The C-Class size-wise is where the E-Class was not too long ago. Snap discovers that Mercedes has made the C-Class experience every bit as swell inside – and better looking outside – than the new E-Class. Or maybe any other class.

Mercedes Benz; C-Klasse Fahrvorstellung Marseille 2014; C-400_4_Matic; Diamantweiss; Polster Grau/Blau; Ext. Avantgarde

Frequently wintertime testing in Europe involves my getting hoisted into southern Spain or France in order to avoid the gucky weather north of the mountains and away from the Mediterranean. Today, I call Marseille home, like many a French sailor might do. The W205 fifth-generation Mercedes C-Class is – just like every generation prior to it – extraordinarily important to the company. The C is the highest selling though not the highest profit margin culprit in the Mercedes lineup, and it is the Mercedes you get when you can finally afford to step up to the real and true four-doors from Stuttgart.

Look at it. No surprise that this pretty sedan has made it to the final three this year as World Car Design 2014 according to the spectacuriffic World Car Awards. [Of which I am co-founder and co-chair, full disclosure being due. WE’RE N.1!!! WE’RE N.1!!!] And I know the touch that makes the design complete, but I’ll share that later. Time to drive the thing and shut me up.

Mercedes had several trims and engines present to test, and I focused on the probably-not-for-the-US C 250 BluTEC turbodiesel and the yeah-of-course-for-the-US-you-dweeb C 400 turbocharged and direct-injected gas setup that is top of the line – just as my enormous Yankee butt prefers. Diesel-guzzling Europe gets a new base 1.6-liter turbodiesel in the C 180 that gets something like 200 mpg while breaking speed records, but the US cannot stomach any Mercedes yet with a badge reading below 250. More’s the pity.

I’ll use and dismiss the 201-horsepower C 250 BlueTEC fairly quickly. While I certainly do see the practicality of massive range per tank of fuel, the current small direct-injected diesels from Mercedes tend to have an honestly old school tractor-like racket at low rpm and then an incredibly small sweet spot of revs per gear in acceleration. They’re getting close to needing ten or eleven gears to really get things going. Then while doing various turnarounds for dynamic photos, the Drive-to-Reverse-to-Drive etc. action is just zombie like. Not the zombie that attacks like a rabid dog and eats gory flesh, but the zombie that wanders desert movie sets in a somnambulant haze while looking for hot girls in bikinis who haven’t yet been infected. The 7G transmission and 2.2-liter powertrain together are so slow to transition – too slow to justify the probable fuel efficiency gains. It’s at highway cruising speeds and normal forward progress (with nary a thought to engaging reverse) where these diesels rule the Earth.

Mercedes-Benz  C_250BT_CavansitblauMercedes Benz; C-Klasse Fahrvorstellung Marseille 2014; C-400_4_Matic; Diamantweiss; Polster Grau/Blau; Ext. Avantgarde

Mercedes-Benz  C_250BT_Cavansitblauli_5477

But I really needed the top C 400 4Matic, launching together with the C 300 4Matic in the U.S. by later this Spring, under me to feel at home. This 3.0-liter turbocharged and DI V6 in Sport trim is much more like it if I’m in a mood to plunk down some $45,000 plus. The 329 horses and 354 pound-feet of torque (from 1,600 to 4,000 rpm) get me to 60 mph from nothing in less than 5.5 seconds, and return fuel economy matching that of the outgoing C 350 Sport. This all was much more like it and at idle the car is nearly S-Class silent.

This “baby S-Class” theme ran throughout the test day in these various cars. I tried both the Sport trim and Luxury trim – known as Avantgarde and Exclusive in Europe – though had no time to try out a sit in the AMG trim. Suffice to say (so I’ll say it}, both BMW and Audi had better get on their horse quick to upgrade both the plush ride and schnazzy interior that are readily available in the C-Class today. The packaging is stunning while the powertrains are smooth enough and the car loses 220 pounds while getting larger and more spacious.

This C-Class is 3.7 inches longer and gets 3.0 inches of added wheelbase up to a total of 112.0 inches. Headroom remains a perfectly adequate amount while shoulder and hip room are up 1.7 inches due to the car’s corresponding added width. It’s really nice in here, especially for the rear passengers. Behind the human bodies in the cabin, luggage space is up to a BMW 3 Series like 17.0 cubic feet.

I cannot say whether these base Mercedes C-Class testers prove to be better at the everyday dynamics versus the 3 Series, which is really good. I could find none of the cars I was interested in this day with the standard steel suspension nor with the steel suspension with Mercedes’ Direct Control feature. For the first time in this segment at last, Mercedes is offering the S-Class like Airmatic air suspension and Mercedes was so excited by it that they went and slapped it on every tester I cared about. It’s terrific to live with, for certain, but I had no way of knowing comparatively just how terrific versus the standard suspension. Nonetheless, in this area of comfort and adaptability, both the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series need to do homework now.

Mercedes Benz; C-Klasse Fahrvorstellung Marseille 2014; C-400_4_Matic; Diamantweiss; Polster Grau/Blau; Ext. Avantgarde

The capper perhaps from a “damn cool” p.o.v. is the new iPhone-inspired action touch pad on the middle console right where you might naturally rest your right hand. It does absolutely everything on the seven-inch onboard screen and it really does come off feeling like a $45,000 iPhone that can carry the kids to school in premium style. There are effectively three complete standalone ways to set everything up now through the interface: the Comand controller knob (right beneath the new pad), the Touch pad, and the always cool sounding and rarely used Linguatronic. Get all of this in your drunken options glee and just watch the price rise. But you will honestly at this point have yourself a small S-Class. Which for me is awesome.

The latest midsize modular architecture used here gets an all-new front axle with multi-link front structure at the wheels. I enjoyed the nimble feeling of the steering response unlike ever before in a non-AMG smaller Mercedes. The variable electro-mechanical steering has absolutely come a massive distance from the first systems I was testing on Mercedes some three years ago, because they really had to in order to ever convince me. Today, the feeling and drive are precise as in hydraulic days of old.

It’s bigger and it’s better. Depending on the parameters that matter most to a buyer, is this C-Class top of the segment? I’d have to have a comparable C 400 4Matic type of BMW 3 Series and a full day of driving over mountains and highways to really know. Maybe bring my daughter with me for she is the most honest judge there is. Which is appropriate as a test in the end for these cars, since they have become sincere small family sedans.

And the bloody thing is gorgeous now.


Price: $45,000 (est.)

Engine: 3.0-liter turbo V6; 329 bhp

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

0-60mph: <5.5 seconds

Top speed: 130mph (limited)

Economy: 29mpg (avg.)

Delivery start: May 2014