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2018 Mercedes-Benz C Class Review

2018 Mercedes-Benz C Class Review
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Very expensive and still not very large, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class nonetheless leads its luxury niche with fabulous style and fantastic power and grip.

The 2018 Mercedes C-Class reminds us that while a pretty face and lots of grip can grab our attention, beautiful cars with great all-around performance and utility are the cars we want to drive, and to keep.

The C-Class remains among our favorite cars in its pricey segment, whether it’s a convertible, a coupe, or a sedan. There’s no C-Class we wouldn’t own, which is why it still earns a 7.5 out of 10, three years since it launched. 

With a striking profile in any body style, the 2018 C-Class drops some S-Class references on its way to a distinctive profile. It swings the taste scale wildly from illuminated logos to discrete LED running lights to its abbreviated tail. It’s unabashedly gorgeous inside, with its waterfall console slathered in wood or aluminum, its big round vents—even with the misstep of a tacked-on digital display.

Power for the basic C300 comes from a 241-horsepower turbo-4, combined with a new 9-speed automatic and rear- or all-wheel drive. It can run to 60 mph in about 5.8 seconds, and when fitted with an available air suspension, can round off the worst road rash while locking down firmly in corners, maybe a bit too firmly.

A low-volume plug-in hybrid version adds a small battery pack and a plug in the rear bumper, but its green credentials are muted: it only delivers 8 miles of EPA-rated continuous electric range and combined fuel economy that’s only about 10 percent higher.

The Mercedes-AMG C43 antes up with a 362-hp twin-turbo V-6 with the push to hit 60 mph in under five seconds. With its 9-speed automatic, AMG-tuned suspension and driver-selectable settings, it’s an everyday thriller to drive, with just enough suspension compliance to keep it from track-only use. That’s the job of the bonkers, twin-turbo V-8-powered C63. With up to 503 hp, the C63 cars hammer to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds or less, can hit 180 mph depending on the body style, and can precisely carve through challenging roads with hardly a pause.

The C-Class cabin is lush but not particularly spacious. Even base non-leather seats have ample padding, though the AMG-induced buckets cup us better. In the sedans the Benz C-Class doesn’t have the rear seat knee or leg room of larger rivals like the 3-Series, and the trunk is on the small end.

Crash-test ratings have been mixed, too. The five-star NHTSA ratings have some four-star tests in their transcripts. The C-Class does have the latest safety tech on the options list, and a rearview camera comes standard.

Other standard features can be upgraded to include the futzy COMAND interface, a lovely Burmester sound system, various grades of leather, navigation, LED headlights, even an in-car fragrance dispenser (think No. 5, not Renuzit). In AMG-land, the C-Class can add performance sport seats, fancy wheels, and LED headlights.

Coupes are best to our eyes, but the 2018 Mercedes C-Class family doesn’t have any member they’d Photoshop out of holiday pics.

Whether a convertible, a coupe, or a sedan, the C-Class takes the best cues from the Mercedes family stylebook, and wraps them around a sleek interior that fairly glows with good taste.

It’s just wonderful, in other words. It’s an 8 on our style scale.

In profile, the C-Class bears a strong resemblance to larger Mercedes sedans, but its shorter body and abbreviated trunk distinguish it from those cars, not to mention from angular ATS sedans and other rivals.

The details matter less to the C-Class’ overall impression of fluidity. The LED lines over the headlights frame the front end nicely along with large low-set air intakes. The streamlined nose blends into slightly flared fenders, on back to the softly curved tail that’s strongly cued after the S-Class.

On AMG models, Benz applies even larger air intakes, matte-silver trim, petite spoilers, even gloss-black trim if you like. Mercedes will remove all the badging if you like; they’ll also light the three-pointed star on the grille. The topography of taste on this car could fill Rand McNally’s pages.

If you’re like us, you’ll admire the stunning cabin Benz has put together. The C-Class has a waterfall-style stack of controls at its middle; big circular vents, and a dash that arcs around the cabin, wrapped in carbon-fiber, aluminum, or woods that include a particularly handsome open-pore grain. The free-standing display tacked on the dash isn’t particularly rich-looking but doesn’t detract too much from the knockout sweep of shapes.

AMG models wear sueded nappa or standard leather on the seats, paired with a choice of trim that ranges from piano-black plastic to carbon-fiber to light-toned wood. Seat belts can be red, black, silver (current mood: red).

The 2018 Mercedes C-Class can bend to the road ahead, or it can warp your mind.

Mercedes sells the C-Class with a choice of four different engines and outputs, with a steel or an air suspension, with rear- or all-wheel drive.

There’s not one we’d turn down for a drive, though the warm fuzzy feelings obviously grow warmer and fuzzier with the AMG badges.

However, we rate it here based on the most common version, the base turbo-4. We think that’s worth at least a 7 for performance, with AMG versions dialing that upward.

The C-Class starts as a C300, in any body style. The 2.0-liter turbo-4 under its hood churns out 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, and this year it teams with a new 9-speed automatic. Mercedes says its 0-60 mph times fall by a couple of ticks to 5.8 seconds, but what’s harder to describe is how light-footed even the base Benz C300 feels. It’s blessed with some of the whizzy, wonderful feel of the small CLA45 AMG, with lots of low-end boost and instant-on power. The crackly exhaust isn’t there, and neither is the high-rev frenzy, but the C300 pulls strongly for what’s ostensibly a base model, and sends power to either the rear or all four wheels.

The long-mooted Mercedes-Benz C350e plug-in hybrid mates the 2.0-liter turbo-4 with electrons to produce 275 combined hp. We haven't yet had a chance to drive this model, and the EPA hasn’t rated it, and Mercedes hasn’t priced it.

The Mercedes-Benz C350e plug-in hybrid sandwiches a 60-kilowatt (80-hp) electric motor between the 2.0-liter turbo-4 engine and a 7-speed automatic transmission, for a combined power of 275 hp. It doesn't provide electric idle creep with the engine off at stops, which takes a bit of getting used to. It offers some electric acceleration, but not a lot. When more than medium power is required—including every highway on-ramp—it routinely switches on the engine.
The EPA rates the C350e’s range at just 8 miles of continuous electric range, 9 miles total, and its fuel economy is only about 10 percent higher than the C300. We weren’t impressed.

C43 and C63 AMGs
The AMG C43 edition puts a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 on the table. With 362 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, it’s a potent piece that catapults the C-Class to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, with grunty, willing acceleration in just about any of its nine forward gears. The muted engine note balances exhaust and induction sounds without revealing too much of the V-6 roots; the AMG whuffle’s a classic soundtrack for what it can do with its standard rear-wheel drive. An available all-wheel-drive system sets a 33/67 torque bias, and offers electronic torque vectoring across the rear wheels.

Go bonkers, you say? That would be the C63 edition. In lower-output trim, its twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 pumps out 469 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, channeled to the rear wheels through the only 7-speed paddle-shifted dual-clutch transmission in the C-Class family. In higher-output S editions, it’s good for 503 hp, 516 lb-ft, a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds, and a 155-mph top speed. Backed by a sonorous V-8 soundtrack, its signature snarl draws envious looks from other enthusiasts. It’s a tire-smoker of the first order.

C-Class ride and handling
Today’s C-Class has made up all the ground it used to give up to cars like the BMW 3-Series and Cadillac ATS. Its electric variable ratio-steering gives precise feel and real feedback, and has a quick ratio.

Under the sheet metal, the C-Class rides on an independent suspension that can be upgraded from steel coils to air springs and a continuously damping set of shocks with selectable settings.

Through all its modes—Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Sport+ modes—the air suspension delivers a smooth and comfortable ride without much body lean. That keeps the car flat even in very tight corners, which runs a bit counter to the usual luxury-car idiom. It’s appropriate for a sport sedan, which you’ll be in once you choose the AMG C43 or C63 twins.

The AMG models are an entirely different notion. In our most recent drives of the AMG-engineered C63 S Coupe, we found they have even better steering thanks to a wider track and retuned power assist with real heft.

Perhaps its greatest strength is a fairly supple ride quality that makes it easy to live with every day. The ride’s constantly adjusted through variable dampers, while a power split of 33/67 on the C43 varies constantly through an electronic locking differential. The C63 powers the rear wheels, as nature intended. The AMGs also get upsized brakes, while the C43 also has five transmission modes including a true manual, rev-matching mode, as well as a sport exhaust for a muscular note.

The Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, 255/35ZR19 up front and 285/30ZR20 in the rear on the C63 S (the C63 gets 19s all around) have plenty of contact patch and provide good grip, but their compound isn’t as sticky as the same tires on the Cadillac ATS-V.

As a whole, the AMG cars are much more tied together, much more crisp than the standard non-AMG C-Class range—and more than the competition from BMW.

Comfort & Quality
Rear-seat space is scant in some models, but the 2018 Mercedes C-Class lavishes attention on the cabin.

The current C-Class is more a mid-size car than a compact, having grown up and out since the arrival of the smaller CLA-Class cars.

The sedan’s back seat still isn’t as large as some rivals, and coupes and convertibles trade off space to their sexy roofs.

We give the C a point for fit and finish, and one for spiffy front seats, for a 7 here.

C-Class sedans ride on a 111.8-inch wheelbase, and sit 184.5 inches long, according to the spec sheet. The mid-size dimensions are far down on the list of things you’ll notice. The excellent front seats have extending thigh bolsters, power adjustment, and good mid-back support. On AMG models, grippy, sueded sport seats power-adjust their headrests and thigh bolsters, for a perfect position in front of the flat-bottom, three-spoke steering wheel.

Back-seat space is just average in the sedan. The C-Class has gained on its previous generation in that regard, but there still isn’t enough leg or knee room for anyone taller than 6 feet. The doors are cut in such a way to make it tougher to get in, too. Coupes have even less shoulder room and more difficult entry to the back seat, while convertibles have the least shoulder room of all.

In-car storage is fine, but the C-Class trunk isn’t very large, at 12.6 cubic feet for the sedan. Coupes have 10.5 cubic feet, convertibles 8.8 cubes. At least the sedan has fold-down rear seatbacks that grant the space to carry longer objects.

You’ll sit lower in the C-Class, and the height of the door sills is offset somewhat by a lower dash. We like the combination of outward vision and security. The cabin feels tightly fitted and quiet, too, with excellent isolation of wind noise.

With the C-Class, Mercedes has a plethora of safety technology, with a dip or two in crash-test scores.

Crash-test scores aren’t perfect in the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but it’s equipped with lots of technology that can help avoid crashes.

The NHTSA gives the current C-Class a five-star overall rating, but in its individual tests, the four-star ratings for passenger-side protection are worth noting.

The IIHS says the C-Class is “Good” in all crash tests, but its headlights are “Poor.” That has earned it a Top Safety Pick, not a Top Safety Pick+—though the agency will update its scoring for 2018.

All C-Class cars get a rearview camera and a driver knee airbag. Forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking also are included on all models. Options include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control systems that can follow vehicles ahead of the C-Class in traffic and can apply the car’s brakes to correct lane drift.

Surround-view cameras, active park assist, and a head-up display are also on the option list.

Spend yourself silly in the 2018 Mercedes C-Class, if you like—or conserve cash with well-equipped base models.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class comes in a sometimes bewildering array of models, but we’ll break it down for you like this: sedan, coupe or convertible. Each comes with a choice of turbo-4, turbo V-6, or turbo V-8 engines, rear- or all-wheel drive, and each comes with an automatic transmission.

Beyond that dazzling display of niche-marketing firepower, the C-Class also has an excellent set of standard and optional features, and great customization potential. Its infotainment system puzzles us, and its 4-year/50,000-mile warranty is solid, but outdone by rivals.

We give it an 8 for features. 

Prices range from about $41,000 for a C300 sedan to more than $82,000 for an AMG C63 S convertible. All versions get a minimum level of standard equipment that suits the price and prestige levels. Those features include cruise control, power features, a power driver seat, a rearview camera, a 7.0-inch display with touchpad-based infotainment control, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and a USB port. Sedans and coupes also get a sunroof, and two-doors get 18-inch wheels and wood trim.

The options list jumps from leather (synthetic leather is standard on base models) to a power passenger seat, to navigation and an 8.4-inch display, to LED headlights, to a head-up display, even an in-car fragrance dispenser like the one found on the S-Class cars.

The custom-dress kits include nappa leather, sport seats, AMG-style wheels and bodywork, and choice of metal, leather, and wood trim.

Infotainment and technology

A smartphone integration kit leads off the infotainment wave in the C-Class, but most cars will come with the COMAND user interface. It stitches together the radio, smartphone, and navigation functions and displays them on a bright dash-mounted, non-touchscreen display. The system accepts inputs by voice, steering-wheel controls, or the console-mounted, touch-sensitive control pad.

The touch interface just can’t match the integration of a touchscreen. It doesn’t scroll smoothly, offers too many command paths with too many steps, and doesn’t have the effective input of a similar setup, like Audi’s MMI.

The balm for this wound is a stunning Burmester sound system. It’s an expensive option but comes with cut-metal speaker screens and symphonic sound with crisp highs and resonant lows.

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Mercedes C-Class earns good EPA numbers; the plug-in doesn’t add much.

Of all the powertrains offered in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class for 2018, the standard turbo-4’s the most efficient.

Based on its EPA ratings, we give the lineup a 7 for fuel economy.

The long-promised C350e plug-in hybrid joined the lineup in January 2017, though it’s marketed in only a handful of states. Frankly, it doesn’t add a lot: the EPA-rated electric range is just 8 continuous miles, 9 miles total, due to its tiny 6.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack, charged via a plug in the rear bumper. Worse yet, its combined fuel economy is 30 mpg, only incrementally better than the C300 sedan at 24 mpg city, 33 highway, 27 combined. With all-wheel drive, the numbers fall to 23/32/26 mpg. We’ve seen numbers above 30 mpg in mixed driving, too.

Minus its extra pair of doors, and sometimes its roof, the C-Class Coupe or Convertible post lower figures with the turbo-4. The C-Class convertible carries an EPA rating of 22/29/25 mpg, while the Coupe’s numbers are set at 22/30/25 mpg.

Step into the heady AMG models, and gas mileage drops considerably. AMG C43 sedans check in at 20/27/23 mpg. The Coupe suffers a 1-mpg penalty on the combined cycle, at 22 mpg; the convertible falls to 19/26/22 mpg for the convertible.

At the peak of performance, the AMG C63 S sedan has EPA ratings of 18/24/20 mpg, while coupes are calculated at 17/23/19 mpg and convertibles, at 17/22/19 mpg.

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