TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven the Mercedes-Benz C-Class for this firsthand set of driving impressions. Editors have also compiled opinions from other respected reviewers to bring you a comprehensive look at the new C-Class. Finally, editors also compared the C-Class to other compact luxury sedans to point out how competitors may offer superior styling, performance, features, utility, or safety.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is the company's smallest sedan and one of a trio of German four-doors that comes in an almost bewildering array of powertrains and body styles-at least, overseas. Here in the United States, the C-Class comes just as a sedan and in two primary performance versions, with the wild Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG in a whole other realm (and reviewed separately by TheCarConnection.com). At a base price of $34, 475, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has many rivals in luxury and in sport, but it's challenged most directly by the Audi A4, the BMW 3-Series, the Lexus IS, the Infiniti G37, and the Cadillac CTS.
A single body style has two subtly different flavors in the 2010 C-Class. There's a Luxury version, with the familiar Mercedes-Benz grille and a three-pointed star for a hood ornament. The Sport model forgoes the ornamentation for a flat badge on the grille, which is styled differently as well. Both have a somewhat busy exterior shape, with an arc rising from the front end and tapering to the rear. The theme is more dramatic and edgier than the former C-Class, and it's a larger car that looks more expressive and imposing when it's on the road. Inside, the C-Class has a well-organized cabin with large and clear gauges, distinctive-looking door panels, and an audio system that's a little too overwrought with identical black buttons. Somewhat awkwardly, the audio and navigation display is tucked behind a hinged dash panel that sits up while the screen's in use. The Sport wears a three-spoke steering wheel and either matte aluminum, burled walnut, or black maple dash trim in sparing amounts, and it has more drab plastic than the Luxury, which dons burled walnut, chrome, and a four-spoke wheel.
Two V-6 engines provide the C-Class' power. The 2010 C300 offers up a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine, while the C350 Sport antes up a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The C300 has a standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed automatic, but the C350 can only be had with the automatic. The two V-6 engines are fairly similar in performance, but the C350's added power is noticeable under full-throttle acceleration and in more sporting driving. Mercedes-Benz quotes a 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds for the C300, and 6.1 seconds for the C350; both are rated at a 130-mph top speed. TheCarConnection.com's editors haven't experienced the manual-transmission C-Class; the far more common seven-speed automatic shifts cleanly and offers a manual-shift mode for more engaged drivers, but it can feel slow to respond. The C-Class range is primarily rear-wheel drive, but the C300 can be ordered with 4Matic all-wheel drive, which is set with a 45:55 rear torque bias and shifts more torque to the front wheels as the rears begin to slip. Fuel economy checks in at 18/26 mpg for the C300 Luxury and the C300 Sport with the manual transmission; it's 18/25 mpg for the Luxury AWD and the Sport automatic. The C350 is rated at 17/25 mpg.
Handling in this generation of C-Class is greatly improved, and Sport models are ever closer to the standard set by BMW. All C-Class sedans have an Agility Control suspension, which uses mechanical switches to change suspension tautness and reduce body motion, while still giving the C-Class a well-controlled ride. The same Sport/Comfort button that speeds up gearchanges and throttle response feeds more feel into the steering and stiffens the suspension. Even so, steering response is quicker in this new C-Class than in former versions, but it's not quite as direct as BMW's 3-Series. The 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. For 2010, Mercedes-Benz adds a Dynamic Handling Package to the rear-drive Sport sedans; it fits the suspension with electronically controlled shocks, even faster steering, and AMG 18-inch wheels.
Front-seat passengers have plenty of room and wide, flat-bottomed seats at their disposal. The driving position in the 2010 C-Class is quite good, between the telescoping steering wheel, the power driver seat, and the car's tall, glassy cabin. The rear seats still are a significant drawback for full-sized adults, though. Average frames will have enough headroom to be comfortable; taller adults will lean over to fit in, and all rear passengers will find legroom at a premium, even when the front passengers inch forward. The trunk is a little small for its class at 12.4 cubic feet, but interior storage has been bumped up to first class, with a big console, cup holders, door pockets, and a sizable glove box. And aside from some middling trim in the base car, the C-Class's fit and finish benefit from fewer pieces, fewer cutlines, and simpler styling. Both the Sport and the Luxury C-Class models have quiet cabins with good isolation from the road, although you hear the engine when accelerating.
Both NHTSA and the IIHS have tested the 2010 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the results fall a bit shy of what TheCarConnection.com has come to expect from the brand. The federal agency gives it a four-star grade for frontal protection, but five-star ratings in side impact. The IIHS, conversely, calls the C-Class "good" for front-impact protection, but hasn't tested its side-impact strength. All models come equipped with dual front, side, curtain and pelvic airbags, and they offer a rearview camera and rear-seat side airbags.
The 2010 C-Class equipment list leaves few major options on the table. All C-Class sedans come to the United States with Bluetooth connectivity; a power sunroof; dual-zone climate control; power windows/locks/mirrors; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; power front seats; and cruise control. Optional equipment includes a voice-activated navigation system; Sirius Satellite Radio; a 4GB music hard drive; a media interface for iPods and other MP3 players; a DVD entertainment system; a panoramic sunroof; heated seats; xenon headlamps; a keyless ignition system; trunk- or roof-mounted spoilers; and power lumbar adjustments for the seats.