by Gerhard Horn
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class forms part of a dying breed, as the humble sedan is quickly becoming an endangered species. Clever marketing tactics and a bit of keeping up with the Joneses dictates that only an SUV will suffice for a family vehicle. To remain competitive, sedans have had to work harder than ever; we expect them to be luxurious and comfortable most of the time, but also sporty and engaging when the mood strikes. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder developing 255 horsepower, and powering either the rear or all four wheels, the C-Class lines up against the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 in the compact luxury sedan segment. As expected from a Mercedes, it's a classy, luxurious package with an abundance of available tech, but it falls short on driver engagement.
The C-Class makes a good case for itself. In fact, it makes such a good case that Mercedes-Benz is currently in the process of developing a replacement, which, in a world where manufacturers would rather cull a sedan than see it become a sales flop, tells you how much faith Merc has in its compact sedan.
There are no significant changes for the 2021 model year, but Mercedes is adding more value to the package by including two important features as standard across the range. Every model in the C-Class sedan line-up now has a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel and heated front seats as standard. A new Night Edition version of the C-Class sedan joins the lineup, with blacked-out trim, AMG design elements, and AMG seating upgrades.
See trim levels and configurations:
Traditionally speaking, the C-Class has always been a car that gets more handsome the older it gets. It's true for every generation since the W201.
The same is true of the current W205 generation, which started its life as a smaller replica of the elegant S-Class. It was lovely to look at, but it wasn't particularly sporty or aggressive. The 2019 mid-cycle facelift did a spectacular job. The overall aesthetic was sportier than before, with Mercedes drawing inspiration from the AMG models. The LED headlights and taillights look fantastic, while the standard 18-inch rims do a good job of filling up the arches. The available AMG line package adds even more aggression to the package if that's your kind of thing.
The C-Class's dimensions are on par in the compact luxury segment. More importantly, it's similar in size to its most fierce rival, the BMW 3 Series. The overall body length of 184.5 inches is 1.2 inches shorter than the 3 Series. It's the length of the wheelbase that really counts, however. The BMW's 112.2-inch wheelbase is just 0.4 longer than the Merc's 111.8-inch wheelbase. At 56.8 inches high, it's just as tall as a 3 Series, but its width of 71.3 inches is 0.6 inches narrower than the Bavarian.
In terms of size, there is virtually no discernible difference between the two. The rear-wheel-drive C-Class weighs in at 3,472 pounds, while the all-wheel-drive weighs 3,605 lbs. The RWD BMW 330i is 3,560 lbs, while the 330i xDrive is 3,686 lbs. The Mercedes is slightly lighter, but you'll hardly be able to notice these differences.
The color palette of the C-Class has been dropped to eight choices. Polar White and Black are the only no-cost options available. The metallic options cost $720, with available colors including Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Mojave Silver, Lunar Blue, Brilliant Blue, and Selenite Grey. The two designo colors, Cardinal Red and Diamond White, have been removed as options.
The chrome exterior accents tend to get lost against the backdrop of a lighter color, so if you really want your C-Class to stand out, we recommend going for a darker hue.
Unlike the C-Class of yesteryear, the badge on the rear no longer depicts the size of the engine. So, the C300 does not have a 3.0-liter engine, but rather a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot that has been tuned to deliver as much power as an old-school 3.0-liter. The performance is quite brisk, as both the rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models can sprint to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The AWD BMW 3 Series is slightly faster, sprinting to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, but from behind the wheel, you won't be able to feel that gap.
The C-Class is available in RWD and AWD. They're exactly the same when it comes to straight-line performance, but it's worth keeping in mind that the RWD car will be the more economical option. The added weight of the AWD system demands a lot more from the engine, which means it consumes more gas.
The C300 is equipped with a 2.0-liter four-pot turbocharged engine, which is pretty much the gold standard in the segment these days. Both Audi and BMW use the same setup as direct competitors. The Mercedes unit packs a 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft punch. The power is sent to either a RWD or AWD system via a nine-speed automatic transmission.
It's a lovely combination, as the engine pulls strongly from the get-go. There's just a hint of turbo lag from a dead stop, but once it gets going, it pulls strongly through the gears. The C-Class does have a drive mode selector, but the power delivery is mostly based on how much throttle the driver gives it. When driven sedately, the Mercedes swaps cogs almost imperceptibly. Step on it a bit and the C-Class will respond swiftly, dropping down a few cogs with equal ease. With so many gears to work with, there isn't really a situation where the C-Class feels out of its depth.
The engine is muted, however; there's no thrilling soundtrack that accompanies the C-Class when it's doing its 5.7 seconds sprint to 60 mph. It's the polar opposite of the Alfa Guilia, which does egg you on to push a bit harder. There's a case to be made that it's not really applicable in this segment, but we're inclined to disagree. While the Alfa is certainly the sportiest car on offer in this segment, both the four-cylinder units in the BMW and Audi at least have a semi-spirited soundtrack to accompany spirited driving.
There used to be this battle between Mercedes-Benz and BMW, to see who could build the best all-rounder. This included a sporty driving experience. Mercedes-Benz often got close, but BMW always managed to come out tops in this particular category. To engineer this sportiness into their cars, manufacturers often made sacrifices when it came to comfort. Anyone who has ever driven a compact luxury sedan with 19-inch rims with just a lick of tire on it will know what we mean.
For this generation, Mercedes-Benz went in a different direction. Even though the C-Class has a drive mode select with Sport and Sport+ modes, it just doesn't respond well to that sort of driving. To many, this would be a negative, but perhaps Mercedes-Benz is onto something here.
You see, there are C-Class models specifically aimed at spirited driving, and they're very good at it. But this normal run-of-the-mill C 300 isn't, and we're not really sure it matters.
For a second, just think about how a car like this will be used. Wouldn't you rather ride around in a floating sensory deprivation tank than something that sends the feedback of every crack and stone straight up the suspension and into your spine? The C-Class is unapologetically tuned for comfort, but not at the expense of stability. It may ride softly, but it grips as well as its rivals. The steering is responsive and accurate, but there's no feedback whatsoever. We realize that cars in this segment should be all-rounders, but let's not forget how the C-Class (and BMW) hierarchy is structured these days. At the bottom you get your basic models like this, in the middle you have AMG Performance models like the C43, and at the top, you have the full-fat C63. With so many options to choose from, why not make the standard car the comfortable, quiet, and sedate option. There are those out there who see these characteristics as the ultimate, as opposed to gearheads who prefer a firm ride and a quick steering rack.
We've established that the C-Class is at its best as a relaxed, laid back cruiser. It's the best driving style for fuel consumption as well, which is on par in the segment. The RWD C 300 has an EPA-rating of 23/35/27 mpg for the city/highway/combined cycles. The heavier 4MATIC returns estimates of 23/33/27 mpg. The C-Class's main BMW rival beats it with an estimated 26/36/30 mpg for the RWD model, and 25/34/28 mpg for the all-wheel-drive model.
The C-Class does have a large 17.4-gallon tank, so you should get 504 miles between refills in mixed conditions.
The C-Class interior is a beautiful mix of old-school luxury, and modern minimalism. It's sophisticated, yet trendy. Unlike the luxury cars of old, the Merc doesn't have a button for every function. It just has the necessary climate control buttons on the center stack, with a stunning clock in the middle. As you'd expect, everything is screwed in properly. This car may sit near the bottom of Mercedes' line-up, but it has the same aura and build-quality that made the German brand a byword for quality way back when. The only feature that seems out of place is the 10.25-inch high-resolution display, which sits above the vents. Given that everything else is laid out so beautifully and logically, the iPad-like screen feels like an afterthought.
The C-Class has seating for five, but realistically you're looking at two adults, and three kids in the back. When it comes to fully-grown adults, the best the Mercedes can do is four. It's worth noting that this is the case for most of its rivals as well.
The four adults it can carry will be carried around in comfort. The front legroom is rated at 41.7 inches, while the rear legroom is 35.2 inches. The front and rear headroom is exactly the same, rated at 37.1 inches. You can tell Mercedes has been at this for a while, though. The seats are well-cushioned, offering support in all the right places. Longer journeys will undoubtedly be a pleasure in the front or rear of this vehicle. The MB-Tex synthetic-leather does a great job of imitating the real deal and adds an additional layer of opulence. Visibility is excellent all-round, and blind-spot monitoring is included as standard.
The C-Class is available with three standard MB-Tex synthetic leather trims for the seats. The options are Black, Silk Beige, and Magma Grey. The AMG-Line seat trims are a no-cost option, but only if you add the entire $2,000 AMG Line package. The AMG Line trims are also made of synthetic leather and include Black, Saddle Brown, Silk Beige, and Black with blue stitching.
Upgrading to genuine leather is a $1,620 option, and allows you to choose between black, Silk Beige, and Magma Grey. Certain leather options are also only available once you add the optional $2,000 AMG Line over and above the cost of the seats. These colors include black, Silk Beige, Saddle Brown, and Cranberry Red. The ultimate in interior adornment is called the designo Nappa leather package. It costs a hefty $3,800, but includes designo Platinum White Pearl and Black Nappa leather, topstitched MB-Tex upper dash and door trim, and a sport steering wheel.
The trim on the center console and doors depends on the upholstery you go for. The available options include natural grain black as wood and aluminum, dark brown linden wood, natural grain brown ash wood, natural grain grey oak wood, and natural grain walnut wood.
The C-Class' trunk space is low in comparison with the rest of the segment, but it does at least have enough space to carry a month's worth of groceries. It offers 12.6 cubic feet of space, compared to the BMW 3 Series' 13 cubic feet. The rear seats fold down in a 40/20/40 split, offering a larger space for those occasions you need to transport something large.
Interior storage spaces are plentiful and large. Wide door pockets with bottle slots are fitted to all four doors, while the front storage consists of two cupholders and a space for a smartphone. The armrest storage bin is also big. The center rear seat folds down, giving rear-seat passengers access to two additional cupholders.
There was a time when you had to pay an extra cost for the air inside a German car, but that time has come and gone. The C-Class is generously equipped with the options list being there so a customer can add even more luxury to an already opulent vehicle. As standard, the C-Class has keyless entry and start, hands-free access to the electrically-operated trunk, blind-spot assist, power moonroof, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power-adjustable front seats, driver-seat memory function, dual-zone climate control, and a Homelink garage door opener. On the safety side, the C-Class boasts an attention assist, crosswind assist, blind spot assist, and a rearview camera. The optional safety kit includes a few of Mercedes' semi-autonomous tech like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and a surround-view system.
On the topic of optional extras, it's worth mentioning a few of the niceties you can add to a C-Class, like a head-up display, tri-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.
In 2020 Mercedes updated the C-Class's infotainment system to a 10.25-inch high-resolution display. This system still uses the COMAND infotainment interface, which still isn't the most intuitive system in the world, as you either have to operate it via the central rotary dial, or the steering wheel-mounted touch control. Neither option is particularly great, but the steering wheel touch controls are especially tough to get right. The older C-Class is easily outdone by newer Mercedes models equipped with the new MBUX system. The new infotainment system does have Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth streaming for audio and telephone calls.
For 2021, Mercedes is adding a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, which should make it easier to use all of the infotainment features without having to take one's eyes off the road for too long.
The C-Class received a J.D. Power rating of 80 out of a possible 100 points in 2020. It scored high marks in every category. As for recalls, the C-Class remained trouble free in 2019, but there was one recall in 2020. This concerned the turbocharger's oil feed and return lines leaking, which may have created an ignition source for a hot engine.
The C-Class comes with a four-year/50,000-mile warranty.
The 2021 C-Class has only been partially rated by the NHTSA, with no full rating yet. It received five stars for a front driver side impact, while the front passenger only received four stars. In the rollover crash test it scored four stars. The IIHS also named the 2020 model a Top Safety Pick +, which is the highest honor it can bestow on a car.
Mercedes-Benz was one of the first manufacturers to pioneer advanced driver-assist safety systems, obviously in previous generations of the S-Class. Enough time has now passed for these systems to be offered as standard across the C-Class line-up. As standard, it has eight airbags, attention assist, active brake assist, crosswind assist, blind-spot assist, advanced tire pressure monitoring, a rearview camera, and rain-sensing wipers. All the lights are LED, and Mercedes' famous Pre-Safe system and emergency call services are also equipped as standard.
The optional extras include even more advanced semi-autonomous features, like active steering assist, lane-keeping assist, parking assist, speed limit assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Considering that it's almost near the end of its lifecycle, the C-Class is an impressive compact luxury sedan. It's uninspiring to drive, but that's its biggest sin, and we're not 100% convinced it is one. To illustrate the point, we have to draw a comparison between the C-Class and the Alfa Romeo Giulia. The latter is a car that actively engages you in the driving experience. The suspension setup is firm, the turn-in is supercar-like, and the lovely four-cylinder soundtrack serves as a constant reminder that there's a sporty engine to exploit. The C-Class doesn't do that. It wants you to get in and get comfortable while it transports you to your destination with as little effort and noise as possible.
It can be quite brisk when you need it to be; the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot pulls strongly, and the nine-speed automatic isn't afraid to drop a cog or three. You'll certainly appreciate it when you need to overtake slower cars. But other than that the C-Class is best enjoyed at a reasonable pace, soaking up the luxury offered by the beautifully appointed interior. On the downside, the C-Class is starting to show its age when it comes to the infotainment system. The new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster helps, but the COMAND system remains a clunky offering. There's also the lack of trunk space compared to its main rivals. Mercedes' focus on offering comfort at the expense of everything else may have led to a car that falls short in certain areas, but as a luxury driving experience, there are few cars in the segment that comes close to the C-Class.
All of this luxury doesn't come cheap, with the C300 sedan retailing for $41,600, and the C 300 4MATIC going for $43,600. That excludes the $995 destination charge, tax, registration, or licensing fees. It also excludes any optional extras, some of which you most certainly want to tick. Without trying too hard, we configured a C-Class up to $51,000. That's just by adding the AMG Line styling package, AMG Line synthetic leather seats, a tech package for navigation, and all of the advanced safety features, excluding park assist. We also know from experience that you can get a C-Class up to $66,000 by adding almost every optional extra.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class line-up consists of two model options, the C 300 and C 300 4MATIC. The C 300 is rear-wheel-drive, while the 4MATIC is equipped with all-wheel-drive. Both have the same engine and gearbox, as well as the same standard features. The C-Class is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Exterior wise, both models come as standard with 18-inch wheels, LED lighting across the lineup, power-folding side mirrors, a power moonroof, and illuminated entry. On the inside, they have keyless entry and ignition, a leather steering wheel with tilt and telescoping adjustment, power-adjustable heated front seats, memory function for the driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, synthetic leather, 10.25-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
On the safety side, both derivatives come standard with the traditional basics like ABS, stability control, and eight airbags, while the more advanced systems include attention assist, active brake assist, crosswind assist, blind-spot assist, advanced tire pressure monitoring, Pre-Safe, and a rearview camera.
The Germans have a long history of offering multiple packages and optional extras, and the C-Class continues that tradition. In addition to a number of one-off single options like an illuminated three-pointed star and LED logo projectors, there are four packages to choose from on the exterior side such as the AMG Line and AMG Line w/Night Packages for sportier styling, or the blacked out Night Edition. Inside, options include a heated steering wheel ($250), ventilated front seats ($450), and front passenger memory ($350), while a designo Nappa leather Package will set you back $3,800 for the most luxuriously upholstered interior possible.
From a tech perspective, standalone options include a panoramic roof for $1,000 or a head-up display for $100 more than that. If you like package deals, the Premium package equips 64-color LED ambient lighting, a Burmester surround sound system, and SiriusXM for $1,500 while the Multimedia Package adds navigation, a touchpad controller, live traffic updates, and Car-to-X Communication for $1,250. The Parking Assistance Package is a worthwhile investment at $1,150 as it includes park sensors, a 360-degree camera, and rear cross-traffic alert, while the $1,700 Driver Assistance Package includes Distronic semi-autonomous driving, active steering assist, evasive steering, and a slew of other assistance features.
Only two models are available, and the one you opt for depends entirely on whether you need an all-wheel-drive or not. It's recommended for cold-weather states, but the rear-wheel-drive C300 does a perfectly decent job of transferring its power to the ground under normal conditions.
In terms of optional packages, we'd add the AMG Line for access to the more interesting interior color options, as well as the Premium Package and Multimedia Package. Since this is a car built for comfort and not for speed, you might as well have the best infotainment system to entertain you on the ride.
This battle has been going on for ages, and BMW currently has the upper hand. The 3 Series is newer, and therefore a step above in a number of important areas. For starters, it's more spacious, offering all passengers more room, and a larger trunk for carrying their stuff. It's worth stating that the 3 Series does not feel as luxurious as the C-Class, though.
The BMW does have a better infotainment system. Not only does it also have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it can be operated via a dial, or a touchscreen interface. It's much easier to use than the Mercedes' outdated interface.
Performance-wise, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot in the BMW has nearly identical outputs, yet the BMW manages to outperform the Mercedes on every front. This is mostly due to the BMW's superior torque, even though it weighs more than the Mercedes. It's faster, more responsive, and more fuel-efficient, consuming 30 mpg combined in RWD guise. The latest 3 Series also does comfort extremely well; it is, by far, the most relaxing 3 Series to date, and is much closer in overall feel to the C-Class than ever before. Luckily, the chassis engineers did a good job with the various driving modes, so the 3 Series can still be an entertaining car to drive when you want it to be. Overall, the 3 takes the win, but as a newer model, this was almost to be expected.
Since buying down has become a trend, more people are investigating what they can get for less. Retailing at around $8,000 cheaper than the C-Class, the CLA makes a good case for itself compared to its rivals, but not compared to the C-Class. The first and most noticeable problem is the lack of space. The CLA falls under a more compact segment, which means it has even less space all around. The C-Class's trunk is already small compared to its rivals, and the CLA's trunk is even smaller. You also have to make some serious sacrifices when it comes to interior space. With that sloping roofline, rear passengers lose a lot of comfort compared to the more traditional C-Class. The engine is also less powerful and mated to an older seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. $8,000 might seem like a huge saving, but since the C-Class betters the CLA in just about every way, it's most definitely worth spending the extra.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan: