2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
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.
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.
Whether you go with the Luxury or Sport models, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz comes as a well-equipped luxury sedan. All 2011 C-Class models get Bluetooth connectivity; a power sunroof; dual-zone climate control; power windows/locks/mirrors; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; power front seats; and cruise control. And options include a music hard-drive system, nav system, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, and xenon headlamps.
The C63 AMG includes leather upholstery; an AMG gauge pack; a sunroof; dual-zone climate control; Bluetooth; Sirius; a telescoping steering wheel; cruise control; and a garage door opener.
While there's only a single sedan body style available in the C-Class, it's anything but a one-trick pony. C300 and C350 models are both offered in both Sport and Luxury guise, and there's quite the aesthetic difference between them. The Luxury models carry the familiar Mercedes-Benz grille and a three-pointed star as a hood ornament, along with trim and wheels that give you that austere classic Benz look, if that's what you're in to. Sport models forgo the ornamentation for a flat badge on the grille, as well as a different, less glitzy front-end look�and, for 2011, get new LED running lamps (in bi-xenon-equipped models) instead of fog lamps. The differences between Sport and Luxury models carries through to the interior as well, though it's mainly a matter of trims; in the Luxury, you'll find burled walnut, chrome, and a four-spoke wheel that lives up to the austere Benz image of yore. If you want something more in line with BMW, the Sport is the pick.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class models provide the utmost comfort for front occupants, but those in back, even if they can get in, will be left wedging their legs against the back of the front seats. In all fairness, when looking at rival models like the Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series, that's just how it is in this class. While the base C300 does include some barely luxury-grade plastics, overall the C-Class models come with distinctive materials and excellent fits and finishes. Cabins are well hushed from road and wind noise, though you do hear the engine more than some might expect in a luxury car (Luxury models are quieter).
The so-called Sport models are distinguished by a grille-mounted star badge and AMG body styling, with deeper front and rear aprons, under-door rocker panels, and twin-spoke 17-inch wheels of staggered width or optional 18-inch wheels.
Sport models also feature firmer suspension, a three-spoke steering wheel, a titanium-colored instrument cluster, and a different choice of interior materials.
The C300 Sport can be ordered with a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed automatic. The other two models come with the automatic only. Of course, the auto is no slouch -- it can skip gears for quicker acceleration and offers a manual control mode.
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.
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.