by Roger Biermann
The compact luxury sedan segment is arguably one of the most competitive domains for manufacturers today, with the segment dating back nearly five decades. It was German rivals such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW that essentially pioneered the segment; however, since then, times have changed, and the vehicles within the segment are now expected to be all things to all people as the most rounded vehicles available on the market. This is where the C-Class sedan steps in; still competing with the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, these luxury-family cruisers are packaged as the most well-rounded and contemporary offerings from performance to features, and everything in between. The 2020 C-Class Sedan is equipped with the prior year's upgraded 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder producing 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, directed to either the rear-wheel-drivetrain of the C300, or all-wheel-drivetrain of the C300 4MATIC via a nine-speed automatic gearbox on both.
Though no enhancements have been given to the 2020 year model, considering that the C-Class had its mid-cycle refresh for the 2019 model year, a lot of feature standardization has taken place for the latest model. All C-Class Sedans now come with the previously optional 10.25-inch high-resolution infotainment display as standard, along with the prior year's optional 18-inch twin five-spoke alloy wheels, blind-spot assist, keyless ignition, hands-free access, and electronic trunk closer. Finally, three-zone automatic climate control has also now been made available for the C-Class Sedan as an option.
With its midcycle updates from last year, the 2020 C-Class still flaunts a sportier aesthetic than what is familiar, with influence taken from the AMG line models - particularly in its front and rear fascias. For 2020, the sedan is perched on 18-inch twin five-spoke aluminum wheels, befitting its assertive demeanor and better filling out its taut molded arches. Also standard as of last year, the C-Class sports all-LED exterior lighting, from the signature headlights with LED daytime running lights to the boxy taillights. The available AMG line package adds further doses of aggression to the mix with a revised grille, revised front and rear bumpers, and AMG-line alloy wheels.
The C-Class carries dimensions typical to that of the compact luxury sedan class, and measures almost identically to the BMW 3 Series. The C-Class, with its overall body length of 184.5 inches, is only 1.2 inches shorter than the 3 Series. Its height of 56.8 inches makes it just as tall, and its width of 71.3 inches has it measuring just 0.6 inches narrower. The C-Class's wheelbase of 111.8 inches is also only 0.4 inches shorter than the BMW's. That makes the 3 Series slightly larger than the C-Class, however, the C-Class weighs excessively more. With curb weights ranging from 3,869 lbs for the RWD C300 to 4,012 lbs for the AWD C300 4MATIC, the C-Class is nearly 300 lbs heavier than the comparable 3 Series derivatives.
An exterior color palette of ten hues is available for the 2020 C-Class Sedan, with Black and Polar White making up the only two standard options. The metallic shades include Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Mojave Silver, Lunar Blue, Brilliant Blue, and Selenite Grey, all carrying an extra fee of $720. Designo Cardinal Red Metallic can be optioned on for an additional charge of $1,080, or you can choose designo Diamond White Metallic at a hefty $1,515. With most Mercs on the road hued in either a Silver or White, why not be unique, and option on the designo Cardinal Red or Brilliant Blue Metallic - they complement and enhance the C-Class' sportier elements, and make its chrome exterior accents pop.
The C-Class Sedan's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot is neither forceful nor unsubstantial, but smoothly delivers adequate levels of power for comfortable daily drivability. Both the rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive-equipped C300 Sedans achieve a 0-60 mph sprint time of 5.7 seconds, which is about average for the class. The BMW 3 Series, when equipped with BMW's all-wheel-drive xDrive system, completes the sprint in a slightly faster 5.3 seconds. The C-Class Sedan is available in either RWD or AWD configuration, and while both perform identically acceleration-wise, the RWD setup is the more economical of the two as the added weight and additional energy utilized by the AWD system noticeably demands more from the engine.
Along with its mid-cycle facelift in 2019, the C-Class range received some enhancement to its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, too, increasing its initial outputs of 241 hp by 14 hp for peak outputs of 255 hp and 273 lb-ft. The engine remains coupled to a nine-speed automatic transmission for the current model year.
Whether pulling away from a stop or overtaking on the highway, the engine pulls smoothly all the way through and exhibits no perceptible turbo-lag. Power delivery is precisely based on the driver's inputs, and throttle programming is well measured for the C300's intended luxury commuter lifestyle. As for the standard automatic transmission, shifts are quick, smooth, and imperceptible, making efficient use of the engine's torque and keeping it in the sweet spot all the time. Unfortunately, the C-Class doesn't have the most inspiring soundtrack, leaving it a relatively joyless thing to pilot. The four-cylinder offerings from BMW and Audi certainly deliver a greater appeal for the keener drivers.
Remaining true to its focus as a businessman's commuter, the C300 rides comfortably - soft and smooth over almost any surface. Its standard suspension tuning gives it the ability to keep things comfortable, as the setup absorbs most imperfect road surfaces and typical undulations with competence and poise. The cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise, with a quiet, refined quality that adds to the feeling of luxury. The C300 comes with selectable drive modes; in Eco and Comfort modes, things are kept luxurious while engaging the Sport or Sport+ modes sharpens up throttle responses and tightens up the mechanics for a sportier drive - but, this is at the expense of the exemplary ride quality. Sadly, it's all smoke and mirrors, and little is done to involve the driver more.
The C-Class Sedan's steering is responsive and accurate but not very communicative at all, which means driving becomes an uninspiring chore. Its effort adjusts according to the drive mode selected or rate of speed the vehicle is traveling at, tightening up at higher speeds for added control. It manages to stay reasonably stable and firmly planted around the bends as well, offering some level of capability, but the C-Class offers no real level of driver-focused tenor - at least nowhere near to that of the BMW 3 Series. But within this segment of vehicles, it isn't really just sportiness that's sought after, but an all-rounded package offering the right amounts of everything, and the C-Class strikes a good balance, even if it errs on the luxurious side a little too much.
The C-Class, with its 2.0-liter turbo four-banger, nine-speed auto, and RWD setup, gets 24/35/29 mpg city/highway/combined. The 4MATIC variant with its AWD setup is slightly heavier on fuel, returning estimates of 23/33/27 mpg on those same cycles. Those figures are around average for the class, though the C-Class' relatively hefty curb weight doesn't do the sedan any favors. The 3 Series, with its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder and eight-speed auto, returns 26/36/30 mpg in RWD guise and 25/34/28 mpg in AWD guise. The C-Class is equipped with a relatively large gas tank, however, availing the sedan with a maximum range of around 504 miles with a full tank of premium unleaded.
The C-Class has possibly one of the most upscale and refined interiors in its class; there's an air of modern sophistication in its design and textures, and most materials used throughout are of the utmost quality. As with any Mercedes-Benz, the C-Class' build-quality is near to perfection too. Panel gaps are consistent, and fixtures and fittings inside are firmly fitted, and devoid of rattles. The seats, controls, and buttons are ergonomically laid-out with a style that is pleasingly minimalistic, making most functions easy to understand and operate. A 10.25-inch high-resolution display is the all-star of the C-Class Sedan's cabin; unfortunately, its thick bezels and high-mounted position give it a rather tacky impression of it being an afterthought - but we give credit where it's due; at least Mercedes has kept it up to date year on year.
The C-Class Sedan is equipped to seat a total of five passengers, though the three-across seating space in the rear is better suited to only two passengers, as shoulder room gets uncomfortably tight with three, much like the legroom for the middle occupant. The MB-Tex synthetic-leather seating upholstery adds a luxurious touch to the already comfortable seats, which are well-cushioned and nicely contoured to provide optimal levels of comfort and support, even for extended periods of time. That comfort is enjoyed in a spacious interior that is easy to enter and exit, with more than enough headroom throughout. The steering wheel and driver's seat feature ample adjustability, which makes finding an optimal driving position as simple as possible. Outward visibility is good all-round, too, and standard blind-spot monitoring only makes things easier.
MB-Tex synthetic-leather upholstery is standard in the C-Class, hued in either Black, Silk Beige, Magma Grey, or Saddle Brown. For $1,620, the C-Class' seating can be upgraded to genuine leather upholstery hued in any of those same colors, plus Cranberry Red with the AMG-Line package optioned on. There is also designo Platinum White Pearl/Black Nappa leather upholstery available for $3,800, and with the prerequisite of heated front seats. Depending on the upholstery chosen, trim comes in either natural grain walnut wood, brown ash wood, dark brown linden wood, grey oak wood, or black ash wood and aluminum.
The C-Class' 12.6 cubic foot trunk is somewhat below the segment's average and seems minute when compared to the new 3 Series' 17 cubes. Nevertheless, that is about enough room for a monthly grocery shopping run, or for a medium suitcase or two. The rear seats also fold down in a 40/20/40 split, providing some added practicality and storage versatility.
In-cabin storage in the C-Class is rather impressive, with all four doors featuring wide item-storage pockets with integrated bottle slots. Up front is a sealable console containing two cupholders and a cellphone tray, and between the front seats is a cavernous center armrest storage bin. The passenger-side glove box is useful in terms of space, and the center rear seat backrest folds down to double down as an armrest with two cupholders.
The 2020 C-Class comes standard with a few more features than it did last year, with Keyless-ignition, hands-free trunk access, an electronic trunk closer, and blind-spot assist now included in the standard consignment. Other features include a power-operated moonroof, power-folding side-view mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering column, power-adjustable front seats, driver-seat memory settings, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a HomeLink garage door opener. The options are where the fun starts, though, with the availability of a head-up display, tri-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel making the C-Class a truly premium package. The C-Class gets a decent standard consignment of active driver aids too, including attention assist, crosswind assist, blind-spot assist, and a rearview camera, with the option to add on to these with advanced semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and a surround-view system.
One of the highlights for the 2020 model year is the 10.25-inch high-resolution touchscreen display that now adorns the dash of the C-Class as standard. It carries Mercedes-Benz's COMAND infotainment interface, which - while displaying high-quality graphics - is not the most intuitive setup, lagging behind newer systems like Mercedes' own MBUX system. It's operated via a central rotary dial, or via the steering wheel-mounted touch controls, neither of which are the greatest to use. It boasts Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth audio streaming capability, and HD radio connectivity.
Audio is courtesy of a FrontBass five-speaker audio system, while buyers have the option to upgrade to a 13-speaker Burmester surround-sound setup. In the center armrest console are two USB ports for device charging and connectivity, and options exist to further equip a touchpad controller, inductive wireless charging, enhanced voice control, in-car WiFi, SiriusXM radio, TuneIn radio, and pre-installation for SD-card navigation.
Though no recalls have been commissioned for the 2020 year model of the C-Class Sedan or even the 2019 year model, a total of twelve recalls was sent out for the 2018 year model. Those pertained to issues ranging from a possibly unlocked steering coupling, to an unsecured battery. J.D. Power is yet to accord the 2020 C-Class Sedan with a predicted reliability rating, but with dependability looking good so far, we suspect the C-Class will achieve at the very least above-average scores. If not, then it's good to know that Mercedes covers all new C-Class Sedans with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty with extended warranty options available.
Though the 2020 year model is yet to be evaluated for its crashworthiness, the NHTSA gave the 2018 year model, which is still based on the same W205 platform, an overall safety rating of five out of five stars. The IIHS named the 2019 year model a Top Safety Pick +, which is the authority's top honor.
Alongside the C-Class's six standard airbags, it also comes standard with a decent selection of active driver assists, including attention assist, active brake assist, crosswind assist, blind-spot assist, an advanced tire pressure monitoring system, rearview camera, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. It comes fitted with LED exterior lighting as standard as well, along with Mercedes' Pre-Safe, and emergency call services. There's an extensive selection of optional active safety and advanced driver assists available for the C-Class, too, including active steering assist, lane-keeping assist, parking assist, speed limit assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.
The 2020 C-Class Sedan is, as it has been for some time now, an impressive compact luxury sedan. It's nothing dynamically exceptional, but it is an exceptionally luxurious means to get the family from one point to another. Its powertrain is decent, and the standard suspension setup accords it with a tangibly refined ride quality. Its interior is one of the most opulent of the class, exhibiting an impression of sophistication and modernity, bedecked with high-quality materials that make for a cabin that is always pleasing and comfortable to occupy, even for extended durations. Its standard tech consignment is appealing too, with the 10.25-inch infotainment display and full smartphone integration being a big drawcard in a segment where these features aren't always standard; additionally, standard and optional safety features are truly exemplary. That's about it for the C-Class Sedan, however, as despite being a well-rounded vehicle, it's also a rather bland and uninspiring one. It offers very sedate levels of driver engagement, the infotainment is clunky and awkward to use, and it lacks practicality compared to newer rivals. So it might not be the perfect all-rounder that the segment requires, but with a greater focus on luxury, it has a way of making you feel a little more special than your average compact luxury sedan would.
The C-Class' starting MSRP is relatively high for the segment, with the RWD configured C300 carrying a sticker price of $41,400, while the AWD C300 4MATIC model has a base MSRP of $43,400. That is, of course, without Mercedes Benz's $995 destination charge and exclusive of any tax, registration, or licensing fees. With the many high-priced options and optional add-ons available for the C-Class Sedan, opting for a fully-loaded model can be considerably costly. Fully loaded, the C300 4MATIC's base price can reach a total surpassing the $66,000 mark.
The 2020 C-Class Sedan lineup is divided up into two trim options, the C300 and C300 4MATIC. The C300 Sedan is a rear-wheel-drive base derivative, while the addition of a 4MATIC badge sees all-wheel-drive equipped to the C-Class. Both are equipped with the same engine and are outfitted with the same level of standard features.
A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission is standard across the lineup, while all models ride on standard 18-inch alloy wheels. All-LED exterior lighting is standard across the lineup as well, along with power-folding side-view mirrors, a power tilt/sliding tinted glass sunroof, and an illuminated entry system. Keyless entry and ignition get things started, while the power-operated windows and sunroof can be remotely operated too. Inside you'll find a leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt and telescoping adjustment, power-adjustable front seats, driver-seat memory settings, and dual-zone automatic climate control. All seats are upholstered in simulated leather as standard. Infotainment is taken care of by a newly upgraded 10.25-inch COMAND screen, standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a five-speaker sound system.
Also standard is a safety consignment of attention assist, active brake assist, crosswind assist, blind spot assist, advanced tire pressure monitoring, Pre-Safe, and a rearview camera.
As is the norm with German brands, a number of options and packages are made available to customize your C-Class.
Appearance-wise, the main upgrade is a $2,400 AMG Line with Night Package, which outfits the C-Class with AMG body styling including a chrome diamond-block grille, gloss black exterior accents, 18-inch AMG twin five-spoke alloy wheels with black accents, a sport steering wheel and front seats, sport steering, brakes, and suspension, and brushed aluminum pedals.
There is a Parking Assistance Package available for the C-Class, which - for $1,150 - adds active parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and a surround-view system. There is also a $1,700 Driver Assistance Package comprised of Mercedes Benz' Pre-Safe Plus, active distance assist, steering assist, evasive steering assist, active brake assist with cross-traffic function, congestion emergency braking, active emergency stop assist, speed limit assist, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot assist, lane change assist, extended restart in stop-and-go traffic, and route-based speed adaptation.
An available $1,500 Premium Package includes a Burmester surround-sound audio system, SiriusXM Radio with a six-month all-access trial, 64-color LED ambient lighting, and illuminated door sills. For $1,250, the Multimedia Package can be optioned on; it includes COMAND navigation, a touchpad controller, no-charge online navigation map updates for three years, car-to-x comms, enhanced voice control, and three-years of Live Traffic services provided by TomTom.
The choice really comes down to whether one would require the all-wheel-drive capability and added traction of the C300 4MATIC or not, in which case the rear-wheel-drive C300 would suffice. Either way, we recommend the inclusion of the available Driver Assistance Package for the vast array of helpful active safety and advanced driver assists it comprises, as well as the Multimedia Package, for the Burmester surround-sound audio system upgrade in specific. And if a sportier, more unique aesthetic is desired, then the optional AMG Line with Night Package appearance group is a great option, enhancing the C-Class with some mechanical upgrades and AMG styling elements.
The BMW 3 Series is priced relatively similar to the C-Class, coming in at around only $650 cheaper with its relative rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive offerings. It comes with its own 2.0-liter turbo four-pot engine with identical outputs to that of the C-Class', but manages to not only outperform the C-Class off-the-line (achieving the 0-60 mph sprint nearly half a second quicker than the Merc), but it performs considerably more fuel-efficiently as well, returning 26/36/30 mpg city/highway/combined. The C-Class offers greater levels of luxury, as well as a more comprehensive infotainment suite thanks to standard inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - the latter not available in the BMW at all. However, BMW has packaged their compact sedan far better, providing more passenger room and much more cargo space, all in a package that's far more enjoyable to drive. BMW has shown up Mercedes once more, but as an all-new model, this was to be expected.
The CLA-Class is around $8,000 cheaper than the C-Class; it's equipped with a less powerful four-cylinder engine and an older seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It's slower off-the-line, and not much more efficient with that setup, despite being front-wheel-drive. On the inside, it's also found lacking in terms of luxuriousness, being a member of a cheaper, more compact segment. While the C-Class also offers ample passenger room throughout its upscale cabin, the CLA-Class' rearward sloping roofline cuts away at the rear headroom. It's less practical than the C-Class, too, offering about the same amount of trunk space, but with tougher access. The C-Class, being more expensive and occupying a higher segment, is naturally better than the CLA, but, for the minor bump in price over the smaller Merc, the increased levels of luxury, roominess, and performance are well worth the extra spend.
The E-Class is a larger luxury sedan than the C-Class, justifying the $13,000 price leap over its smaller sibling. Both feature identical powertrains, although the E-Class is more spacious and gets a better version of the COMAND infotainment system. However, the E-Class isn't necessarily luxurious enough to justify opting for the larger, more expensive model, and frankly, if you can do without the extra cargo volume and rear passenger space, the C-Class is about 90% as good as an E-Class for $13,000. For those looking for a luxury bargain, the C-Class is more than good enough, but for those who don't care about the price, the E-Class is superior.