Mercedes builds some of the world’s most luxurious sedans, along with 90210’s favorite boxy SUV, and sleek super coupes. None of those prestigious vehicles are as important to the brand’s bottom line as the C-Class, which is Mercedes-Benz’s volume leader both in the U.S. and around the world. 2022 brings the first new generation of the compact executive car since 2014, when the W205 C-Class started production. That outgoing generation was a huge step forward for Mercedes, arguably besting the BMW 3 Series for the first time both in terms of driving dynamics and interior appeal. With an improved 3 Series already on the scene for the last several years, the C-Class is finally returning fire.
This new W206 C-Class is an evolution in design, with a few slightly sharper lines on the fascia and a kink at the C-pillar that’s more pronounced. In the rear, the large, rounded taillights from the previous generation have been replaced with more angular pieces that spread inboard into the decklid. For their inspiration just look to S-Class; the styling cue has infiltrated even the entry-level A-Class.
Despite the subtle changes in the C-Class’ styling, the 2022 car is a thorough redesign, as the model now rides on the second-generation MRA rear-drive platform that debuted with the 2021 S-Class. In the C-Class sedan application, that platform means a move to a 112.8-inch wheelbase, one inch longer than before, keeping up with the growing BMW 3 Series. Compared to the W205, the W206 is now 2.5 inches longer overall, 0.4 inches shorter in height, and 0.4 inches wider. The new platform brings new suspension with wider wheel mounting points—0.8 inches up front and 1.9 inches in the rear—for front and rear track widths of 62.3 and 62.8 inches, respectively.
The C-Class shares more with the S-Class than just its platform, however, as plenty of the larger car’s high-end technology has trickled down. Take a look inside at that the large, vertically oriented touchscreen which flows into the center console. It’s elegant and pure S-Class. At the same time, the more attainable C-Class has retained many of the tried-and-true analog control that the S-Class has left behind to blaze new interface frontiers. Take, for example, the seat adjustment. Mercedes set the standard for intuitive seat controls with its ingenious door-mounted buttons whose shapes and movements mimic the actual seat. While the S-Class has forged ahead with a new, more complicated evolution of the concept, simplicity wins here. Thankfully.
Other variants of the W205 C-Class are still in production (coupe and cabriolet, plus a wagon for other markets), and those of us in North America will get our first look at the W206 in sedan form. We were invited to an informal drive event that put us behind the wheel of a C300 equipped with a turbocharged, 255-hp 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder. The powertrain incorporates a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that uses an integrated starter-generator, adding up to 20 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque for additional “boost.” With a base price of $43,550, our RWD C300 was equipped with a long list of standard features, including dual-zone climate control, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, blind spot assist, active brake assist, automatic headlamps with adaptive high-beam assist, rain-sensing wipers, power heated front seats, and a memory function for the driver seat that saves seat, steering wheel, and mirror positions.
The options on our C300 test car totaled $13,370, pushing the MSRP to $57,970, including destination. The most expensive add-on was the $3050 AMG-line with Night package that includes sport suspension and sport steering, perforated brake rotors, brushed aluminum pedals, MB-Tex dashboard, AMG-branded floormats, and black accents for the grille trim, front splitter, side mirrors, window trim, and rear diffuser. The $1995 Driver Assistance package bundles speed limit assist, route-based speed-adaptation, steering assist, active lane change assist, evasive steering assist, active blind-spot assist, and active braking assist with cross-traffic monitoring, while the $1700 MB navigation package throws in augmented video and a head-up display. The $1620 AMG black leather option is pretty self-explanatory—although it’s not the interior depicted in these photos—as is the $1000 panorama roof. The only remaining options that cost more than $500 were the $950 Parking Pilot and Surround View system, the Cirrus Silver Metallic paint ($750 and also not reflected here), the Burmester 3D Surround Sound system ($650), and AMG’s 19-inch wheels ($600).
Part of our drive took us through a windy canyon, where the C300 was nimble and composed. Drivers in the market for a compact luxury sedan are more likely to appreciate its polished ride than push the handling limits on back roads, but they may like to know that they can. The C300, at least when equipped with the AMG sport suspension as we tested, is simultaneously sure-footed and compliant. As we headed out of a particularly tight turn, several questions popped up in quick succession, “Wait, what’s the speed limit?” followed quickly by, “Do you want to be ‘that guy’ and spin a Mercedes into a ditch on a sleepy canyon road?” That latter concern proved short-lived; the adaptive suspension shrugs off quick transitions, even over broken pavement without any jolts or surprises. The electric power steering even gives a bit of useful feedback in the sportier drive modes.
Throttle response is linear and predictable around town and on the highway, with the mild-hybrid system filling in momentarily as the turbo quickly builds boost. The starter-generator hybrid system also enables the engine to stop while coasting. Mercedes calls it “gliding,” and thanks to a very quiet cabin, the overall powertrain is refined and efficient, with an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 city, 35 highway, and 29 mpg combined. At least according to our trip computer, we’d wager those numbers can easily be beaten in real-world driving.
If there’s any discernible lag from this turbo engine, it’s more the fault of the programming for Mercedes’ nine-speed automatic, which needs half a beat to get all the cogs aligned when calling for several-gear downshifts.
Part of the luxury experience is the refinement of advanced features. In heavy L.A. traffic, the adaptive cruise control works seamlessly and reduces the stress of repetitive brake application, keeping a safe distance from vehicles in front, coming to a full stop when necessary, and starting back up again when there was movement. Likewise, steering assist helps the sedan centered in the lane while only requiring a light touch on the steering wheel to remind the Mercedes that you are, in fact, still paying attention. There is one snag, however. The vehicle reads speed limit signs, and if you’ve set the cruise control to 70 mph and enter a 55-mph zone, it will slow down to 55, even when the surrounding traffic is still traveling at 70. That can be a bit annoying and occasionally unsafe.
The optional head-up display is convenient and relays the speed limit and current speed, but it can also show navigation info when using the car’s native navigation system. However, we couldn’t always see the top lines of the display in our initial seating position. While searching for a way to move the display, we found the menu for seat adjustment and let the C-Class decide where our optimum seating position should be. We entered our height and the seat made a few small changes that brought the HUD into better view. Gimmicky perhaps, but we’ve got to admit, it was impressive.
The seat backs are far from cushy, with firm foam and sharply angled bolsters set generously apart. The look is more AMG sportster than cross-country grand tourer, yet they are reasonably comfortable over a wide range of their many adjustments. Our main gripe is that the center console is wide, providing a rather narrow tunnel for legroom. There’s plenty of space to stretch forward, but the driver’s knees are a bit confined laterally. Tall or broad-shouldered drivers may become acquainted with the B-pillar, which intrudes a bit into the passenger compartment. For us, it didn’t interfere with peripheral vision too much but it was noticeable on occasion.
When adjusted to fit a six-foot-three-inch-tall driver, it was possible for a passenger of similar stature to sit in the back seat, but just barely, and leg positions were limited. The front seatbacks are thin but strategically sculpted so as to squeeze a couple of extra inches of rear-seat knee room in critical areas. Rear-seat headroom is also just a bit tight, requiring tall occupants to either slouch or tilt a bit to the center. Blame the panoramic sunroof.
Operating the huge touchscreen is simple. With so much digital-screen real estate there’s not much need to bury options several pages down in a menu and functions are arranged logically. Touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel can also be used for navigating the infotainment, although those require more study to become proficient. Likewise, the steering-wheel-mounted volume control is a touch-sensitive slider that requires a bit of finesse. Most impressive is the Burmester audio system that created the impression that you’re literally facing the stage. When listening to a podcast, it sounds like talking to someone that’s just on the other side of the steering wheel. We’re not going to pretend that we know how that’s accomplished, but we do know that there are speakers stashed in locations that we can’t even see.
While we did drive a nicely optioned version of the C300, it seems that plenty of the best bits of the car are baked into the base model. If you plan on hauling some tall rear-seat passengers, consider ditching the panoramic sunroof unless you’re a huge fan of open-top cruising. Likewise, the head-up display and navigation option, both of which worked flawlessly, could be skipped if you’re already used to using CarPlay or Android Auto. If you often find yourself stuck in traffic, the Driver Assistance Package should definitely be on your shopping list, as it feels like it would pay for itself many times over in spared sanity.
This W206 C-Class is a big step forward for an already attractive and popular car. It looks, feels, and handles remarkably well. Even with a new GLC compact crossover on the horizon, Mercedes’ latest four-door continues to make a case for the superior elegance and performance of a traditional luxury sedan. That you can experience it in a C-Class, without having to step up to the mid-size E- or eye-wateringly expensive S-Class, is a real boon.
2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 RWD
Price: $44,600/$57,970 (base/as tested)
Highs: Remarkably quiet. Comfortable and composed ride that can driven hard. Fabulous tech. Efficient drivetrain with smooth power delivery.
Lows: Front legroom hemmed in by wide center console. So-so rear headroom when equipped with panorama sunroof.
Summary: The C300 packs a ton of technology into an efficient, comfortable package, and even the base model without an AMG badge boasts nimble handling.