Baby, oh, baby, what once was known as the ‘Baby Benz’ has clearly grown up. What’s now the Mercedes-Benz C300 is a sleek-styled and technically sophisticated sedan that, even in an era dominated by SUVs, should draw buyers’ attention. GearJunkie headed out East to take the compact sedan for a first drive.
How times have changed since the original Mercedes-Benz 190 sedan made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1990. A highly controversial product within the German brand’s corporate headquarters, it wound up far exceeding expectations, luring in a wave of hip, young, first-time luxury buyers who might never have considered the tri-star brand before.
The original Baby Benz was a simple affair with few of the frills found on more familiar Mercedes models like the E- and S-Class. But, with each successive generation, it has grown larger and more lavish. And that brings us to the fifth generation of what’s now known as the Mercedes C-Class (the sixth if you include the original 190).
2022 C-Class Driving Impressions
I spent two days driving the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, both on freeways and on more challenging back roads. I was impressed with the car’s road manners, the mild-hybrid powertrain being the brightest star. It’s responsive, smooth, and quick. There was little I asked for that it wouldn’t deliver, including plenty of power when I had just a moment to make a pass on a winding hill climb.
Steering was equally impressive, especially after switching the Dynamic setting to Sport mode. Unlike earlier versions of the C-Class, where the steering was squishy, the W206 generation has a nearly sports car feel, allowing me to smoothly sweep through corners with precision.
If you’re an aggressive driver — and I raise my hand here — you may find the suspension a bit soft during “sporty” maneuvers. That’s especially true in Comfort mode, but you can stiffen it up with a tap of the Dynamic setting’s toggle on the instrument panel. For those who aren’t going to charge into every corner, there’s a plushness to the ride that makes it easy to spend hours behind the wheel — as I did during my 2 days on the East Coast.
A Noteworthy Sedan in an SUV Era
Sedans have lost much of their luster in recent years. Where the C-Class was once the gateway to the Mercedes lineup, demand has largely shifted to crossovers like the GLB and GLC.
But there’s still a loyal base of sedan customers who will have plenty of reasons to appreciate the 2022 C-Class — which is being offered in the U.S. in just two configurations, the comparatively mainstream C300 and the sportier AMG C43.
With a starting price of $43,550, the 2022 C-Class lineup truly merits the word “luxury,” from its exterior design to its new mild-hybrid drivetrain. It also boasts an impressive array of technologies, some lifted right out of the flagship Mercedes S-Class.
“The letters C and S sit at opposite ends of the alphabet. However, in our portfolio they’re now moving closer together,” Ola Källenius, CEO of Daimler AG and head of the Mercedes brand, said when the sedan was unveiled last autumn.
Known inside the automaker by the codename W206, the 2022 model has a more aggressive, cab-rearward shape. It gets a bigger grille framed by slimmer headlights and, depending on the model, larger air intakes below the bumper.
The hood is more sculpted, with crisp bulges implying the power of the various engine options. The raked windshield flows into a more coupe-like roof that, in turn, folds into a shortened rear deck lid and horizontal taillights.
Longer, Wider, Roomier, Sportier
The new platform adds 2.5 inches to the sedan’s overall length, at 187.00 inches. It’s also a bit wider, though it’s lost a half-inch in height. With a widened track and wheels of 18 or 19 inches, the sedan has a sportier stance than the outgoing C-Class.
The added length helps deliver a more roomy interior — especially in the back row where legroom wasn’t exactly plentiful in prior generations.
Where early C-Class models were skimpy on the frills, there’s no hiding the luxurious appointments here, with plenty of leather and real wood trim. There are new air vents and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that mixes new capacitive touch sliders with more conventional controls.
Mercedes is pitching to a generation of tech-oriented buyers, something you realize the moment you slip inside. Among the most obvious new features are the twin digital displays: a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and an 11.9-inch touchpad-like touchscreen atop the central console that handles infotainment duties.
The new sedan adopts the Mercedes MBUX control system, with its Alexa-like voice assistant. Simply say, “Hey, Mercedes,” and you can operate most vehicle functions, while also asking questions, such as the weather forecast.
While it’s one of the better voice-controlled infotainment systems, MBUX is not yet a match for Siri and can goof up at times. Driving down through New York’s Hudson Valley on the way back to Newark Airport, I asked, “Where are we?” hoping to learn what town I was driving through. The system responded by canceling the active navigation route and launching a new route back to the center of town.
After reprogramming the destination, I ran into a couple of other later glitches — though that may have been caused by using a USB drive with a preprogrammed route, rather than a default route with MBUX.
The actual displays are attractive and easy to read, as is the full-color head-up display. When using navigation, meanwhile, the C300 makes it difficult to miss a turn.
The sedan I drove was equipped with an augmented reality system that superimposes useful details, including arrows that appear to float 20 feet ahead of the car. Come to an intersection and they will point right to where you should turn.
As with every new Mercedes, the 2022 C300 adds an assortment of new and familiar advanced driver assistance systems. That now includes a feature that falls just short of hands-free driving. It, nonetheless, eases the strain on both long trips and when crawling along in traffic, as I came to appreciate while navigating my way through the convoluted highway system around New York City.
A Mild-Hybrid First
The high-tech focus extends to the C300’s drivetrain. The 2022 sedan gets a new 2.0L engine with an integrated 48-volt mild-hybrid assist system — the first time that technology has been paired by Mercedes with a four-cylinder engine. The package punches out a nominal 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
While you won’t be able to drive in all-electric mode, the mild-hybrid technology offers several advantages, starting with fuel economy. While final EPA numbers have yet to be released, expect a several percent improvement from the 2021 model’s 24 mpg city and 33 highway rating.
Meanwhile, the hybrid system — technically an integrated starter-generator — can kick in another 20 horsepower and 148 pound-feet for brief bursts. That helps the C-Class hit 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph.
A real plus with the 2022 C300 is the availability of Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive technology, which should prove extremely popular with buyers in northern climes and snowbelt states. It’s a $2,000 option on all three trim packages for the C300. All models rely on a nine-speed automatic.
2022 C300: Final Thoughts
On the whole, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class more than meets the expectations I had when flying in for the event. It’s a stylish car, inside and out, with an assortment of technologies that would double the length of this review if I were to list them all. The new hybrid drivetrain is efficient and quick.
And the price, which runs from that base $43,550 to $49,500 for the Pinnacle 4Matic package, is more than reasonable. (Add $1,050 to all prices for delivery fees.) The biggest challenge facing Mercedes will be pitching the sedan in this SUV era.
For those who want something small and luxurious and aren’t absolutely wedded to getting a utility vehicle, it would be a mistake to ignore the all-new 2022 C300.
Virtually build your own 2022 Mercedes C-Class at MBUSA.com.