I realize that my obsession with certain car brands is somewhat comical. For all I know about Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, I’ve never owned anything with a star, roundel, or four rings on the hood.
I have driven plenty though—which always leads me to a conclusion that I’d have a hard time choosing if I did indeed have the means. No car is perfect, but in the world of hypotheticals, you don’t often want to settle.
Nevertheless, someday, I will choose, and own. And that is why I follow the auto world so closely.
It’s been fascinating to witness the rise of the luxury marque to mainstream accessibility, a trend attributable to model diversification and a growing global middle class. Under the same dealership roof, premium models now start as low as $30,000, while flagships can command base MSRPs of over $100,000.
No one wants a Camry when you can drive a C300.
With extension of a brand comes dilution of its offerings, and so has been the challenge for Mercedes and BMW. Renown for build quality, Mercedes’ reliability has come into question over the last fifteen years. BMW, the ultimate driving machine, has been accused of softening itself.
In the US, and around the world, the volume leader of these brands is often the midsize sedan. Mercedes’ E-class was its best seller for many years, and still comprises much of its sales.
With the introduction of the premium compact CLA-class, the all-new 2015 C-class Mercedes has grown to nearly the proportions and role of the E-class. Its design must satisfy geographically and individually varied tastes, and its driving dynamics will be compared against many of the best premium sports sedans from its German, Japanese, American, and Swedish competitors.
It is also being built across the world in four factories: Germany, South Africa, China, and stateside, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It will be a truly global automobile.
This is a long-winded way of saying I am very excited about the new C.
A brief history of the nameplate:
W201: 1986-1993 190E; first ‘compact’ Mercedes model
W202: 1994-2000 C230, C280; first significant competitor to BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Saab, Volvo, Infiniti, Lexus small sedans—a 90s yuppie classic
W203: 2001-2007 C230, C240, C320, C350; major volume C-class, albeit one with many quality flaws
W204: 2008-2014 C250, C300, C350; a step toward sport and away from luxury
The C-class of tomorrow (W205) is swoopier, and per tradition, looks like a shrunken S-class—itself a newly rehashed model. The interior takes the rounded, curvy style of the smaller, less expensive CLA.
It will initially be available in a C300 and C400 setup, the former with an inline 4-cylinder and the latter with Mercedes’ 3.5 liter V-6. Eventually there are plans for the C250 Bluetec clean diesel, a C450 sporting model, and potentially a plug-in hybrid.
The sedan will also morph into a wagon, coupe, and convertible C.
The bulk of what you’ll see on the roads is base or near-base C250 and C300 sedans with few options, if history is any indicator.
Standard equipment gets more exciting, with things like a touchpad controller and power-folding mirrors. These are only new to the C-class, not new overall, and still fall below the feature-laden standard offerings from its competitors. Following family suit, the gear selector moves to steering column.
Notable options include LED headlights, a Burmester premium sound system (apparently the new buzz brand), Airmatic suspension, Ventilated Seats, and a Heads-up display. I believe “Benz” now stands for a lengthy and pricey options list.
The Sport package adds more exciting bodywork and interior fittings.
There isn’t anything groundbreaking here. Then again, the small premium segment has always been about subtle nuances and personal preference. And sales incentives.
The real clincher will be how it makes buyers feel. Does it function crisply, do the doors feel heavy? Does the switchgear feel sufficiently Mercedes? Does it chime and light up and dazzle like a Mercedes should? Does it swallow potholes and corner with grace?
Does it still embody the core of the brand, rather than a feel like a bland, soulless generic? Will it have a personality?
This has been a key complaint of the BMW 3-series (2012-present), albeit not one that has prevented the model from selling briskly and being the basis for several variants. It seems unreasonable to assume that brands and their products will not evolve and become the answer to more and more people. It is the only way for a marque to remain profitable.
By its second production year, the new C will be another home run for Mercedes—a continuation of its strong appeal across the world.
Because I love the brand (against logic), I can’t wait to drive this new iteration, just like I wanted with the last two. Given the right options and colors, it could be a worthy successor to my Beetle.