What exactly is the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class? That's not an easy question to answer. Is it an S-Class with a very small wheelbase? Or maybe it’s a hotter E-Class with a minor facelift? Could this even be a pumped-up A-Class saloon?
One could argue that everything looks the same at Daimler these days, but yet, equally pleasing. We'd say the same for the new C-Class (W206) – and that's a good thing, because the C-Class is still the most important Mercedes in the lineup, so it had better be pleasing.
More than 2.5 million units of its predecessor, the W205, rolled off dealer lots globally since 2014. And Mercedes moved more than 10 million in total since the blissful 190. In other words: If you mess up the C-Class, you've got a big problem on your hands.
To prevent this from happening, the company has not revolutionised but rather adapted and modernised where necessary. At around 4.75 metres (187.0 inches) long, the new model is 6.0 centimetres (2.4 inches) longer than the old one, and the wheelbase has grown by nearly 2.5 centimetres (one inch). Mercedes promises noticeably more room in the interior. The boot capacity saloon remains the same at 453 litres (16.0 cubic feet), while the estate – available in Europe from the start – now packs away between 490 litres (17.3 cu ft) and 1,510 litres (53.3 cu ft), one more than before.
The C-Class rides on a modified version of the Mercedes MRA II platform (Modular Rear Architecture), which also underpins the new S-Class. Mercedes refers to a "dynamically designed" chassis with a new four-link front axle and a space-link rear axle. An adaptive suspension and a sports suspension are available at an option, as is rear-axle steering with a 2.5-degree steering angle for the first time.
The C-Class comes with LED headlights as standard. As an optional extra, though, there is the Digital Light from the new S-Class, with a resolution of 2.6 million pixels. It is also capable of projecting auxiliary markings or warning symbols onto the road.
The big shock in terms of the powertrain is that there is only a four-cylinder. And yes, that also applies to the future AMG models. Ciao six-cylinder, goodbye four-litre biturbo V8. Instead, there will probably be electrified versions of the A45 engine, and indeed in the C63 as well.
At the model's launch, there will be three petrol engines with 170, 204, and 258 bhp respectively. The latter version will also offer all-wheel drive. The two diesel engines on offer in Europe produce 200 and 265 bhp. All variants feature an integrated starter-generator (new for the diesel) and a 48-volt electrical system as second-generation mild hybrids. There will be no manual transmission in the C-Class now or in the future; a nine-speed automatic is now standard across the board.
The new C-Class takes the lead in the segment – at least in terms of electric range – when it comes to plug-in hybrids. They are to follow "soon after market launch" and will be able to drive around 62 miles in pure electric mode. A new 25.4-kilowatt-hour monster battery makes that possible.
The new C-Class takes the lead in the segment – at least in terms of electric range – when it comes to plug-in hybrids.
All of those plug-in models use a 95-kilowatt electric motor, with improved thermal management that should allow for long-distance traveling. The C300e with a 204-bhp petrol engine and 312-bhp total system output will be the first, followed by the C300e with a 200-bhp diesel engine and the C-400e with a 2.0-litre petrol engine expected to produce 250 bhp. All-wheel drive for the PHEVs will also be available beginning in 2022.
Partial Level 3 autonomy, like in the S-Class, is not yet available on the C-Class. And even though there have been repeated talks about being able to take your hands off the steering wheel in the next C-Class generation, the reality in 2021 will look somewhat different. A new feature is an improved distance assistant. In addition, the active steering assistant now keeps the car in its lane at speeds of up to 130 miles per hour.
The new C-Class is coming onto the market at a relatively good time. After all, the BMW 3 Series is already two years old, and the Audi A4 has more than five years under its belt. The saloon and estates can be ordered now in Europe. But it's all for naught if the car isn’t any good – so let’s find out if it is.
How Does It Drive?
We set off in the 300d estate, and what was immediately clear is that this C-Class has a Mercedes body and soul. You might be thinking to yourself, "great analysis, Mr. Wagner” – but that's truly the way it is. The focus of the new C-Class is primarily on ride comfort, which means the car's tuning is surprisingly soft and cushy. It does lean more into the curve than a BMW 3 Series or Audi A4, for example, plus it also bobs quite happily longitudinally, especially in faster curves.
This is all more than a little reminiscent of the new S-Class. Not quite as dignified and polished, of course, but similar in character. All of this, mind you, with the adaptive comfort suspension, which all the test cars had during the driving session. It remains to be seen whether the C-Class will show a different side with the optional sports suspension, but we’ll find out soon enough.
Gallery: Mercedes C-Class C300d Estate (2021) Test
Is that a bad thing? Not at all! The new C-Class estate is really pleasant to drive – just don’t expect this diesel estate to drive like a super sports car. You won't (especially with this engine) be looking for curves like a truffle pig. If you want to be permanently animated, then maybe you'd better look to Munich or Turin.
That's not to say that the C-Class only soothes and surges, though. Especially with the rear-axle steering, which is available at an extra cost, the car feels very agile. What's more, it really does drive precisely, despite all the comfort. This is thanks to the excellently tuned steering. It is very nicely weighted, conveys a lot of feel, and feels totally natural. Only in "Sport Plus" does it harden into artificiality, but anyone driving a 300d will probably never use this mode anyway.
That brings us directly to the engine. As before, it's a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with two turbos, but now with 265 bhp (+20 bhp), while the torque is still 500 Nm. Of course, these are hefty performance figures, and it's not just on paper (0 to 62 mph in 5.7 seconds) that the thing pushes like the devil. But you also have to be realistic: BMW, for example, still offers a wonderful 3.0-litre inline-six in these regions, and it's simply more superior.
As I said, the 300d doesn't lack anything in terms of power, and the fuel consumption is completely acceptable. According to the onboard computer, consumption was under seven litres, and sometimes 5.8, if you took it a little easier. But all in all, it feels very diesel-like. Under load, it's quite throaty and rough both on the pedal as well as on the ear. And this version weighs 100 kg (220 pounds) more than the 300 with a petrol engine.
You notice that relatively quickly when you switch from one vehicle to the other. The petrol engine is much more agile than the diesel (and also than the plug-in hybrid, which I'll get to in a moment). It is more light-footed, creamier, and reacts more playfully to inputs. Even the brake pedal is firmer and more alert than in the somewhat sluggish diesel and PHEV.
In this instance, you realise that the engineers have programmed a very good amount of spread into the dampers of the adaptive suspension. In Comfort, the C-Class is just as accommodating and flattering as before, but in Sport and Sport Plus, you notice a considerable change. The car is firmer, almost a bit bumpy, but it curves a lot flatter. It no longer shifts or rocks at all, proving that the C-Class can also be driven more dynamically.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine itself is relatively inconspicuous. With 258 bhp and 295 lb-ft, it's absolutely fast enough and a bit boomy when accelerating out, but otherwise it’s absolutely restrained. The same can be said about the nine-speed automatic – it’s not the very quickest thing in terms of sporty shifts (why should it be?), but it’s very pleasant, intelligent, and reliable.
What Can The Plug-In Hybrid Do?
First of all, it can drive much further in pure electric mode than any other hybrid in this class. Daimler states 62 miles here – I drove a distance of 32 miles during the test, about half in hybrid mode and half in electric mode. In between, I very briefly hit the gas in "Sport" twice to see what happens when the full 312 bhp and 406 lb-ft hit. Just for the sake of completeness: Quite a lot happens.
With a 95-kW electric motor, a 25.4-kWh battery, wiring, and more, this setup adds a hefty 300 kg (661 pounds) to the curb weight. And the car itself a full two tonnes. Nevertheless, stepping on the accelerator is rewarded with relatively spectacular propulsion. And you really notice how the speed and mass build up a momentum that reminds you a bit of a wrecking ball. It's very similar when braking, as all that weight has to come to a halt somehow.
The plug-in feels more fun to drive than the diesel due to the lack of vibrations and the early boost of the electric unit. There is an air suspension in the rear due to the high additional weight, and as a customer, you're happy to take it, of course.
Even in E-mode, the 300e accelerates quite decently and up to a maximum speed of 87 mph. The kickdown also shifts the accelerator to the right, however when the kickdown switches to the petrol engine, it sounds strong and not bad at all.
Gallery: Mercedes C-Class C300e Saloon (2021) Test
There are a total of four recuperation levels (only Sport mode does not offer recuperation). From strong to weak: D-, D, and D Plus, and then D Auto. In D-, for example, recuperation starts at 50 mph with the maximum possible 100 kW. D Auto, on the other hand, is something like an adaptive braking assistant. Here, front camera, navigation, and wheel data are used to brake depending on the environment, like in front of town entrances, traffic circles, or the slowing vehicle in front. Everything works flawlessly, which makes it great to live with.
But what about the promised range? Pretty good, I would say. At the end of the 32 miles, I still had 29 miles of remaining range, with an average consumption of 1.8 litres of fuel and 20.6 kWh of electricity. If the juice runs out at some point, Mercedes promises a full battery within 30 minutes with the optional 55-kW DC fast charger. With the standard 11-kW charger for three-phase charging at the wallbox, it's two hours.
What's It Like Inside?
Well, somehow the W206 C-Class looks a lot like a shrunken S-Class. The large digital instrument panel and the (optional) 11.9-inch vertically oriented infotainment screen offer the cabin ample tech. And all the wood, aluminium, leather, and ambient lighting feel like they’ve come from a design magazine. And the new steering wheels are a show, especially in the AMG Line. Hop in for the first time and all you can think is "what a feast for the eyes!" This is by far the best in class. Period.
But then you look a little closer and realise they're quite the sly foxes at Daimler. Unfortunately, there are quite a few cheaper materials throughout. In the door shelves, on the side of the centre console, and on the lower part of the dashboard, the plastic is much thinner than before. Disappointing.
Even though there are some cheap materials, my overall impression of the interior is that it’s still crazy cool. The second generation of the MBUX infotainment system once again works superbly. The new layout alone has improved operation. Things like voice control, music streaming, navigation with augmented reality function, the sensational new head-up display, and even how confidently semi-autonomous driving works are all simply better than in the competition. This is where the C-Benz scores big points.
The space situation is somewhat less acceptable – at least I didn't notice anything of the promised optimisation in the rear. The legroom is rather mediocre, however, and it doesn't look any better than in the 3 Series or A4.
On the other hand, there is good news for all fans of hybrids and flat trunk floors. The dreadful step in the luggage compartment is now a thing of the past in the PHEVs. In the estate, for example, this increases the length of the luggage compartment by 63 mm (2.5 inches) and the height by 150 mm (6.0 inches). In total, the luggage compartment can hold 360 to 1,376 litres (12.7 to 48.6 cubic feet).
As expected, the C-Class jumped on the modern Mercedes bandwagon. In terms of driving dynamics and powertrains, it's solid. In terms of comfort and high-tech, it dominates the competition. That includes the terrific infotainment display and very useful digital solutions, as well as a plug-in hybrid that can do more than any other in this class.
At first glance, the interior ambience beats anything previously known in the segment, but there are some surprising weaknesses at second glance. Nevertheless, the new C-Class is a comfortable, very attractive, and technologically leading class alternative.
Gallery: Mercedes C-Class C300 Saloon (2021) Test
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