The C in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class may as well stand for consistency.
The compact C-Class sedan’s competency stands alongside death and taxes on the list of life’s guarantees, and a mid-cycle refresh for the 2019 model year solidifies its spot on that list. There’s more power and more tech to keep up with a segment that shows no signs of slowing amid a shift to SUVs, and while it errs toward luxury, it’s not afraid to have a bit of fun.
Slight tweaks outside, improved materials inside
As we noted in our first drive, Mercedes chose not to radically restyle the C-Class for 2019 because its buyers continue to heap praise upon the sedan’s visuals. Sure, there are niceties like standard LED headlights tucked away in the update to this four-year-old body, but by and large, buyers will be hard pressed to point out all the changes made for this year.
My tester rocks a slightly sportier appearance, thanks to the $2,000 AMG Line package. It adds a little more aggression in the bumpers, and combined with my tester’s optional 18-inch AMG alloy wheels, the whole package looks sharper than the average C-Class without requiring the scratch for a proper AMG. The only bummer is that tight tolerances between the wheels and brakes means it’s hard to clear them of snow after cruising through deep powder — not something every C-Class buyer will experience, of course.
The interior, on the other hand, displays its changes more prominently. The new steering wheel comes from the E-Class and S-Class, and I appreciate its straightforward, well-labeled layout that includes two small touch controllers for fast manipulation of both screens (12.3 inches in the gauge cluster, 10.25 inches for the infotainment). Every switch, from the window to the climate controls, has a delightful weight and feel to it, lending its bigger siblings’ premium sense to a more affordable vehicle.
My tester ditches standard vinyl surfaces in favor of a $1,950 leather package. The seats are plenty comfortable, but the front seat heaters take forever to warm up and never really get that toasty. While the seats themselves are comfortable, rear-seat space is a little on the cramped side, especially if there are tall people seated up front. Visibility, though, is top-notch front and rear.
Options abound, and while some are a good deal, others aren’t. A panoramic roof offers extra light in the cabin, but it costs $1,000. Adding vinyl to the dashboard and upper door trim costs another $350. Heated and ventilated seats will set you back another $1,030. On the other end of the price-sensibility spectrum, Mercedes-Benz’s excellent 64-color LED ambient lighting is a steal at $310, and upgrading to set of solid Burmester speakers runs just $850. The brown ash wood trim, plush in tactility and appearance, is a free upgrade.
Calm and collected on the road
In its hopped-up C43 guise, I find the C-Class far too sporty to be comfortable in daily driving. However, even with the optional AMG Line’s sportier suspension, this C300 is far calmer on the road. There’s enough feel from the dampers to give the ride some character, but bumps and other annoyances don’t immediately translate to the bodies inside. The decent sidewalls on my tester’s 225/45R18 Pirelli Sottozero winter tires also help matters — and make it hella capable during a winter snowstorm, too.
Most of my week with the C300 involves snow, but it’s no problem for me, thanks in part to 4Matic all-wheel drive. Traction is easy to find, even on unplowed roads. When the traction control does need to kick in, it happens in the background without jarring noises or jolts from the drivetrain. A sportier stability-control program lets me send the back end ’round with ease, only dialing things in when the slip angle gets a bit too extreme. It’s a hoot.
Under the hood is a new version of Mercedes-Benz’s turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 gas engine. It’s up 14 horsepower over the old one, now putting out 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It doesn’t have the best exhaust note, sounding like one of Volvo’s tractor engines, but I appreciate the improvement in low-end torque. Its nine-speed automatic transmission is so smooth it’s almost invisible.
The EPA estimates that the C300 4Matic will achieve 22 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway. Most of my city driving is done in snow, and the extra effort has a deleterious effect on my fuel economy, achieving 20 mpg at most. On a clear, salty highway, though, my figures are closer to the EPA’s, but still 1 to 2 mpg under.
For an extra $2,250, you can load up the C300 with all manner of active and passive driver aids. The lane-holding combination of adaptive cruise control, active steering assist and lane-keep assist works effortlessly on the highway, keeping me centered without any ping-ponging in the lane. It can bring the car to a halt without being too heavy on the brakes, and it’s all easily controlled from the steering wheel. I especially enjoy the new lane-changing feature, which automates a lane change after engaging the turn signal while adaptive cruise control is active. If you want something more bare-bones, though, you can skip the package while still receiving standard automatic emergency braking.
It’s no MBUX, but it’s not bad
The C-Class uses Mercedes’ old COMAND infotainment system, not the flashy new MBUX system we’ve seen in the latest A-Class and GLE-Class vehicles. While it has been reskinned to improve its aesthetics and functionality, it’s still a larger maze of menus than MBUX is, leading to just a bit more distraction behind the wheel. That said, it’s easier to use the system than before, thanks in large part to those touch controllers on the steering wheel.
On the whole, COMAND still works fine. The navigation system never led me astray, with a search function that’s easy to, um, navigate. I dislike the rotary-dial-and-touchpad combination on the center console, but even though it’s not my personal jam, it’s still functional. Plus, you can skip a majority of its use by sticking with the steering wheel and voice control.
Base models pack a 7-inch central screen, while my tester sports a 10.25-inch upgraded unit as part of a $2,600 Multimedia Package that also includes navigation, live traffic and weather information and vehicle-to-x communication. If you don’t want all that extra kit, the screen can be upgraded by itself for $300. Replacing the standard gauge cluster with a 12.3-inch configurable screen costs $750, and I think it’s worth every penny from a usability standpoint. If that’s not enough screen, another $990 will add a 9-inch color head-up display that can show navigation information.
How I’d spec it
My tester starts at $43,400, but liberal application of options packages sent the price into the realm of obscenity at $63,525, including $995 for destination.
I, too, will opt for an all-wheel-drive variant for $43,400. I stick with the free white paint color, saving $720 over more expressive hues. I prefer my ride cushier, so I’ll skip over the $2,000 AMG Line upgrade, but I will spend $500 to upgrade the 17-inch wheels to 18s.
Inside, I’m saving $1,950 by keeping my seats vinyl — “MB-Tex,” in Mercedes parlance — but I’ll take advantage of the free upgrade to my tester’s ash wood trim. I’ll spend $310 for the 64-color ambient lighting, another $580 for seat heating and $250 for a heated steering wheel. On the tech front, I’m spending $300 to upgrade my center display, $750 to upgrade my instrument cluster and $850 to upgrade my speakers. I’ll skip over the $2,250 suite of safety systems, since autobrake is all I really want and since it also requires the $2,600 Multimedia Package.
That leaves me with a $46,940 window sticker, which is far more palatable than my tester’s E-Class-adjacent price tag.
Down to brass tacks
The BMW 3 Series are the C300’s biggest and brightest competitors. The A4 takes a more tech-forward approach, and it impressed us with its mix of driving dynamics and tech. The 3 Series will be all new for the 2019 model year, and while we haven’t spent a ton of time with it, . While there is technically competition from the , the Q50 has some of the worst in-car tech in the segment. The , an up-and-comer that’s already good enough to win our Roadshow Shift Award for , is one to watch out for, too.and
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class was already an excellent compact luxury sedan, and it has been for the four years its current generation has existed. The updates for 2019 improve its on-road demeanor and its equipment loadout, ensuring it stays relevant in the face of consistent (and consistently improving) competition.