By any conventional measure, there is nothing at all special about the latest edition of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan. It has a steel body. It is powered by a four-cylinder engine of 241 horsepower that peaks out at 5,500 rpm. Like every other car in its class, it has four wheels and requires a driver to operate it.
Yet the 2015 C300, a cousin many times removed from the 190E Baby Benz of the 1980s, is so much more than the sum of its parts. The turbo four-cylinder whisks you to highway speed without fuss. It transports the driver in otherworldly serenity. The many safety systems operate with authority, warning you of peril but never taking the position that you’re an untrustworthy amateur.
What degree of sorcery was required to pull this off I don’t care to know.
Surely some of the goodness is a result of a promotion. Before last year’s introduction of the CLA250 as a new entry-level model for the United States, the C-Class was the bait to hook new buyers. Freed of that duty, the C300 and it siblings could move up the size scale to nearly E-Class dimensions. Even better, Mercedes did not reserve its best electronic goodies for brand’s bigger cars, offering systems like the Attention Assist safety monitor (standard equipment) and Enhanced Active Lane Keeping Assist (optional). That’s a factor in the both the base price of $41,325 and an as-equipped window sticker that can easily touch $55,000.
My Alabama-built test car was a mainstream model, an all-wheel drive sedan powered by a 2-liter four-cylinder. Per typical Mercedes practice, many offshoots will sprout. There’s already a C400 with a V-6 engine, and a rear-drive version of the C300 will appear. Then there will be a C350 plug-in hybrid, a C450 AMG and a totally irresponsible, but hugely entertaining, C63 AMG that serves up 503 horses from a twin-turbo V-8.
Oh, the C300 is not perfect. The steering seems lazy about returning to its on-center position, and the gear selector on the steering column offers no reassuring feedback. Mastering the menus that guard the audio and navigation systems from complying with a simple request from the driver may test your patience mightily. The gas-saving stop-start system lurches into action when you lift your foot off the brake to pull away from a red light.
Even for a fan of classic square-shouldered Mercedes styling, the C-Class is an attractive proposition. It has softened in the rear view – a bit too melted, I feel – but there are interesting curves and sculptural details everywhere. There is no doubt, from just about any angle, that it’s a Benz. One detail that doesn’t compute: a chrome finish on the leading edge of the front bodywork that, I suppose, hints at a vintage chrome bumper.
A favorite trick of geometry that Mercedes continues to pull off is its airy cabin, an impression aided by the light colors of materials and a dashboard that is stepped back toward the windshield. It makes the driver feel all the more in touch with the scenery and the road ahead; combined with the low, firmly supportive seats and multiple suspension modes, you are urged to settle in for a long drive. It’s a good place to pass the miles.