German luxury makers were long accused of designing sedans around a “one sausage, three lengths” strategy. But when that recipe is as stunningly rich as the S-Class—the runaway sales leader and longtime benchmark of full-size luxury sedans—then we’ll happily take whatever the chef dishes out. For Mercedes, that smaller portion is the superlative new C-Class. While it’s not inexpensive, starting from $44,600, the C-Class is stuffed with technology, safety and creature comforts directly from the S-Class and other top-shelf Benz models.
That makes the C-Class a remarkable all-around sedan. The C 300, the first of many C-Class models to come, is handsome and fun-to-drive, as quiet and pampering as many larger sedans and absolutely loaded with tech. That includes direct hand-me-downs from the S-Class, such as the stunning MBUX infotainment system, its dual-screen displays, optional augmented reality navigation and head-up display. The redesigned exterior plays up the classic long-hood, cab-rearward proportions of a serious rear-wheel-drive sedan, with all-wheel drive (AWD) a $2,000 option.
All this reinforces the C-Class’ dominance in its class. The Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Genesis G70 are all very strong competitors, but everything inside the C feels truly luxurious and contemporary. The Lexus IS and Alfa-Romeo Giulia seem old in comparison. Tesla’s Model 3 has overtaken the C as the best-selling compact luxury sedan, but it’s a very different animal and its interior feels absurdly austere compared to the lush confines of the Mercedes.
The C-Class’ cabin raises an already high bar for design, luxury and materials, with genuine wood, glossy metals and high-grade leather on ultra-supportive seats. Only Genesis comes close to this level of gilding.The one-time “Baby Benz” is roomier to boot: A subtly lengthened body and wheelbase gives the C-Class the most spacious back seat in its class, with just 0.2-inches less legroom than the larger midsize E-Class. Trunk space remains modest, though split-folding rear seats help boost cargo versatility.
The C 300’s fine balance between sporty performance and creamy composure is another high point. A new powertrain strategy brings exclusively four-cylinder engines, including the C 300’s turbocharged, 2.0-liter engine whose potency belies a mere 255-horsepower rating. Credit a 48-volt mild hybrid system that hustles the C 300 to 60 mph in about 5.3 seconds, and—with a gentle right foot—boosts fuel economy beyond the EPA’s official ratings. We saw better than 40 mpg even at a 70-mph cruise.
S-Class level safety and semi-autonomous features are onboard as well. A new, more-transparent pricing strategy offers three trim levels of the C 300, the Premium, Exclusive and Pinnacle, with a loaded Pinnacle pushing the $60,000 mark. Sadly some features like adaptive cruise control still cost extra. Later in 2022, Mercedes will roll out a 2023 AMG C43 model, with standard all-wheel-drive and a fiery 402 horsepower. The C-Class coupe and convertible continue this year as carry-over models from 2021, but will be replaced next year with a model called the Mercedes-Benz CLE.
By luxury-sedan standards, the Mercedes strikes a delectable balance between fun-to-drive performance, comfort and serenity. The C 300 uses a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine making 255 horsepower, unchanged from the previous base model, though torque rises to 295 pound-feet, up 22 from before. While not so impressive on paper, the all-new engine is an overachieving tech powerhouse, including a slick twin-scroll turbocharger and engine technology developed with Mercedes’ Formula One racing team; and a mild-hybrid system that can supply short-yet-powerful bursts of 20 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of extra torque.
The four-cylinder combines all the best tech from the brand’s new modular engine family for the first time in any Mercedes. So girded, the C 300 can scorch 60 mph in about 5.4 seconds, well below the company’s conservative estimate of 5.9 seconds. Combined with a sophisticated Agility Control suspension and smartly weighted steering, the C-Class is as much a joyful sport sedan as it is a cosseting luxury car. That’s abetted by a fast-acting, paddle-shifted nine-speed automatic transmission.
Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, and optional 19-inch AMG alloys and summer tires lend the Mercedes even more confident grip and control on challenging roads. And if there’s a quieter sedan in this size or price range, we haven’t driven it. For those who want more speed there’s also the fiery 402-horsepower AMG C43 sedan coming, but that model won’t be available until the 2023 model year.
Fuel economy: 14/15
The EPA credits the C 300 with returning 25 city, 35 highway and 29 combined mpg in rear-wheel drive form. AWD C 300s lose 2 mpg in every measure, but both figures are about 2 mpg better on the highway than the previous C-Class sedan. The mild-hybrid powertrain and integrated starter/generator, which delivers nearly unnoticeable engine stop/start functions—including gliding on the highway with the engine off—can deliver fuel economy well beyond EPA estimates.
A 70-mph cruising speed showed us 41 mpg, and the C 300 hung around 37 mpg even after several spirited highway blasts. The excellent paddle-shifted, nine-speed automatic transmission plays its own role, keeping the Benz’s efficient new engine purring at just 1,400 rpm at 70 mph, and 1,700 at 80 mph.Overall, the C 300’s fuel mileage (both estimated and observed) is on par with the Audi A4 and only a hair shy of the BMW 3 Series, but well ahead of Alfa Romeo, Genesis and the Lexus IS.
Safety & Driver Assistance Tech: 13/15
The C-Class’ mimicry of the big S-Class includes a voluminous assortment of Mercedes’ safety and semi-autonomous features, though many are optional. Standard gear includes seven airbags, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive high beams, a drowsy-driver warning and the Pre-Safe system, which included automatic emergency braking. A $1,700 Driver Assistance Package adds a dozen features, including Distronic adaptive cruise control, active brake assist with turning and cross-traffic functions; assists for lane-change, lane-keeping, steering, and speed limit; evasive steering assist, congestion emergency braking and the Pre-Safe Plus system.
As an all-new model, the Mercedes has not yet been crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but it does earn five stars from the European New Car Assessment Program (EuroNCAP) which performs very similar tests to these two agencies.
Comfort and Room: 14/15
Between a library-quiet cabin, an impervious structure and smartly designed, richly upholstered seats, the C 300 is a terrifically comfy partner for even the longest Interstate trips. Longer and wider than before, the new C-Class carves out the most rear legroom in its class, with 36 inches. That’s just 0.2 inches less than the larger E-Class. That rear seat is wide enough for a third passenger, but the stiff center perch may ultimately tax whoever you put back there.
There’s also more elbow and shoulder room in every seating position, and nearly a half-inch more rear headroom. The feeling of cozy warmth and intimacy is boosted by 64-ambient lighting, soft perforated leather, fine wood veneers and softly glowing metals. Among several interior trim options, a rich AMG Sienna Brown goes formal by mating natural-grain wood with real aluminum pinstriping, another nod to the car’s S-Class parentage.
Inherited from the S-Class, the C 300’s knockout MBUX system ranks among the industry’s most advanced infotainment systems, and certainly among the most dramatic. A freestanding, 12.3-inch driver’s display is complemented by an 11.9-inch center multimedia screen that’s angled six degrees toward the driver. This a very impressive system, although there’s a great deal to learn.
To keep drivers focused on their task rather than flipping through screen menus, MBUX features a “zero layer” design. There’s always a map view in sight, including eye-popping, Google-style 3D renderings. Those are underpinned by main “module” tiles and new customized “magic modules” that helpfully learn and respond to a driver’s behavior. First-time passengers are reliably dazzled by optional Augmented Reality navigation, which a tech showpiece superimposes helpful directional arrows, street signs and even hovering house/business addresses over a real-time camera view.
Siri-style voice commands are better than ever, including reliably responding to requests to find addresses, restaurants and other destinations. Digital music services are now integrated into MBUX, over-the-air updates are onboard; wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
Cargo space and storage: 11/15
Most compact luxury sedans are nothing special in cargo-hauling, and the C-Class is no different. Yet the Mercedes has enough luggage room for parents and roughly 1.5 children. That includes a 12.6 cubic-foot trunk that’s long and wide, but shallow from top-to-bottom, including its opening. Split-folding rear seats help matters, with two manual switches in the trunk that drop seats mostly flat. If cargo space really matters, BMW and especially Tesla offer much more, but the C 300 is about average among its competitors.
The clamshell-opening center console, door pockets and glovebox are generous. Along with front cupholders, a small cubby rests below a faux carbon-fiber lid, with a wireless device charger that’s welcome; yet tricky to extricate a phone from, especially for drivers with big hands.
Mercedes plays up the C-Class’ classic rear-wheel drive sedan proportions by pushing the passenger area further toward rear wheels. That “cab backward” design heightens the impression of a lengthy, power-domed hood. C-Class fans can no longer get an optional, traditional Mercedes hood ornament. But the three-pointed star appears on a tastefully-sized, A-shaped radiator grille.
For $3,050, a worthwhile, optional AMG Line with Night Package puts a constellation of chromed Mercedes stars across that grille. The package also reshapes front and rear bodywork and exhaust outlets; with side rocker-panel extensions, a sport suspension and steering, brushed aluminum pedals, MB Tex synthetic leather stitched onto the dash, and perforated brake discs with brand-logo calipers.
Is the 2022 C Class Worth it? Which C-Class is the Best Value?
The C-Class isn’t cheap even it does undercut Tesla and the Audi A5 Sportback, but its all-around style, luxury, performance and technology offerings make it seem worth the slight premium over competitors from BMW, Alfa and Lexus. For now, the C-Class is only available in C 300 form, with high-performance AMG Sport and full AMG versions in the works.
For the C 300, a simplified 2022 lineup features three rising trim levels—Premium, Exclusive and Pinnacle—with a smaller list of stand-alone options. A C 300 Premium starts from $44,600. For a richer experience, we’d choose the mid-range Exclusive at $48,650, and sprinkle on just a smattering of options. Unless you’re living in frigid, icy climes, we’d skip the $2,000 upcharge for 4Matic AWD.
The C-Class Coupe and Convertible are still available in 2022, but ride the platform of the previous-generation model and will be replaced next year. The two-door variations are quite a bit more luxurious than the BMW 4 Series or Audi A5 two-doors, and come with powertrain options similar to the old C-Class and AMG C43. Last year’s review offers more insight into these machines. The AMG C63 coupe and convertible are no longer on sale.
How Much Does it Cost to Insure the Mercedes-Benz C-Class?
The C-class’ insurance costs are about average among its competitors. According to our data, the average 30-year-old female driver with a good record can expect an average annual premium of $2,665, though coupe and convertible versions cost a couple hundred dollars more. That compares to $2,744 for the BMW 330e, $2,828 for Audi’s A4 Quattro Prestige, $2,960 for the Alfa Giulia Sprint $2,960 and $2,259 for the Acura TLX SH-AWD. To get a more accurate picture of your potential insurance expenses, see our car insurance calculator.