For the first time in nearly a decade, Mercedes-Benz is offering a four-cylinder engine in its compact C-Class model line. It coincides with extensive changes throughout the model lineup, as well as all-new C-Class Coupe and high-performance AMG editions. Overall, it takes on entry luxury and sport models like the Audi A4 (and A5), the BMW 3-Series, the Lexus IS, the Infiniti G37, and the Cadillac CTS.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan hasn't been completely redesigned, but it does get a careful retouch, for a clear visual link to the latest new Mercedes-Benz designs. As before, the C-Class can be had in Luxury or Sport guise, with the Sport treatment standing out for its emphatic, salad-plate-sized emblem over a barrel grille. Inside, the C-Class sees a sportier, more modern look with revised metallic trims, but it's still a bit. A new Coupe joins the C-Class range for 2012 as well, available in the same basic forms as the sedan.The new addition to the C-Class lineup is the C250. Its turbocharged, direct-injected 1.8-liter four might raise eyebrows for the classic M-B crowd, but it's no reason for worry, clocking to 60 mph just as quickly as the former C300 and delivering a smooth wave of torque to the rear wheels-with EPA ratings of 21 mpg city, 31 highway. The C300 (and its 228-hp engine) remain offered in 4Matic all-wheel drive guise, and the C350 gets the all-new 302-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 that's used in the larger E-Class. Sport versions remain our recommendation, 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. Steering feel is a little zestless, though.
At the top of the line, is the brilliant (and slightly wicked) C63 AMG Coupe joins the lineup for 2012, powered by a massive 6.2-liter V-8 that rumbles out 457 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. And when optioned with a Performance Package, it can get to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, and to 186 mph. It also comes with AMG's quicker-shifting seven-speed automatic, while a tighter suspension, wider track, quicker steering, and big 18-inch wheels with 14.2-inch front disc and 13-inch rear disc brakes give it a much more lively feel without compromising its civility.
The 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 whether you're looking at the sedan or coupe. 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. You do tend to hear the engine a bit, but cabins are well hushed from road and wind noise.
Whether you go for the Luxury or Sport models, equipment remains stout, even at the base C250 level. Bluetooth connectivity is standard, with a USB port and HD Radio; a sunroof and dual-zone climate control are also included. C350 and C300 4Matic models move up to iPod control, heated front seats, a sport suspension, and options are grouped into several packages: Sport, Luxury, and Premium. The new mbrace suite of security and concierge services is also available.