Despite some dental work last year, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is getting long in the tooth, with performance and space concerns that will need a full redesign to address.
Mercedes' rear-drive sport sedan has a slew of competitors, including the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Cadillac ATS. (Compare the group here.) Following a range of 2012 updates that included the addition of a four-seat C-Class coupe, the C-Class gets a more powerful V-6 in the midlevel C300 sedan for 2013. Compare the 2013 and 2012 C-Class here.
The coupe and sedan both offer rear- or all-wheel drive, and variations range from the turbo four-cylinder C250 to the V-8 C63 AMG. We put a rear-drive C250 sedan through its paces on public roads and a racetrack. (See the window sticker here). We also drove a rear-drive C350.
Sport sedans usually have snug interiors, but the C-Class sedan feels downright miniscule. I needed the driver's seat all the way back for my 5-foot-11 frame; the center console encroaches on legroom, and headroom runs out if you elevate the seat. In back, adults' legs touch the front seatbacks, and the low seat cushions elevate passengers' knees in an uncomfortable way.
Competitors offer more room up front and better confines in back, and the numbers show it. Passenger volume in the C-Class sedan totals a cramped 88.2 cubic feet. Every major competitor exceeds 90 cubic feet, and the Acura TL and 3 Series top 96 cubic feet. The increase may sound modest, but taller drivers — and their backseat passengers — will appreciate it.
A dashboard redesign for 2012 scuttled some of the C-Class' dowdiest pieces, but the overall tone is still solemn — even in our test car, whose Dynamic Sport Package added red seat belts and accent stitching on the imitation leather seats. Real leather is optional, but Mercedes' MB-Tex faux cowhide has a taut, believable quality. Still, the fact that you have to pay extra for real leather in higher trims — even the $60, 000-plus C63 — is absurd.
Cabin materials are competitive overall, but other details are hit and miss. The gated gearshift still snakes from Park to Drive with satisfying heft, but the chintzy door locks feel cheap. So do the flimsy climate dials and crude sun visors.
Characteristic of Mercedes, the C250's accelerator has plodding, gradual progression. The C250's modest output — 201 horsepower from a small turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder — makes matters worse. Takeoffs around town are sluggish even in the automatic transmission's Sport mode. Hammer the gas and the C250's 229 pounds-feet of torque lend some midrange oomph, but the drivetrain runs out of steam as the tachometer needle swings to the right. Indeed, our C250 needed 8.2 seconds to hit 60 mph — slowest among the five competitors we tested in a recent Sport Sedan Challenge. An A4, TL and ATS hit the mark in less than 8 seconds; a 328i and Volvo S60 needed less than 7 seconds. (The cars, all automatics, were timed with two adults onboard.)
Step up to the C300 for a 248-hp V-6. For 2013, it added 20 hp and 30 pounds-feet of torque. Saddled with standard 4Matic all-wheel drive, however, the car weighs some 300 pounds more than the C250. Mercedes quotes similar acceleration times as the C250, but given our own results, I'm skeptical of any additional acceleration.
The C350's 302-hp V-6 revs smoothly, with punchy thrust at the high end. Still, it lacks the immediate torque of a BMW 335i or Lexus IS 350, and even its high-rev thrust falls short of Audi's screaming S4. In regular (Economy) or Sport mode, the transmission resists downshifting until too late. The car feels quick if you manhandle the gas pedal, but it's a constant game of wake-me-up.
With a standard seven-speed automatic, EPA gas mileage ranges from 22/31/25 mpg city/highway/combined in the C250 to 20/29/23 in either the all-wheel-drive C300 or the rear-wheel-drive C350. The C250 falls a bit short of the four-cylinder 3 Series and A4, but the C350 compares more favorably to the six-cylinder competition. Mercedes requires premium gas, however; some competitors merely recommend it.