering is wonderful. Efforts aren't as high as the outgoing model, and there's not as much solidity in that proud Germanic tradition that we've all been taught to appreciate -- but, instead, you get a car that feels even smaller than it already is.
A few things: I could never figure out how to stay explicitly in shift-your-own mode. The rotary knob and three-tier infotainment system is still needlessly complicated -- COMAND, and its three-tier menus, is a terrible and confusing concept, surviving through sheer stubbornness, difficult to navigate expertly even after repeated use by techno-millennials like what I allegedly am. But now Benz has added a touchpad, capable of two-finger swiping and clicking such as a MacBook pad, which would be a neat piece of tech if it wasn’t ultimately redundant. That’s where your hand goes when you’re using the big wheel knob. And that’s when you accidentally click with your palm and lose yourself in menus.
Ultimately, it’s reassuring that you can option your C-class to this exalted level, even if many won’t. Look at that: nearly all the features of an S-class, in a smaller package that’s easier to park in town, after all, easier to chuck into a street side space. What’s the ultimate luxury if not convenience?
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 4Matic Sedan comes in at a base price of $49,515 with our tester topping off at $63,705.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 4Matic Sedan
Options: 997 driver assistance package including Distronic Plus with steering assist, active blind spot assist, active lane keeping assist, Pre-Safe brake with pedestrian recognition, BAS Plus with cross-traffic assist, Pre-Safe Plus with rear-end collision protection ($2,800); 320 multimedia package including high-resolution 8.4-inch color display, COMAND system with navigation, navigation map updates included for 3 years, CD/DVD audio, video player, voice control system, hard drive with music register for download of media files, Gracenote Media database, Sirius XM traffic, weather including 3-year service, mbrace with MB apps, rearview camera ($2,690); 318 interior package including leather upholstery, passenger seat including 3-position memory, ventilated seats, ambient lighting and illuminating door sills ($2,300); 413 panorama sunroof ($1,480); 315 Airmatic including air suspension and agility select adjustable suspension ($1,190); 463 head up display ($990); parktronic with active parking assist ($970); 319 lighting package including dynamic LED headlights, with active curve illumination, adaptive highbeam assist ($800); iridium exterior paint ($720); hands-free access package including hands-free trunk access and electronic trunk closer ($250)
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