By Lary Coppola
The C-Class is the least expensive Mercedes-Benz in the showroom — but offers nothing less than you’d expect from Mercedes. The 2012 C-Class includes a new coupe, while the sedans underwent a major mid-cycle update. Our test vehicle was the C350 coupe, so this review will be confined primarily to that vehicle.
Model Lineup: The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is offered in coupe and sedan versions in C250 and C350, configurations. There is a Luxury, Sport and C63 AMG version of each.
Walkaround: The dimensions of the C-Class are very similar to the BMW 3 Series or Infiniti G37 coupes. Like most vehicles in this class, it supposedly carries four passengers, with a respectable 11.7 cubic feet of luggage space. A split-folding rear seat is standard on the coupe, optional on the sedan.
The C-Class coupe has the Sport version’s front face, which is different than the Luxury model. It features a wide grille reminiscent of the big CLS and CL-Class coupes, with fewer grille bars that are painted silver, and features the Mercedes star front and center.
The coupe’s dimensions are similar to the sedan. The rear of the roof drops down in an elegant arc and angles up at the bottom of the rear side windows. Character lines start behind the front wheels getting heavier as they rise to the rear along the sides, defining the wedge-like, forward-leaning silhouette. The coupe really didn’t need much work to make it look hot because of the sedan’s already aggressive profile.
The hood has a noticeable center peak, the headlight housings are contoured with new LED turn signals at the bottom, and LED fog lights, while the optional bi-xenon headlights have C-shaped positioning lights. At the rear, the bumper features a more pronounced lower diffuser, visually lightening a rear end that offers LED taillights. Our test vehicle also had the Sport version’s rear trunk lid spoiler and dual chrome-tipped exhaust outlets.
Wheels play a big part as well. Our test vehicle had the AMG versions’ 18-inch twin-spoke alloy wheels, which came as part of the agility package, while the Luxury versions use smaller, more elegant wheels.
Interior: The C-Class interior is instantly-recognizable Mercedes-Benz — everything you expect, with function over form. For example, the seat controls are mounted on the door panels, and look like miniature seats — just as they have for a couple of decades now. All control stalks are located on the left side of the steering wheel, freeing the right hand for shifting. Another Stuttgart standard is the floor-mounted gas pedal — which on most other cars is suspended from above.
Naturally all the power amenities you expect from any luxury car are there — windows, mirrors, seats, door locks, sunroof, cruise, tilt/telescoping wheel, etc. Our test vehicle was also equipped with the optional COMAND package which upsizes the standard 5.8-inch display screen to 7 inches.
The dashboard layout is completely new for 2012. The display screen is positioned under a lip also shading a revised gauge cluster. Instrumentation is comprised of analog temperature and fuel gauges on the left, speed/display in the center, and a tach on the right.
The controls include Mercedes’ standard 10-key pad on the center stack, making it easy to dial numbers from a Bluetooth-connected phone, as well as select pre-progr
ammed radio stations. The central control knob for the COMAND system (standard on models with navigation), controls the telephone, navigation, and audio systems, and sits on the center console. There’s a learning curve for using COMAND, but it also eliminates other buttons and becomes second nature after awhile.
Our test vehicle was equipped with the available harman/kardon LOGIC7, 5.1 Surround Sound system that offers 450 watts of power driving 12 speakers. It also includes an in-dash, single disc DVD/CD player; voice control for audio, navigation and phone; 10GB harddrive with music register for downloading media files, coupled with the Gracenote Music Database, and an in-dash SD card slot; along with Sirius XM music, traffic, weather, and Zagat’s restaurant guide.
While real leather is available on any C-Class — and was the trim in our test vehicle — the standard upholstery is something called M-B Tex. It looks more like leather than the real thing does in some other cars. Some C-Class models have aluminum trim, while others sport Burled Walnut or Black Ash. You can opt for carbon fiber on the AMG, but whichever you choose it’s the real deal — real aluminum, real wood. Materials include soft-touch surfaces on the dash and other touch points you’d expect in a luxury car.
Rear-seat headroom is sorely lacking and legroom is even worse. There are only two real seating positions — in front, so think of the coupe as your basic two-seater.
Under The Hood: The C350’s 3.5-liter V6 is all-new for 2012. It’s the same size as last year’s powerplant, but considerably more powerful, and far more fuel-efficient.
Mercedes claims it does the 0-60 drill in a respectable 5.9 seconds — two tenths of a second quicker than last year’s 3.5, but I’ve seen reviews claiming times as low as 5.4 seconds. Either way, it feels V8-strong, has a rumbling exhaust note, and delivers almost 4-banger fuel economy at an EPA-rated 20/29 mpg.
The standard 7-speed automatic shifts quick and clean. Our test vehicle featured the available Dynamic Handling Package, which includes paddle shifters. Mercedes doesn’t offer a stick for the C250 or C350. Most C-Class models come with rear-wheel drive, although 4MATIC all-wheel drive is available on all versions.
Behind The Wheel: The C-Class delivers an exceptional driving experience, with great driver feedback — the C-Class chassis tells the driver exactly what the car is doing. Steering is precise. Braking is terrific. Handling is rock-solid, and so stable it’s very hard to get into trouble. And it does all this without taking away any of the refinement or comfort that makes driving a Mercedes a fatigue-free process.
Whines: The same one I’ve had about Mercedes-Benz for the 20+ years I’ve written automotive reviews — the placement of the cruise control lever interferes with the turn signal stalk, and in my view is a major safety hazard. Instead of signaling for a turn and slowing down, you engage the cruise as you prepare to go around a corner.
Bottom Line: The Mercedes-Benz C-Class represents a broad range of models designed for different priorities. This stylish new coupe, equipped with the new 3.5-liter V6 offers surprising power, terrific handling and respectable fuel economy. In short, the C-Class coupe delivers pure driving enjoyment coupled with safety, stability, and Mercedes luxury.