The 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is one very charming luxury car; in AMG trim, it's risen above and beyond Bavarian levels of handling.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan is more beautiful than ever. Redesigned for the 2015 model year, the four-door grew slightly larger, and much more luxurious, ushering in a new era for what's now a mid-size car in the three-pointed-star lineup.
Rivals for the C-Class include the BMW 3-Series, Cadillac ATS, Audi A4, Lexus IS, and Infiniti Q50, with the Jaguar XE compact arriving for the 2017 model year.
The striking exterior of the new C-Class can be deceiving. You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for the much larger and more expensive S-Class from a distance. But we like how the new C-Class doesn't just ape the Mercedes flagship; it has its own profile and its own details. Inside, the decision to swing for S-Class standards is even more apparent. Large round vents, a flowing center console, and inlaid metallic-look panels in the door all speak a design language that’s usually reserved for the executive luxury class.
The C-Class launched in the 2015 model year with two engine choices, and for 2016, it swaps out of one of them. In the C300, there's a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 241 horsepower, teamed to a 7-speed automatic. In most kinds of driving, it's quick and entertaining, even in highway passing situations. With small displacement and stop/start, it returns the lineup's best fuel economy, too. It also offers the only rear-drive model in the C-Class sedan lineup, and the only one with a conventional steel-spring suspension, versus an adaptive air suspension—but even without those features, the C-Class is an engaging ride. Some of us even prefer the more straightforward handling of the standard suspension.
The C450 AMG Sport replaces the C400 this year, and moves the midpoint of the C-Class lineup much closer to the purer AMG forms. The new twin-turbo V-6 in the C450 delivers 362 hp, up from 329 hp in the former powerplant. It's a potent mill, capable of 4.9-second runs to 60 mph, and it feels strong in any of its seven forward gears or at almost any point in its rev range. The engine sings through a sport exhaust in a pleasantly muffled way, and the adaptive controls for the sport-tuned air suspension, steering feel, throttle input and transmission shift timing all meld into a powerful piece that's deserving of the AMG initials, while leaving the truly bonkers acceleration and track-ready responses to the next step up the performance ladder.
That next step would be the Mercedes-AMG C63 and C63 S, which we cover separately. In short, they do everything expected in adding huge power figures, impressive handling, and more aggressive style. With a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine rated at 469 hp, the C63 is capable of a 4.0-second run to 60 mph and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. The C63 S rates 503 hp, cutting 0-60-mph times to 3.9 seconds, and lifting top speed to 180 mph. The C63 S’s extra power and torque is much more noticeable behind the wheel than the stats would suggest, with palpably more power on demand at any given time or rpm.
The luxurious C-Class cabin has grown along with the body, but not as much as we might have hoped. A longer wheelbase means more rear-seat leg room, and while 6-footers won’t have abundant space for knees, elbows, or crania, they’ll fit with adequate comfort for even fairly extended drives. The front seat is spacious, with plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room, though the width of the (rather beautiful) center console can impinge on side-to-side knee room for the longer-legged. Entry and exit to the back seat also seems to have fallen victim to the roofline and more aggressive door cutlines. Trunk space is just 12.6 cubic feet, though the rear seat backs flip forward easily (and flat).
The undisputed highlight of the new C-Class, including the AMG models, is its interior. Apart from options like a Burmester sound system, new touch-controlled COMAND infotainment system, or Mercedes’ suite of safety technologies, the cabin exudes luxury in a way that none of its competitors manage. Material quality, fit and finish, and design are all top-notch, class-leading. Optional trims include a gorgeous open-pore black ash wood that feels like it comes from a car several classes higher.
So far, the C-Class has earned some good crash-test ratings, but the data isn't complete. The NHTSA gives it five stars overall, with a mix of four- and five-star ratings on individual tests, while in IIHS testing it has some "Good" results—but it's an incomplete set of tests.
Mercedes’ suite of technology in the C-Class puts it almost on par with the E-Class and S-Class in terms of safety and driver assistance. In fact, many of the systems are identical to the others, while a few arrived in the C-Class first, before moving to the rest of the lineup. The Intelligent Drive package rolls up many of the headline aspects, and includes adaptive cruise control and steering assist, a stereo-camera system that further aids lane-keeping and semi-autonomous functions, brake assist, active parking assist, and a surround-view camera system, among other features. A head-up display can relay navigation instructions, vehicle speed, and other driving data.
The new COMAND infotainment system gets Mercedes’ latest mbrace2 app suite and an all-new touchpad controller that hovers above the familiar (but now knurled) COMAND control wheel. This new touchpad system offers gestural input, including swipes, pinch-zoom, and tap/click maneuvers, all familiar to computer or tablet users. The touchpad is better in idea than in execution, however. It's a competition between unusual inputs and inconsistent responses that aren't as well-coordinated with the menu system as they could be. Give us a clean tablet interface, please?
All C-Class sedans get power windows, locks, and mirrors; a power driver seat; cruise control; keyless ignition; and the COMAND interface with capacitive touchpad and a 7.0-inch display. Major options include leather; navigation; a power passenger seat; LED headlamps; an in-car fragrance dispenser (like the one in the S-Class); a panoramic sunroof; a lighting package with LED headlamps and Active Curve Illumination; a head-up display; a hands-free trunk closer; AMG Performance sport seats; and a Sport Package with AMG bodywork, AMG wheels, and a sport suspension, distinct from the C450 AMG model.
Gas mileage ratings span a range from 24 mpg combined to 28 mpg combined, depending on drivetrain. With limited powertrain possibilities—just two gasoline engines—Mercedes has room for improvement. Stay tuned for upcoming hybrid and possible diesel powertrains.