In a world where luxury cars are getting smaller and mainstream cars are getting more sophisticated, and in which competing models drive so much alike that choosing one often boils down to a preference in aesthetics, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a refreshing departure from the norm.
“Value” is Relative
A luxury car in name and price only, our sample C250 Sport was priced at $39,185 and had four options: satellite radio ($460), metallic paint ($720), 18-inch AMG wheels ($1,040), and a basic navigation system ($1,290). It did not have leather, or a driver’s seat with more than six-way adjustment, or heated front seats, or keyless entry and push-button ignition, or a premium sound system, or real-time traffic and weather, or a reversing camera, or blind-spot assist, or lane keeping assist, or parking assist. It didn’t even have a split-folding rear seat. And yet, the sticker price was $39,185.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Changes
Be that as it may, the Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport is nice little car even when stripped down to its essentials. Upgrades for 2015 include new front and rear styling; a new dashboard, center console, and steering wheel; a new high-resolution color in-dash display screen; Attention Assist drowsy driver detection; and a Blind Spot Assist feature that our test car did not include.
Mercedes C250 Gets New Turbo 4-Cylinder Engine
What we wanted to sample, however, was the new turbocharged and direct-injected 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that’s now standard in the new C250 models. It’s rated to make 201 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 229 pound-feet of torque from 2,200 to 4,300 rpm, and drives the rear wheels through a new seven-speed automatic with Efficiency and Sport modes. Mercedes says it gets the 3,428-lb. C-Class to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds while returning 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.
We believe that acceleration figure. In fact, the C250 feels quicker than that thanks to the broad peak torque plateau. But in mixed driving our test car returned just 22.2 mpg. Frankly, we expected better than that. Maybe the problem is a mid-size curb weight applied to a compact car.
The Difference Between Sport and Luxury
When you buy a C-Class, you have a choice between choosing a Sport model or a Luxury model. The Sport model includes unique wheels, a different grille, and a sport-tuned suspension that delivers a firm, stiff ride quality. If you don’t want to feel every bump in the road, I strongly urge you to consider the Luxury model, which features a traditional Mercedes grille and stand-up hood ornament.
The C250 Sport Model is Confident at Speed
If you decide to go ahead and get the Sport model, you’ll find that it is exceptionally stable at speed, so much so that it would be easy to lose your license by owning one. On numerous occasions I found myself traveling slightly faster than surrounding traffic. Problem was, surrounding traffic was going 80 mph. I was doing 90. It felt like 60.
Not only is the C250 Sport rock solid when approaching triple-digit cruising speeds, its also quiet inside. Part of the credit goes to a slippery 0.27 coefficient of drag. This calm within the cabin, combined with the new interior design and a substantial feel from behind the wheel, make the refreshed C-Class quite enjoyable to drive.
Get this car out onto a favorite twisty road, and the handling, brakes, and steering all prove to be excellent. Like any good German-engineered car, the C-Class comes alive when traveling writhing ribbons of road, and while this Benz may lack the intimate connection between your central nervous system and the mechanical hardware that is fostered by a BMW 3 Series, it certainly feels solidly and securely planted.
Adaptive Transmission is Like a Stick in the Spokes
Where there’s room for improvement is with regard to the C250’s new seven-speed automatic transmission. This is a sophisticated piece of equipment, perhaps too much so. It features “driver-adaptive logic” that “tunes the shift patterns to your current driving style.” Most of the time, it works well and the C250 drives exactly as you would expect.
Unfortunately, if you change your driving style, such as when punching it to merge into dense, rapid-moving traffic, or when trying to take advantage of a small window of opportunity when turning left across traffic, or when entering a population center after several miles of blasting along mountain roads, the transmission simply seems to be confused about what it should be doing.
The problem is exacerbated by the transmission’s Efficiency and Sport modes. Default is Efficiency. If you want Sport, you need to remember to press the button every time you restart the car. As its name suggests, Efficiency attempts to maximize fuel economy as much as possible, which means frequent upshifts coupled with downshifts only if really necessary. Sport mode helps resolve this issue, but when activated frequently dumps the powertrain right into the thick of the turbocharged engine’s torque curve, sometimes producing far more forward thrust than is anticipated.
The C-Class is Definitely Small
Remaining complaints about the C-Class center around the baby Benz’s updated cabin. It definitely looks more upscale than it used to, especially when rendered in black. The standard MB-Tex leatherette upholstery passes for leather, and, for the most part, we didn’t miss any of the expensive option packages that are available for this car.
That said, the C-Class is still small inside. How small? Let’s put it this way. My toddler typically cannot stretch her legs far enough to kick the back of my seat in most test cars. She had no trouble doing so in the C250.
Other Gripes and Complaints
In standard format, the C250 includes a six-way power driver’s seat. The driver cannot adjust thigh support, which means he or she is forced to choose between sitting low with proper leg support, or high in a position that feels like you’re falling toward the steering wheel. The seat itself is very comfortable. The positioning is not.
Ergonomically, there are a couple of blunders. The first is the turn signal stalk and cruise control stalk arrangement that Mercedes insists upon using. Both stalks are located on the left side of the steering column, and they control the cruise, turn signals, wipers, high-beam headlights, and washers. Invariably, drivers accidentally set the cruise control just when they’re approaching a turn and need to start braking.
The other problem is that Mercedes uses little red indicator lights to display temperature settings for the manual dual-zone climate system. These little red indicator lights are invisible to the driver. If you want to know what temperature you’ve selected, look away from the road, bend down, and examine the tiny little light while hoping nobody stops in front of you.