2022 Mercedes C-Class First Drive Review | Junior suite Benz

2022 Mercedes C-Class First Drive Review | Junior suite Benz

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Sedans have become the Jan Brady of automobiles. They’re overlooked and underappreciated, as consumers lavish firstborn attention on SUVs, or coo over the latest electric babies.

So when the all-new 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class was announced, the news didn’t exactly light the world on fire. But now that I’ve driven the standard C 300, I feel a bit guilty for overlooking its significance, at least for SUV refusniks determined to keep their feet and seat closer to the ground. In fact, this new C-Class is a tremendous addition to the sedan ranks. It’s tastefully styled, more richly appointed and technically replete than any rival, and immensely satisfying to drive. And its all-around excellence bodes well for versions to come. They include a 2023 AMG C 43 Sport later this year, with standard AWD and rear-wheel-steering; and a skin-flaying 402 horses from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 48-volt hybrid assist and electric-boosted turbocharging.


Tally the current generation’s full lifespan, and the C-Class has remained the most-popular Mercedes; whether here, in China or around the world, with 2.5 million global sedan-and-wagon sales since 2014. But a model that was finding more than 85,000 U.S. buyers a year in the mid 2010’s couldn’t escape the industry’s sedan tailspin, including just under 31,000 sales last year. Time to shore up the franchise, even if the GLC-Class SUV is now ensconced as the family sales star — Mercedes’ Marcia, if you will — with 51,000 customers in 2021.

To do it, Mercedes climbed to its top shelf to raid key S-Class features, including its dramatic 11.9-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen that’s been subtly tilted six degrees toward the driver for use in the C. It also gets the latest safety and semi-autonomous tech, and options such as augmented-reality navigation and a color head-up display. That’s all wrapped in a slightly roomier interior that nods gracefully to the S-Class — with flattering stuff like laser-cut Burmester speaker grilles, ambient lighting, polished metals and natural-grain woods — while giving up almost nothing in luxury to the midsize E-Class. We’re not sure the last C-Class ever gave up its status as King of the Cabins in the compact sport sedan segment, but the new car’s grip on the throne is unquestioned. It also now has the most rear legroom in the segment, at 36 inches. That’s just 0.2 inches shy of the larger E-Class’ back seat.

To drive home the point, Mercedes accentuates the C-Class’ traditional cab-backward, long-hood sedan proportions, shoving the windshield and passenger space further toward the rear axle. Mercedes’ A-shaped radiator grille and three-pointed star — blessedly, neither oversized nor radically statement-making — fronts a confident power-domed hood. A worthwhile AMG Line with Night Package option ($3,050) fills that grille with tiny chromed Mercedes stars (a nice touch), revises front and rear fascias and exhaust outlets, and adds side rocker extensions. Other goodies include a sport suspension and steering, brushed aluminum pedals, a dashboard trimmed in MB-Tex faux leather, and perforated brake discs with Mercedes-Benz logo calipers.

The previous C-Class’ body creases are softened, amplifying the streamlined “catwalk” shoulder line. And the former, somewhat chunky butt and blobby taillamps are reshaped to appealing effect. Slender two-piece LED taillamps, a first for a C-Class, sweep across the trunk lid and narrow into sharp points. At the opening of our two-day drive from New York to the Catskills mountains and back, the C-Class seemed almost too demure. But this finely proportioned sedan, and its nothing-to-prove elegance, grew on me almost immediately. The C’s more-classic design is far more successful to me than Mercedes’ eggheaded EQS.

Mercedes stretched the new model by 2.5 inches to 187 inches (just shy of an Audi A4 or Cadillac CT4, and 1.3 longer than a BMW 3 Series), with a 1-inch-longer wheelbase. It’s roughly a half-inch wider and lower. There’s added shoulder and elbow room front and rear, nearly an inch more rear legroom, and 0.4-inches more rear headroom despite the lower roofline. A standard, clamshell-style panoramic sunroof boosts the spacious impression. Split rear seats fold, including via switches in the trunk, to open up more versatile space.

As noted, that interior is a treat. Generously bolstered seats integrate pivoting headrests on single posts, with a range of interior colors and treatments — a racy red-and-black combo, or brick-like AMG Sienna Brown with natural wood pinstriped with real aluminum. Ambient lighting decorates the doors, dash and aircraft-inspired metal vents with a choice of 64 colors. Architects would dig the cantilevered armrests and “floating,” light-rimmed door-control housings. A three-spoke steering wheel looks as good as it feels, as do bright-metal paddle shifters as cool and polished as river stones.

MBUX infotainment, despite the improvements gleaned from the bigger screen, still requires a first-time learning curve. But once your steering-wheel thumbs and brain are trained, MBUX really is a nifty — and undeniably eye-popping — way of navigating today’s data-heavy automotive landscape. One exception is the control chiclet on the left-thumb side of the wheel, which manages the graphically rich, freestanding driver’s display, including full-screen 3D map views: Too often, it mistakes a left-right thumb sweep for an up-down, and gets a thumbs-down for blowing a radio-station change or other operation. Yet the optional Augmented Reality navs still amazes, superimposing directional arrows, street signs and even addresses over a real-time camera environment. (The addresses that hover and disappear, Rolodex-style, on final approach to a hard-to-find business or rural driveway, are a tech godsend).