The compact 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is offered in a bewildering array of possibilities overseas, but here in the U.S. it comes only in a few combinations—all four-door sedans, with gasoline V-6 or V-8 engines, taking on entry luxury and sport models like the Audi A4, the BMW 3-Series, the Lexus IS, the Infiniti G37, and the Cadillac CTS.
While there's only a single sedan body style available in the C-Class, it's anything but a one-trick pony. C300 and C350 models are both offered in both Sport and Luxury guise, and there's quite the aesthetic difference between them. The Luxury models carry the familiar Mercedes-Benz grille and a three-pointed star as a hood ornament, along with trim and wheels that give you that austere classic Benz look, if that's what you're in to. Sport models forgo the ornamentation for a flat badge on the grille, as well as a different, less glitzy front-end look—and, for 2011, get new LED running lamps (in bi-xenon-equipped models) instead of fog lamps. The differences between Sport and Luxury models carries through to the interior as well, though it's mainly a matter of trims; in the Luxury, you'll find burled walnut, chrome, and a four-spoke wheel that lives up to the austere Benz image of yore. If you want something more in line with BMW, the Sport is the pick.
Both of the V-6 engines offered on the two primary C-Class models give this compact luxury sedan plenty of oomph, and you're only likely to see much of a difference when taking out the stopwatch or if driving very fast with a full load. Zero to 60 with the C300, which offers up a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine, is 7.1 seconds, while the C350 Sport can get to 60 in 6.1 seconds and antes up a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. Sport versions are highly recommended, because the ride quality doesn't suffer much at all for its more aggressive cant; the Sport sedan also gets bigger wheels and brakes, as well as a dual exhaust to go with its lower, more tightly sprung suspension.
At the top of the line, is the brilliant (and slightly wicked) C63 AMG, powered by a massive 6.2-liter V-8 that rumbles out 451 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. The C63 shoots to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and can press a top speed of 155 mph even higher, to 186 mph, with an optional sport pack. The seven-speed automatic shifts in a different manner than the rest of the C-Class, with rapid, decisive changes. AMG also tightens handling down to the bare essentials, with almost no body roll, as well as a revised front and rear suspension, a wider track, quicker steering, and big 18-inch wheels with 14.2-inch front disc and 13-inch rear disc brakes.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class models provide the utmost comfort for front occupants, but those in back, even if they can get in, will be left wedging their legs against the back of the front seats. In all fairness, when looking at rival models like the Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series, that's just how it is in this class. While the base C300 does include some barely luxury-grade plastics, overall the C-Class models come with distinctive materials and excellent fits and finishes. Cabins are well hushed from road and wind noise, though you do hear the engine more than some might expect in a luxury car (Luxury models are quieter).
Whether you go with the Luxury or Sport models, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz comes as a well-equipped luxury sedan. All 2011 C-Class models get Bluetooth connectivity; a power sunroof; dual-zone climate control; power windows/locks/mirrors; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; power front seats; and cruise control. And options include a music hard-drive system, nav system, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, and xenon headlamps.