Next year, Mercedes-Benz will reveal the all-new version of its best-selling car, the C-Class, and already the suits from Stuttgart have started to bang the war drums. The BMW 3 Series remains the monster in the closet for the Mercedes C-Class, but then there’s also the not too shabby Audi A4/A5, Cadillac ATS, and a future Jaguar XS lineup that will no doubt rock a bit.
Mercedes has decided that the best way to defeat these worthy rivals is with…perfume.
I jest, but the point is that, as on the new S-class, Mercedes must vastly improve the interior quality appeal of the C-Class. The goal was to develop an interior passenger experience that feels light years more inviting than a severe schoolmarm smacking you with a sobering ruler on the knuckles becoss it ees gut for you. So, as a preview, Mercedes let me play in various trim levels of their new C-Class interior — a space that could easily be mistaken for a modern sculpture garden.
Per the aforementioned suits, the new C-Class will be built “to set the bar higher in this highly competitive segment” and claim to be “lighter weight, more fuel efficient, but yet more luxurious, powerful and sporty."
Saying that the C-Class interior upgrades from the current economy class into business class is such a tired expression, but valid. I liked sitting in the more stylized and easily comprehended front-passengers zone of the longer, wider C-Class, now code-named W205. Gone are the multitudinous buttons that have been damning all C-Class interiors for years, including the archaic push-button phone interface of the center stack.
The Comand onboard system now works exclusively via a touch pad that rests perfectly in the palm of your right hand as you place it naturally on the center console, with a rotary menu-navigating wheel incorporated within this cool unit. The whole approach is no less than brilliant, and I played with it on their special display for about thirty minutes before they shooed me away. This new system’s standard screen is a seven-inch diameter display, but if you opt for all of the online connectivity the screen grows to 8.4 inches in diameter. (None of the displays is a touch screen, a wise nod to reducing distracted driving.)
As for perfumes: The Air Balance package allows me to choose between four fragrances tucked away in the glovebox – and Mercedes insists that they are subtle though my S-class experience tells me otherwise. The four “moods” are: Freestyle (Chlorine?), Nightlife (Men’s bathroom?), Downtown (Taxi exhaust?), and Sports (Sweat maybe?). A C-Class for every nose.
I don’t know about you, but I need five available suspension setups to choose from the factory, too, darnit. Not kidding; Merc is laying out five all-new calibrations to go with the all-independent suspension schemes front and rear on this new half-aluminum chassis for the C-Class. There's the standard steel spring suspension if you are poor, then there's a comfort version of that one, then a base Direct Control setup with selective damping, a six-tenths of an inch lowered sport version of this one, then the almighty five-mode Airmatic suspension front and rear.
There are also a few engine and power facts and figures out there. Mercedes launched a new nine-speed automatic transmission with the latest S-Class and the C-Class gets its version of this. This is not just numbers for numbers' sake; the shifts are much smoother than with fewer gears and the fuel efficiency gains are perceptible. The Germans say that each new C-Class trim for trim is some 20 percent more fuel efficient than the ones we are currently looking at on dealer lots. Not only does the gearing help this way, but the 220 fewer pounds of weight help as well.
For North America, when the new C-Class arrives in mid-2014, there will be the usual range of gas four- and six-cylinder engines in revamped form, and later a gas hybrid version and a full-on plug-in electric — just as with the new E- and S-Class rollouts. As for the strategy for the next C-Class AMG unit? There is a new 470-hp AMG-designed and built 4.0-liter twin turbo that reportedly crushes the torque oomph figures of even the current C63 AMG’s V8. It also already flattens the numbers from the upcoming BMW M3/M4 and Europe-only RS4 Avant.
Does all that sound like the new C-Class honestly can say that it “raises the bar in this competitive segment?" Pricing comes later on, but they’re saying they won’t raise them much at all. Sure looks like a high bar a-comin’.