The Mercedes-Benz C-Class dimensions reflect its market segment: It's very similar in size to the BMW 3 Series. Like most vehicles in this class the size gives good urban utility with the ability to carry four passengers and some luggage.
The C-Class adds a coupe body style for 2012 and the sedan gets a refreshed exterior: Up front, the hood adds a more noticeable peak in the center, the front bumper and lower air intakes are reshaped and more angular, the headlight housings are more contoured with new LED turn signals at the bottom, and the fog lights change to LEDs. The optional bi-xenon headlights also have C-shaped positioning lights. At the rear, the new bumper leaves room for a more pronounced lower diffuser, visually lightening the rear end, and the taillights add LEDs.
The C-Class has a wide grille reminiscent of the big CLS-Class and CL-Class coupes. The look is more noticeable on the C-Class Sport models, which have a different front end than the Luxury versions. The Sport has fewer grille bars and they are painted silver. It also features the Mercedes star front and center. Luxury models have a chrome grille with more slats, no star, and the traditional stand-up hood ornament. At the rear, all C-Class models have a typical Mercedes light layout and come across as scaled-down versions of the S-Class sedan, with rounder edges and lots of taper.
Character lines along the sides present a forward-leaning profile, a wedge look that helps make this the sportiest-looking C-Class yet. The major character line starts behind the front wheels and gets heavier as it rises to the rear, squeezing the window line ever tauter, and ending at the top of the tail lamp opening. The hood seam carries from headlight corner to the base of the window on each side. Wheels play a big part too, the Sport cars using twin-spoke wheels with some attitude while the Luxury versions use finer, more elegant wheels.
The C-Class coupe has the Sport face. The coupe's dimensions are similar to those of the sedan. The rear of the roof drops down in a more elegant arc and there is a kickup at the bottom rear of the rear side windows. Mercedes didn't need to do that much to the coupe to make it look good because the sedan already had an aggressive forward rake.
Closing the door brings a different sound than the old bank-vault Benzes did, perhaps because the outer skin of the doors, hood, front fenders and trunk is aluminum. However, the basic structure is very rigid and has lots of high-strength steel in it, providing three benefits: First, it keeps squeaks and rattles away; two test cars made no noise at all when subjected to opening the doors and trunk while parked on just three wheels. (We look at things like that.) Second, it makes a good handling and comfort compromise easier to reach. And third, it brings peace-of-mind from knowing you're in a vehicle that will do its best to protect you and yours if a traffic calamity should occur.
The hot-rod C63 AMG is the most aggressive C-Class, the Sport-style front end appearing even more imposing because of the C63's extra front track width and bigger coolers lurking behind the grille. The lower air intake is black instead of body color and the grille bars are thinner than those of the Sport version. The wheels are similar in design and size to the Sport's optional 18s but the brakes behind them are substantially larger (and the calipers are painted red with the AMG Development Package). At the rear, the C63 features a lip spoiler, a mild diffuser, and four large tailpipes. Look carefully and you'll see at least 15 AMG markers outside (minimum of nine inside), though anyone who hears it will know this is no plain C-Class.
Regardless of model, the C-Class interior is familiar Mercedes-Benz function, not trumped by form. The metaphoric seat controls, those switches on the door panels that look like miniature seats, are instantly understandable and have been used by Mercedes for several decades now. Likewise, the sophisticated light switch to driver's left excels at ease of use. All the control stalks are located on the left side of the steering wheel to keep the right hand free for shifting. The glove box latch is within the driver's reach and there are no sharp edges on the dash even on switches or vent adjusters. And, of course, there's the floor-mounted gas pedal; those on most smaller cars are suspended from above. These are all staples of Stuttgart.
The upholstery is called M-B Tex and it looks more like leather than the real thing on some cars, wears well and is PETA approved. Real leather is available on any C-Class. Some models have aluminum trim, others Burled Walnut or Black Ash, and you can pop for carbon fiber on the C63, but whichever you choose it is the real thing, real aluminum, real wood. Most of the trim, all the way down to the Mercedes-Benz badges on the front floor mats, is low-glare so errant reflections don't distract or dazzle the driver, and assembly quality is first-rate. The materials include soft-touch surfaces for the dash, as well as other touch points, all appropriate for a luxury car.
The electrically adjustable front seat and tilt/telescoping steering wheel combine to provide good support and a comfortable driving position. Larger drivers may find the Sport seats confining while others will appreciate the lateral support. Luxury model seats are less aggressively bolstered, making it easier to get in and out of the car, yet they are supportive and comfortable on long drives.
The C63 AMG seats don't look overly racy relative to the seats in other ultra-performance sedans, but the deep side bolsters and range of adjustments offer superb lateral support. The C63 has aluminum shift paddles behind the steering wheel. With the upshift on the right and the downshift on the left, they are very simple to use, and they're easy to access.
Dashboard styling is completely new for 2012. A standard 5.8-inch screen now resides under a hood that also covers a revised gauge cluster. The instruments comprise analog coolant temperature and fuel level on the left, speed/display in the center, and a tachometer to the right. The speedometer needle rides around the outer periphery of the gauge, as the 4.5-inch round center section is a new digital display with a gold hue. It is used for the extensive information available though the steering wheel controls, and everything from oil temperature to directional instructions can be called up here. In events that require immediate attention, such as a manual upshift or loss of oil pressure, the entire display switches to red.
The controls include a 10-key pad on the center stack, which makes it easy to dial numbers with a Bluetooth-connected phone. The radio controls are in this same area, while the central control knob for the COMAND system (standard for models with the navigation system) resides on the center console. COMAND controls the telephone, navigation system, and audio system. It also uses a group of buttons opposite the keypad and a pair of buttons on either side of the central knob. COMAND requires a learning curve and adds more steps than simple buttons, but it eliminates dozens of buttons and becomes second nature after awhile. Do, however, have someone else do a test drive with you so you can see which commands can be performed easily while the vehicle is in motion. Of course, the salesman can and should help with this, also.
The available harman/kardon 5.1 Surround Sound system features 450 watts to drive 12 speakers, and it sounds great with plenty of impact. Below the radio controls are switches for the rear window shade, seat heaters and other ancillary systems. At the bottom of the panel is the standard dual-zone climate control, so you needn't fumble through COMAND menus to warm or cool the cabin.
As in most compact sedans, rear-seat legroom is lacking. We found the C-Class back seats fine for kids and smaller adults but not good for transporting clients to lunch or hauling around big golf buddies. However, rear-seat riders do get nicely shaped and proportioned seats, reading lights, door pockets, a comfy center armrest and AC vents, so the C-Class will feel quite luxurious to little ones. The sedan has enough width to accommodate three rear passengers provided they're small and like each other.
Rear-seat space in the coupe is worse. Head room is sorely lacking (as in, you'll get a sore neck if you sit back there), leg room is even tighter than the smallish sedan, and there are only two seating positions. So think of the coupe as primarily a two-seater.
Driver visibility is very good in coupe and sedan models. Optional bi-xenon headlamps help light up back roads on dark, stormy nights. Big mirrors aid rearward vision, though shorter drivers may find themselves peering around the large mirrors for best vision to the front sides, such as when turning into a parking space. There are three rear headrests in the sedan and two in the coupe but they don't obscure rear vision.
Trunk space is a decent 12.4 cubic feet in the sedan, adequate but not class-leading. The coupe has a respectable 11.7 cubic feet. In either, the load height is reasonable and the well isn't too deep so you won't need a crane to unload overstuffed suitcases. A split-folding rear seat is standard in the coupe, but optional for the sedan and we recommend it for the added carrying capacity.