Mercedes introduced the W201 in 1982 as the precursor of the C-Class, which went on to become its best-selling series lineup. After nearly 40 years on the market and six generations (including the original 190 series), the C-Class has racked up more than 10.5 million sales. The time has come for a new generation that will try to continue the success of its predecessors despite competing in an SUV-hungry market.

The German luxury brand is not wasting any time as the saloon is being joined from day one by the more practical estate. As expected, the exterior design is not a major departure from the outgoing model, but Mercedes has implemented enough changes to make the C-Class feel fresh for 2021.

Gallery: Mercedes C-Klasse Saloon (2021)

It follows the sharper headlight design theme seen in the bigger models and adopts a cleaner side profile with reduced lines. The US-spec model will be available with a choice between 18- and 19-inch wheels whereas its European counterpart is also getting a smaller 17-inch set. At the back, the W206 generation is the first C-Class to have two-piece taillights, bringing the model in line with the more expensive E-Class and S-Class.

From the outside, some would argue it’s more along the lines of a significant facelift rather than a next-generation model, but that all changes once you hop inside the cabin. No, we haven’t made an error while uploading these images as these do show the new C-Class rather than the latest S-Class. The screen-heavy setup has trickled down from the crown jewel of the Mercedes lineup.

Gallery: Mercedes C-Klasse Estate (2021)

In North America, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster will be standard, and so will the 11.9-inch touchscreen for the second-generation MBUX infotainment system. Over in Europe, lesser trim levels will make do with a smaller 10.25-inch driver’s display and a more compact 9.5-inch centre screen. The interior will be more spacious than before as a result of stretching the wheelbase by one inch (25 mm), now at 112.8 in (2,865 mm).

Speaking of dimensions, the new C-Class is 2.5 in (65 mm) longer and 0.5 in (10 mm) wider compared to the model it replaces and has a sleeker stance thanks to a slightly lowered roofline. As a result of its increased footprint, there’s more headroom, elbow room, and shoulder room at the front and rear, with passengers sitting in the back also enjoying more legroom.

Mercedes C-Class T-Model (2021)
Mercedes C-Class T-Model (2021)

In terms of practicality, the cargo capacity of the saloon has remained unchanged – at 17.9 cubic feet for the US model and 455 litres for its European counterpart. It's a different story with the long-roof model as the estate can now swallow 490 litres with the rear seats up and 1,510 litres after you fold them, representing a 30-litre increase in both instances.

Let’s talk about the engines, which are all electrified and linked to a nine-speed automatic transmission. The US-spec model keeps things simple by being offered exclusively with a turbocharged 2.0-litre gasoline mill. The C300 offers 255 bhp 190 (kilowatts) and 295 pound-feet (400 Newton-metres) of torque and is complemented by an integrated starter-generator (ISG) providing a temporary boost of 20 bhp (15 kW) and 148 lb-ft (200 Nm).

Both the rear-wheel-drive C300 and its 4Matic sibling hit 60 mph (96 km/h) in 5.9 seconds and top out at an electronically capped 130 mph (209 km/h).

The European C-Class also gets C200 / C200 4Matic petrol models with a smaller 1.5-litre developing 201 bhp (150 kW) and 221 lb-ft (300 Nm), plus the aforementioned boost from the ISG. The all-paw model reaches 62 mph (100 km/h) in 7.1 seconds in both saloon and estate flavours while the RWD models do the job in 7.3 seconds (saloon) and 7.5 seconds (estate).

In terms of top speed, the AWD-equipped C200 saloon and estate reach 150 mph (241 km/h) compared to the 153 mph (246 km/h) velocity of the RWD saloon and 149 mph (240 km/h) of the RWD estate.

A base C180 will be available in Europe exclusively with RWD and the 1.5-litre dialled down to 167 bhp (125 kW) and 184 lb-ft (250 Nm). This one too has the ISG, contributing to a decent sprint to 62 mph in 8.6 seconds before the car reaches 144 mph (231 km/h) regardless of the body style.

Mercedes C-Class Sedan (2021)
Mercedes C-Class T-Model (2021)

Mercedes will also offer C200d, C220d, C220d 4MATIC, and C300d mild-hybrid diesels on the Old Continent with a 2.0-litre oil burner. It produces 161 bhp (120 kW) and 280 lb-ft (380 Nm) in the base version, followed by the midlevel model with 197 bhp (147 kW) and 325 lb-ft (440 Nm) and optional all-wheel-drive, and then the top-tier diesel with 261 bhp (195 kW) and 406 lb-ft (550 Nm). The beefiest of the bunch completes the sprint in 5.7 seconds (+0.1s for the estate) and is limited to 155 mph (250 km/h).

But wait, there’s more. In Euroland, Mercedes also has a C300e serving as a plug-in hybrid model with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and an electric motor offering a combined output of 308 bhp (230 kW) and 406 lb-ft (550 Nm). The PHEV variant has a 25.4-kWh battery pack with enough juice for an electric range of 62 miles (100 kilometres), per WLTP.

Available in both body styles, the C-Class with a charging port is the only member of the family to feature air suspension, which actually comes standard. The PHEVs come with a more generous cargo capacity and a longer load floor after repositioning the battery pack.

Mercedes C-Class Sedan (2021)
Mercedes C-Class T-Model (2021)

Mercedes is adding optional rear-wheel steering to the C-Class to reduce the turning circle by 43 cm (17 in) to 10.64 metres (419 inches). The steering angle at the rear axle is 2.5 degrees or four times smaller than the more sophisticated setup installed in the S-Class. At speeds below 37 mph (60 km/h), the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction to the front wheels and in the same direction at higher speeds.

The MBUX is not the only tech inherited from the big-boy S as Mercedes is also implementing the Digital Light system. The optional headlight setup projects guidelines and warning symbols onto the road up ahead while offering superior dazzle-free illumination by splitting the light using a whopping 1.3 million micro-mirrors.

The new Mercedes C-Class will arrive in US dealers at the beginning of 2022. Meanwhile, Europeans will be able to order the saloon and estate from late March and check out the cars in the shiny metal at dealers from this summer. The C-Class All-Terrain rugged estate will follow, along with the AMG C43 (or is it C53?) and C63 high-performance models with their hybridised four-cylinder engines.