Even those who don't know much about automobiles associate the three-pointed star with engineering excellence and superb construction. While it's true that Mercedes-Benz let quality slip at the beginning of the decade (largely due to electronics reliability), its current offerings show a return to the company's long-standing glory. A solid example would be the 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which provides much of the luxury, performance and refinement of its large-size sedan siblings but in a more affordable package.
Within the C-Class lineup, buyers can choose from three very distinct versions of this compact sedan. The C300 Luxury offers a plush, quiet ride along with a few classic styling cues such as the traditional Mercedes grille with its stand-up hood ornament. The C300 Sport and C350 Sport models cater to the driving enthusiast with a firmer suspension, a Mercedes SL-style grille, LED running lights and darker wood accents within the cabin. The C63, Mercedes' answer to BMW's M3, is in another league altogether with its thundering 451-horsepower V8, ultra sport-tuned suspension and aggressively bolstered sport seats.
Whichever version you consider, the C-Class will impress you with excellent fit and finish, good build quality, user-friendly high-tech features and a refined ride (even the C63 is relatively comfy). The few demerits include the C300's acceleration, as this model's V6 is outgunned by a few rivals, notably the Audi A4's turbocharged four-cylinder. And the C-Class can be pricey alongside comparably equipped competitors such as the Infiniti G37 and Lexus IS. It's also worth noting that the BMW 3 Series offers a more involving drive for the enthusiast. Still, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class remains a shining star, offering luxury sport sedan intenders a well-rounded, well-regarded choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is an entry-level luxury sedan available in four trim levels: C300 Sport, C300 Luxury, C350 Sport and C63 AMG.
The C300 models share the same engine and are both available with 4Matic all-wheel drive, but differ in exterior styling elements, interior trim, suspension tuning, front seat design and standard transmission.
Both C300 models come standard with 17-inch wheels (different designs, however), a sunroof, automatic headlights, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats, vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker stereo with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and a pop-up 5-inch display screen. The Premium I package adds auto-dimming mirrors, a 10-way power driver seat, power driver lumbar support, driver memory functions, a power-adjustable steering wheel, automatic wipers, heated front seats, satellite radio, a power rear sunshade and a split-folding rear seat. A lighting package adds active xenon headlights with washers, LED running lights (standard on Sport version) and LED taillights.
The C350 Sport is essentially a C300 Sport with the Premium I package, a bigger V6 and black bird's-eye maple wood trim. The C63 AMG is equipped similarly, but ups the performance ante considerably with a V8 engine, firmer suspension, bigger brakes, 18-inch wheels, AMG interior and exterior sport cues, leather AMG sport seats and aluminum paddle shifters.
Opting for the Multimedia package gets you the COMAND electronics interface, a hard-drive-based navigation system (with real-time traffic updates), a six-CD changer, an iPod interface, 6GB of digital music storage and a bigger pop-up display. The AMG Seating package available on the C63 adds front memory seats, a power-adjustable steering wheel and upgraded leather upholstery. The AMG Development package available on the C63 adds 30 more horsepower, upgraded brakes, a limited-slip differential, a track-calibrated suspension, a higher top speed and leather/faux suede steering wheel.
This year brings a new prepaid maintenance option (not available on the C63, though) that covers maintenance requirements for 3 years or 30,000 miles, whichever comes first. Other stand-alone options include 18-inch wheels, a panorama sunroof (not available on C63), a rearview camera (requires Multimedia package), leather upholstery, heated front seats, keyless ignition/entry, satellite radio, the iPod interface and a premium Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo.
Powertrains and Performance:
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C300 is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 228 hp and 221 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment for the C300 Luxury and optional on the C300 Sport, which comes standard with a six-speed manual. Rear-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional.
In Edmunds performance testing, the C300 Sport with the automatic went from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive drops these estimates to 18/25/20.
The C350 Sport gets a 3.5-liter V6 good for 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive and the seven-speed auto is the only drivetrain combo offered. The C350 did the 0-60 sprint in 6.3 seconds, which is off the pace of more potent competitors but still plenty quick. Estimated fuel economy is 17/25/20.
The C63 AMG gets a burly 6.2-liter V8 that delivers 451 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic with three different shift modes. In Edmunds testing, the C63 reached 60 mph in a scant 4.4 seconds. Fuel economy estimates are 12/19/15.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class comes standard with front side airbags, side curtain airbags, front-seat-mounted pelvic airbags, a driver knee airbag, active front head restraints, stability control, traction control and adaptive antilock brakes (that feature brake assist, brake drying, pre-pressure and hill-start assist). Rear side airbags are optional.
In government crash testing, the C-Class received four out of five stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for front and rear side protection. In testing done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the C-Class received top marks, including a "Good" rating for frontal-offset, side impact and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features:
Just tugging on the door handle makes you feel as if you've cracked open an impenetrable vault. The C-Class's interior is beautifully crafted, though its austere ambience and angular design may convey a less luxurious feel to some. Opting for wood trim or a two-tone color scheme at least introduces a small amount of warmth.
The controls are straightforward for this class of car, and Mercedes' optional COMAND electronics interface is fairly easy to use. The iPod interface is particularly user-friendly.
Though the current-generation C-Class is bigger than previous editions, it's hardly the best choice for growing families. Some might find a child seat difficult to install in the narrow, bucketlike backseat positions, and the 12.4-cubic-foot trunk is on the small side.
In a straight line, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz C300 and C350 won't set any records. But steering and handling are precise, and in terms of overall dynamics, the car measures up just fine compared to others in this segment. Despite their somewhat sporty character, the Sport variants are never harsh on the road and can tackle long road trips with ease. The C300 Luxury rides a little softer than the Sport model and has a quieter exhaust system, resulting in a more serene driving environment.
The C63 is a completely different species. Packing a ferocious V8, the C63 is the German equivalent to a muscle car. While not quite as tactile or agile as the BMW M3, the C63 responds to driver inputs with added sharpness and a degree of communication few Mercedes-Benz models have ever offered.