2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class: moving up the ladder

Now that the CLA-Class has taken over as the brand's entry-level sedan, the C-Class is moving up.

SEATTLE, Washington – The previous-generation C-Class was a resounding success if we consider how many of them we currently see on the road. It was the most affordable sedan in the company's line-up, the entry door to the grand Mercedes family of cars and trucks, which is growing bigger and bigger every year.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class has been introduced and is slowly establishing itself as a good starting block for those seeking to get into the brand's offerings. The C-Class, which used to be nicknamed the "Baby Benz," is now all grown up and ready once again to battle the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series, the Cadillac ATS, the Lexus IS, the Volvo S60 and the Infiniti Q50, among others.

In Canada, we'll be getting two variants of the sedan for now, the C 300 4MATIC and the C 400 4MATIC. That's right; all-wheel drive will be standard for us, as the company claims there was little demand for rear-drive versions.

The C-Class has evolved quite a bit. Its exterior styling is less angular and much more elegant, and now looks like a scaled-down Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The curved character lines on the car's flanks and the LED lighting certainly provide more emotional appeal, while the aggressively styled bumpers – especially with the AMG Sport Package – add some athleticism to the design.

On our round-trip drive from Seattle to Mount Rainier, we were impressed by the quietness of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class' cabin, and how refined it has become. It's also the most obvious clue that this car is headed upstream. The business-like (read: dull) styling and switchgear layout have given way to a much more modern appearance, while richer materials were chosen to dress up the dashboard and door panels.

A seven-inch TFT display is perched on top of the dash as standard equipment, and the optional COMAND multimedia system now gets an 8.4-inch display as well as a touchpad for doodling letters and numbers, a quicker operation that twisting the multifunction knob. It also includes navigation, two USB ports, an SD media card slot, voice recognition, MB Apps, Bluetooth connectivity and integrated Wi-Fi capability. Unfortunately, the system remains unnecessarily complex to operate and the navigation guidance is a little slow.

ARTICO upholstery, the company's brand name for leatherette, is standard on both the C 300 and the C 400, while the heated front seats benefit from 16-way power adjustments. In addition, the rear seat folds down in a 40/20/40 split, and more legroom can be found back there – although three passengers across remains a tight fit. Genuine leather is available in three different colours, and interior finishes include aluminum and piano black trim, Brown Fineline Wood, Dark Ash Open Pore and Burl Walnut.

Several packages and standalone options are available too, which add niceties such as a rearview camera or a 360-degree camera system, a power panoramic sunroof, park sonar with active parking assist, satellite radio and an intelligent key system. Also new on the options list is a Burmester surround sound system that belches out 590 watts of power through 13 speakers. Yup, it sounds amazing.

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class gets two new engines for the Canadian market – at least for now. The C 300 4MATIC receives a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine that's unrelated to the one found in CLA-Class, the B-Class and the GLA-Class vehicles, and produces 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. As for the C 400 4MATIC, it gets a twin-turbocharged 3.0L V6 that develops 329 hp and 354 lb-ft. Both engines are fitted with a start/stop function and are connected to a seven-speed automatic.

However, a new five-mode drive system is standard, called Agility Select, which affects throttle response, transmission shift points, suspension and steering feel as well as climate control and heated-seat output. The driver can choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual settings; you can feel a difference between each mode.

The available Sport Package on the C 400 includes an AIRMATIC suspension that can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button. Combined with the Comfort drive mode, the C-Class can be one buttery-smooth sedan on the open road.

It can also be quite speedy with the biturbo V6, but frankly, the base engine can do the job nicely for the vast majority of C-Class buyers. The C 300's four-pot mill is refined and gutsy, and we effortlessly tackled both the hilly streets of Seattle and the sinuous mountain roads surrounding Crystal Mountain as well as the Mount Rainier National Park.

The trip computer displayed an average of 8.0 L/100km at the conclusion of our drive that admittedly consisted of very little urban cruising. Official fuel economy ratings aren't yet available, but Mercedes expects improvements of between 15% and 25% compared to the outgoing generation's equivalent powertrains.

For those who like the added peace of mind of electronic safety-feature wizardry, a battalion of such gizmos are now available in the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The Intelligent Drive Package rounds up active blind spot assist, active lane keep assist, DISTRONIC PLUS adaptive cruise control with steering assist, PRE-SAFE autonomous braking and PRE-SAFE PLUS that locks up the brakes when the car is hit from behind.

What about a diesel version? When asked, the folks at Mercedes-Benz could only answer "stay tuned," so we'll assume a C 250 BlueTEC with a four-cylinder turbo-diesel will eventually find its way on the Canadian market. After all, the E 250 BlueTEC accounts for about 25% of that nameplate's total sales, while the GLK 250 BlueTEC's take rate is about 85%.

What about the C 63 AMG? That's coming too, as production will start next January. Not much information has been released yet, but it should be powered by a 4.0L twin-turbo V8 engine. It will also be offered in base and C 63 4MATIC S-Model trims.

What about the C-Class coupe? For the 2015 model year, it will soldier on in its current form, and will be totally redesigned next year.

What about the C-Class wagon? Not hold your breath; with the GLA and GLK already on offer, and the North-American market's unfortunate distaste for wagons, this one will likely never cross the pond.

With gorgeous looks inside and out, powerful and efficient new engines as well as a host of new technological features, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class has suddenly just distanced itself from the smaller CLA and makes the E-Class look old. On sale this September, the C 300 4MATIC will list for $43,000 before options as well as freight and delivery charges. The C 400 4MATIC will retail for $51,400 and up.

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