by Davis Adams
Earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz launched its 2014 CLA-Class; a handsome, compact sedan targeted squarely at young professionals and newcomers to the luxury market. Truth be told, the CLA has become a benchmark for entry-level premium cars, making no bones about offering legitimate luxury at a semi-affordable price. However, that space belonged to the larger C-Class, so Mercedes invited CH to Marseille to show us exactly what happens when the youngest kid pushes its older sibling into adulthood.
There’s no question that the 2015 C-Class has come into its own; borrowing design from the brand’s flagship S-Class sedan makes this the most handsome C-Class to date. Gone are the sharp angles and harsh edges of the previous model. Instead, for 2015 we see bowing curves, long, soft lines and a blend of polished aluminums and LEDs that look the part of a small executive sedan. The new car is nearly four inches longer overall—which translates largely to added rear passenger legroom. Mercedes continues to offer two distinctive model choices: sport and luxury. Luxury trim vehicles wear the brand’s elegant, multi-slat grille and hood-mounted ornament; sport models receive the in-grilled three-spoke star, paired with generally bolder styling. The head and tail lamps seem to be nearly matched with the full-size S-Class, with LED lighting components at both ends and identical LED styling motifs. Mercedes also continues to offer a variety of wheel choices.
For the first time in any car, the aerodynamic active grille shutters are outwardly visible on the luxury trim cars. These panels remain closed at speeds under 50 miles per hour, and automatically open to cool the engine at high speeds or warmer temperatures. The shutters match the metallic grille, and they add a significant amount of front-end panache when closed. “So many cars today utilize this technology to decrease aero drag, but no one has ever made a point of displaying it,” says Achim Köhler, head of air panel design. “If Mercedes is going to do something, we’re going to do it beautifully. That goes for our functional pieces, too.”
Inside, the C-Class has made leaps and bounds in distinguishing itself amongst its competitors. In the past, cars like the 3-Series, A4 and C-Class have tried being everything to everybody—attempting to look sporty, but luxurious all at the same time. For 2015, Mercedes has bowed out of that fight and chosen to stake itself firmly in one corner: the C-Class is without question the most luxurious car in its segment. With simple controls and wide expanses of wood (more akin to Bentley than BMW) this midsize sedan looks and feels more expensive than some cars with six-figure prices. The leathers are lovely, the wood trim more so, and the fit and finish throughout the cabin leaves little to want.
Mercedes partnered with Burmester for the audio system, which has exceptional fidelity and even more attractive speaker grilles. If there were a shortcoming worth mentioning, it's within the new infotainment system. While attractive and ergonomically designed, the system itself suffers from an overly complex menu system. Owners will likely get used to the system with practice, but we were left longing for the upcoming integration of Apple CarPlay, where familiar menus and controls would have made the user experience smoother on the road.
Under the hood, Mercedes will offer a variety of engines, ranging from tiny turbo diesels and large, turbocharged V6s, to four-cylinder gasoline engines and plug-in hybrids. At launch, the US will receive the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder C300 with 241-hp and 273-lb-ft of torque, as well as the 3.0-liter turbo-six C400 with 329-hp and 354-lb-ft. There’s definitely a diesel and an AMG model in the future, and the possibility of a hybrid or plug-in hybrid down the line. The chassis also offers four preset drive modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+), as well as a way to personalize a fifth setting to customize suspension and engine responses to your liking.
We had the chance to drive multiple engine configurations from Marseille to Cassis and Aix-en-Provence, and aside from leaving us a little lusty for the coming diesel models, the C400 was our clear favorite. It was behind the wheel of this car that we reaffirmed our belief that the new C-Class focuses itself entirely on moving passengers serenely down the motorway, rather than the white knuckled Autobahn feel of the past. Even with the most powerful engine currently available at our command, the C-Class never felt like it wanted to win a race. Rather, it gently surged forward and transitioned gracefully from lane to lane––always happy, but never hurried. That’s not to say the car isn’t quick; it absolutely rockets down the road. You just won’t feel the adrenaline rush of speeding, which will likely leave you to enjoy the quality of the ride instead.
With that in mind, the C-Class has become less of an alternative for other cars in the segment, and more of an easy decision. If you’re looking for a true luxury car—one that puts comfort and prestige above all else—the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is the only option on the market.
Photos by Davis Adams