A couple Mercedes guys stopped by the other day and left a baby on our doorstep. That would be the baby Benz, the fourth generation of the Mercedes C-class, a car whose lineage dates to 1983. At first it was called the 190-the C designation came along for model year 1994-but the idea was to produce a small car that would bring Benz cachet into a more affordable realm and, oh, yeah, give the BMW 3-series a little competition, an idea that's still operative.
As we observed at the time in a preview [March 1983], the new 190 sedans were "damned fine little cars, " representing "the first time that Daimler-Benz AG has acknowledged the presence of BMW and Audi as competitors."
In that sense-responding to new initiatives from Teutonic rivals-little has changed in the past quarter-century, although the ante keeps increasing. But the smallest of Benzes has changed considerably, and it's not at all clear that the term "baby" is relevant anymore. Compared with the progenitor of this species, the latest C-class is 7.3 inches longer, 3.6 inches wider, and 1.9 inches taller, on a wheelbase 3.8 inches longer, not to mention a curb weight that's gone up about 1000 pounds.
Of more significance are the dimensional changes from the third-generation car to the fourth. The wheelbase grows from 106.9 inches to 108.7. Overall length stretches 3.9 inches to 182.3. Width increases to 69.7 inches, a gain of 1.7. The track expands as well, by 1.1 inches front (from 59.3) and 1.5 inches rear (from 58.1).
At 56.3 inches, height is unchanged. Since the C-class already had more front-seat headroom than an Audi A4 or BMW 3-series, Mercedes saw no need for roof raising. But in any case, bigger translates to roomier, which is excellent news for those whose C-class experience is likely to be gleaned from the aft cabin. It's even better news for those who think traveling light means maybe three bags per passenger, plus golf clubs, and perhaps an inflatable pool table. For that " can-take-it-with-you" set, the trunk of the new car has swelled to a vast 17 cubic feet, five more than in the previous car.