Maneuvering around the northern suburbs of New York can be a disheartening experience, simply finding my way out of Newark Airport and onto the New Jersey Turnpike fraught with peril, between sudden merges and vanishing lanes. But, as I approach one frustratingly complex interchange I suddenly receive a helping hand: a series of blue arrows that appear to be floating in thin air, pointing out the right place to make my turn.
Decades after Mercedes introduced the original “Baby Benz” in a bid to win over first-time luxury buyers, what’s now called the C-Class has grown into an attractive, surprisingly roomy and technologically sophisticated sedan.
I recently headed east to check out the next-generation C-Class, spending several days driving the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300, one of two new versions. And after clocking plenty of miles I realize buyers who automatically focus their attention on SUVs and CUVs might be missing a much better option.
Originally launched in 1982 as the Mercedes-Benz 190 and widely known as the “Baby Benz,” today’s Mercedes C-Class has become both larger and more lavish with each passing generation. The C-Class is no longer the entry point to the Mercedes brand, either. That duty has shifted to other models like the A-Class and CLA. The repositioned C-Class can now more directly tackle competing products like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Genesis G70.
What was once a no-frills sedan is now equipped with all the hallmarks of luxury, from leather, wood and refined metals, to an assortment of high-tech features such as the augmented reality navigation system that helped me avoid getting lost during my visit to New York. Much of the technology has been borrowed from the latest-generation S-Class itself redesigned just last year.
With more and more luxury buyers shifting away from sedans in favor of SUVs, Mercedes has simplified the C-Class line-up, but buyers still have some reasonable choices with the fifth-generation model (the sixth, if you include the original Mercedes 190). That starts with the C 300 which is available in either rear- or all-wheel-drive configuration. For 2023, the more sporty Mercedes-AMG C 43 rolls out. And other variants may yet follow.
Yet again, the redesigned C-Class has grown bigger than the outgoing model, adding 2.5 inches in overall length, at 187.00 inches. It’s also a bit wider, though a half-inch lower. Today’s version isn’t much different in size when compared to the mid-range E-Class sedan of the 1980s. With a widened track and tires of 18 or 19 inches, the sedan has a more sporty stance than the outgoing C-Class.
If anything, the new look is more in tune with the latest-generation S-Class launched last year. That starts with a “cab-rearward” design that puts emphasis on a long hood emphasizing the sedan’s power and sportiness. That’s further accentuated by a new, A-shaped grille with a star-shaped pattern, as well as power bulges on the hood.
Virtually all key details have been tweaked or more aggressively redesigned, from the narrower headlights to the two-piece horizontal taillights.
Inside, the new C-Class picks up on the increasingly high-tech design theme of the S-Class. There are, of course, plenty of traditional luxury features, like leather, wood and metal trim, but the instrument panel is anchored by a floating 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and an 11.9-inch infotainment touchscreen.
That screen is now angled slightly toward the driver and, explains Mercedes, “The portrait orientation of the central screen is particularly advantageous for full-screen navigation, further enhancing the driver experience.”
For the longest time, Mercedes resisted touchscreen technology, motorists relying instead on a console-mounted controller for the Comand infotainment system. With the new MBUX, everything is done by touch or by voice with an Alexa-like assistant always listening for the wake words, “Hey, Mercedes.” There are a handful of touch controls on the center stack and the new flat-bottomed steering wheel. Some are capacitive touch, notably for setting the speed of the cruise control.
Some take a bit of time to get comfortable with, but the system generally works quite well.
That said, I’d have liked to see Mercedes maintain the rotary controller as I continue to find them easier to use while driving than trying to hit the right spot on a touchscreen.
Mercedes simplified the C-Class line-up, at least for now. Only two versions of the sedan will be available in U.S. showrooms this model year — the C 300 and the C 300 4Matic — though additional options come later, starting in 2023 with the Mercedes-AMG C 43.
I spent my time in the C 300 4Matic. It features a new, 2.0-liter engine with an integrated mild hybrid system — the first time that technology Mercedes has paired a 48-volt integrated starter/generator with a 4-cylinder engine. The package punches out a nominal 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
But, beyond yielding better mileage, the hybrid system allows for a boost mode, kicking in an additional 20 hp and 148 lb-ft for brief bursts. That added muscle delivers a kick-in-the-pants launch feel, but also adds some welcome power during high-speed passes. The C-Class, claims Mercedes, can hit 60 in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph.
Mercedes has yet to release final EPA fuel economy numbers but signaled we should see an improvement from the 2021 model’s 24 mpg city, 33 highway rating.
The mild hybrid powertrain is paired with a silky smooth 9-speed automatic. Barring a multi-gear kickdown during a pass, or when coming out of a corner, you’re likely not going to even notice when it shifts. Buyers have the option to direct power to the rear wheels or, with the C 300 4Matic, send it to all four, the all-wheel-drive system likely to be the package of choice in snowy climes.
For those wanting peak performance, the 2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43 will follow soon after the launch of the fifth-generation C-Class. It will share its powertrain with the SL 43 Roadster which, in turn, borrowed the Nanoslide technology developed for the Mercedes Formula 1 program to reduce engine friction. The hand-built 2.0-liter inline-4 will produce a peak 402 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque — enough to launch it from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. Top speed for the C 43, meanwhile, jumps to 165 mph.
Safety and Technology
The MBUX infotainment system controls virtually everything, but it’s more Alexa than Hal 9000 (for those of you familiar with the all-powerful AI-powered computer in the movie, “2001: a Space Odyssey”).
The system can be highly effective when it works right. It lets you program a destination in plain English, adjust the temperature or check the weather, much like Amazon’s voice assistant. That said, there are times when the system won’t open the pod bay doors. Driving through New York’s Hudson Valley, I said, “Hey, Mercedes, where are we?” hoping to find the name of a charming town I was passing through. Instead, the system responded by canceling my pre-set navi route.
The augmented reality system is another case where it’s great when it works — and it does that well almost all the time. But it was a little off in terms of where those floating arrows pointed at least once during my drive. And I was unexpectedly advised to exit the freeway once, only to be told to turn around and get right back on.
These are smaller quibbles than they might seem. The new technology onboard my C 300 proved quite impressive, on the whole.
As for safety, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 boasts a large array of advanced driver assistance systems. That now includes Active Distance Assist Distronic, Active Steering Assist and Active Lane Change Assist. The new C-Class can maintain its speed, keep a safe distance from other cars, and hold and stay in its own lane on multi-lane roadways.
That’s a feature that falls just short of hands-free driving. It, nonetheless, eases the strain on both long trips and when crawling along in traffic, as I came to appreciate during my two days of driving on the crowded local roads close to New York City, as well as the freeways heading upstate.
From a driver’s perspective, the 2022 C 300 has evolved nicely. It is a delightfully comfortable long-distance cruiser, with more in common with the S-Class than the original Baby Benz and other early-generation C-Class sedans. The plush yet supportive seats made the miles pass with little strain, especially when the massage function was turned on.
The new mild hybrid powertrain was more than up to the task, making easy work of passing, even at extra-legal speeds. Its broad torque band, along with its hybrid boost, added a new level of performance that was easy to appreciate when launching off a stop light — and when coming out of a tight corner on some of the back roads I traveled upstate.
Steering proved a real strong point, especially after switching the “Dynamic” setting to Sport mode. That helped the sedan hunker down and deliver the sort of cornering capabilities that might surprise owners of past-generation C-Class models. While not quite as sporty as a BMW 3 Series or Genesis G70, the C 300 was competent, confidence-building and lots of fun to exercise on those twisty rural New York State roads.
2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 Specifications
|Dimension||L: 187 inches/W: 71.1 inches/H: 56.6 inches/Wheelbase: 112.8 inches|
|Powertrain||2.0-liter bi-turbo inline 4-cylinder, 9-speed automatic transmission|
|Performance Specs||255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $44,600; As tested: N/A|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
Baby, baby, how Mercedes’ original entry-level sedan has transformed itself. The 2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 is an attractive, sporty and well-equipped sedan. In an era when luxury buyers continue to migrate to SUVs and CUVs, the C 300 provides reason to remain a fan of four-door designs.
And while the new model’s base price has gone up nearly $2,000, to start at $44,600, it’s still an impressive and affordable way to get into the luxury segment.
For a bit more power — and even more luxurious appointments, stay tuned for the arrival of the C 43 for the 2023 model year. But for most buyers, the C 300 provides pretty much anything you might ask for in a compact luxury sedan.
2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 — Frequently Asked Questions
How much does the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class cost?
The base price of the C 300 is $44,600, a $1,950 increase over the outgoing model. The C 43 will start at $60,500.
What engine is in the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class?
There are two versions of the 2022 Mercedes C-Class. The “entry” model is the C 300 with a new, 2.0-liter engine with an integrated 48-volt mild hybrid assist system. It produces a nominal 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
Is the Mercedes C-Class reliable?
Mercedes, in general, ranks mid-pack in both the J.D. Power Initial Quality and Vehicle Dependability studies. That holds for the C-Class line in particular.