The entry-level luxury-sport sedan is easily my favourite segment in the automotive industry. Boasting personal favourites like the Audi S4 and the Lexus IS350, this is a class where everything is very good, and the challenge is becoming the best. Competitors are constantly being redesigned, and staying on top is no easy feat. Mercedes-Benz has redesigned its C-Class for the 2015 model year, and a lot of attention has been diverted towards the new CLA and GLA siblings. The C-Class has grown a little bit in size, given an all-new platform with brand new powertrain options, and it finally came time to put it through its paces. We were sent a 2016 Mercedes-Benz C400 4MATIC for the week, painted in a classic white.
What really sold me on the new C-Class at first was the styling. The previous-generation model (chassis code W204) was attractive at first but the design was so edgy and polarizing that it didn’t exactly age well. The new one (W205) uses more conservative lines, derived from the flagship S-Class, and is a thing of beauty. With the AMG 19” wheels spec’d on our tester and the AMG styling kit (available at no extra cost on the C400), the car looks gorgeous. LED daytime running lights and taillight treatment make the white C-Class appear beautiful and its competitors almost bland and dated.
In Canada, the C300 and C400 are both only available with a 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system, to allow for liberal and effortless year-round use. The new C-Class’ chassis is much lighter than before, though Mercedes-Benz has made it considerably more rigid as well. The result is a stiffer setup that delivers optimal performance while maintaining excellent body control. After all, sporty as it may be, Mercedes-Benz’ first priorities include unmatched luxury, safety and control. It’s in the naming schemes where things begin to get confusing – the “400” in the name doesn’t refer to engine displacement, horsepower, or anything else really.
The C300 gets a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder, and the C400 is my personal pick with its twin-turbocharged 3.0L V6. Very different from the outgoing C350 it replaces, the C400 boasts 329 horsepower available at 6000rpm, and 354 lb-ft of torque, peaking between 1600 and 4000rpm. Where our previous segment-choice (the Audi S4) offers a dual-clutch transmission, Mercedes has chosen to go with a 7G-TRONIC Plus, a seven-speed automatic with varying sport modes and paddle shifters. The numbers may not be groundbreaking, but this is one delicious combination – the C400 is impeccably effortless in operation.
Engine delivery is done with unmatched smoothness, and the motor emits a wonderful noise through the dual exhausts. Ride quality thanks to the Airmatic air suspension system is perfect, with road imperfections vanishing into the past without any thrashing or crashing from the body. The “Agility Select” system adjusts the air suspension, steering weightage, engine response, and a variety of other factors. This system is key to optimizing how the new C-Class feels to drive. When the vehicle is started, it defaults to “Comfort” mode, with available selections of “Eco”, “Sport”, “Sport+”, and “Individual”, the last being configurable within the COMAND menus.
Handling is on par for this segment, and the C400 happily dances around corners without a care in the world. Mercedes-Benz uses Continental ContiSportContact 5 tires, rubber that boasts decent grip while maintaining good ride quality. The power steering is electrically assisted, but provides a good amount of artificial feedback without feeling lifeless like the outgoing model. There’s no real old-school feedback here, but steering response is precise and the car goes exactly where you point it. The 4MATIC system definitely helps maintain grip, and the air suspension also adapts very well to hard cornering, minimizing body roll and further aiding the C-Class in its dance performance.
When pushing the C400 hard, the driver will want to use Sport or Sport+ mode, and even perhaps go as far as disabling ESP. Rather than just a simple button to be pushed and held, Mercedes-Benz requires you to go into the instrument cluster menu, find the settings, and turn off the stability control system from within there. What could be a two-second maneuver takes up to two minutes. Regardless, in Sport+, the car transforms from a sublime cruiser to a firm sport sedan fit to compete with the likes of the S4, 335i and IS350. The C400 gives the driver a very natural connection to the asphalt beneath, and the car is balanced through every move made.
Typically with these cars that boast turbocharged motors or even naturally-aspirated V6s, fuel economy is something to be feared. The general rule of thumb in this segment is to expect between 12 and 13L/100km in combined driving. The C-Class really surprised us in this regard – the car was able to stay within the 11L/100km range for the duration of our test. This was with about 50% highway driving and 50% within the city. The 68L fuel tank allows for a good amount of distance before needing to refuel, and the premium 91-octane fill-ups won’t exactly empty your wallet either. The “Eco” mode helps economy further by dulling throttle response and upshifting the transmission early, but we didn’t make much use of this mode. I expect the typical C400 buyer to achieve 11L/100km over the car’s lifetime.
The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class’ best asset is clear-cut; the interior is simply spectacular. Complete with Artico upholstery, metallic accents throughout, and beautiful open-pore ash wood trim throughout the interior, this is just an excellent place to be. Even the speakers for the Burmester 11-speaker audio system have stunning silver grilles with an elegant “f” embossed into them. Every single surface that your fingers can touch has been thought-out, making this is easily the best interior in the segment. Though leatherette, the Artico that covers the seats is excellent quality and has proven durability. It even smells like real leather, and the seats are incredibly supportive.
A modernized version of the Mercedes-Benz COMAND infotainment system controls the vast majority of the car’s settings, entertainment, and telematics. The hockey-puck controller is good to use and there are a few buttons elegantly placed within the center stack for major commands. What’s new here is a clickable touchpad placed atop the controller that can be used to scroll through menus as well as write letters or numbers for navigation input. Nice as it may be for text input, the touchpad needs to be perfected with time, and it gets in the way of using the actual COMAND controller. It also can result in accidental menu choices and become a nuisance to use. The THERMATIC dual-zone climate control is easy to use thanks to metallic buttons placed on the center stack. Mercedes-Benz also remains the only player in this segment to offer a panoramic sunroof, a neat feature for sure.
Moving onto the Burmester audio system – a no-charge option on the C400 with Premium and Sport packages – it’s easily one of the best car audio setups currently available from the factory. Audi and BMW offer Bang & Olufsen as well as Harman/Kardon systems at an added cost, with some B&O units costing as much as $7,000. No matter what genre of music you’re listening to, the Burmester setup in the new C-Class blows the others out of the water. What I would like to see in upcoming models is a full equalizer rather than just bass/treble/midrange controls.
The regular C-Class starts at $43,000 for a base C300 4MATIC. Stepping up to a C400, at just over $51,000, gets you the big V6 and a few other standard features including the Burmester audio and an AMG styling kit. Our loaded C400 4MATIC was equipped with the Premium and Sport packages, and bring the as-tested price up to $58,000. Though appearing steep, a similarly-equipped 335i would be in the same vicinity, and a loaded S4 can exceed the $60,000 mark. The C400 is right in the middle, and offers a level of luxury that none of its competitors currently offer in any specification.
Though it may be the best in its segment, the redesigned C-Class isn’t without its flaws. The engine and tires are very quiet, but we experienced a significant amount of wind noise at highway speeds, something that would be rectified with better window insulation. Volume adjustment for the aforementioned stereo is done via a rotary rocker switch that’s a bit tricky to find and use while in motion – why not just stick with a regular knob of similar size? The large sunroof looks awesome and brings a lot of light into the cabin, but it gets in the way of rear headroom for taller passengers, thus making an otherwise-roomy car feel small on the inside. Lastly, modern as it may be, I’m just not a fan of Mercedes-Benz’s column shifter. It’s easy to get used to, but it’s just something that could be much classier to look at.
This is a car that really needs to be driven in order to be properly appreciated. With the abundance of technology beginning to flood this industry, cars like this that provide natural feel without compromising on luxury are going to eventually become a thing of the past. The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 4MATIC is inspiring to drive, and stays true to boasting the best interior in its segment. There are no claims of simplicity, but the new C-Class is almost humble in its appeal, and that’s something that stands out to me. Even with the upcoming facelift on the BMW 3-series and the full-redesign on the Audi S4, rivals are going to have a very difficult time getting ahead of Mercedes-Benz for the time being. The new C-Class is a car that’s ahead of its time and is truly exceptional.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 4MATIC Gallery
*Photos by Adi Desai and Krish Persaud*