When a new sibling is born, the formerly youngest child in the family will often demonstrate signs of what is known as regression, attempting to compensate for the loss of a privileged status by dropping down a few developmental milestones. He might give up on achievements like using the toilet, feeding himself, and sleeping through the night in the hopes of returning to being properly pampered.
What is less frequently discussed is the countervailing force of progression. The former lowest rung on the birth-order ladder will take the opportunity of the newborn’s appearance to define himself in opposition to this interloper. He’ll acquire new skills and capabilities that were within his grasp, but not seen as necessary or useful before. He’ll thus use the birth of the adorable and guileless new baby as a means to demonstrate the ways in which he is not a baby anymore: taking a jump and learning to read, or dress himself, or get a job.
Progression is clearly the case with the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which, with the recent introduction in the American market of a new entry-level model — the guileless and adorable CLA-Class — has truly matured.
Physically, the C-Class has hit a growth spurt, not only gaining nearly four inches in overall length — three of those between the wheels, (mostly in the back seat) — and more than an inch-and-a-half in width. It has also begun to resemble, in all the best ways, a downsized version of its refined eldest brother, the S-Class. A proportionally long hood, a proper and upright cabin, and a short rear deck featuring a prodigious rear overhang give the C-Class a handsome and elegant formality. And he’s lost his baby fat as well, dropping up to 220 lbs. through the intensive use of high strength steel and aluminum.
The little bugger’s bones and muscles have received a workout as well. When introduced here in the second half of this year, the car will come in two, all-wheel-drive (4MATIC) only guises. The C300, will feature the exact combination of 4-cylinders, turbocharging, and direct injection offered by key category competitors like the Audi A4, BMW 328i, and Cadillac ATS, with an estimated output of 241 hp and 273 lb-ft. The C400 will counter its colleagues as well with a new-to-the-U.S. twin-turbo V-6 that will put down 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but figure on a significant differential from the $29,900 base price of the CLA and don’t be surprised if you can crest $50,000 for a fully optioned model.
A category-first air suspension floats all four wheels, and Mercedes’ suite of autonomous robotic driving systems, known as Intelligent Drive, can also be integrated, allowing the car to truly start, stop, and steer itself, features we took full advantage of during some hideous rush hour traffic. We’re still undecided if it’s frightening or amazing, but it does work, and well.
Each of the two cars can also be had in Sport or Luxury permutations, with materials, wheels and tires, and trim bits to match. (An additional Sport Package can be added to supplement the sportiness of the Sport model, if it’s not sporty enough for you.) Here’s the basic roadside cheat code: the Sport car has a giant three-pointed star integrated into the grille, like an old Gullwing; the Luxury car has a traditional big grille and Benz hood ornament, like a 1970s W123 sedan. We like them both.
But we love the C’s all-new interior. Mercedes has really upped their game in this realm in recent years, not only incorporating classic and high-quality materials like real metals, ribbed and tufted and quilted leathers, and a variety of varnished and unvarnished woods but doing so in a way that really differentiates them from category leaders like Audi. Where the inside of an A4 is rigorously logical and functional like a particle physics lab, the interior of the new C-Class is rich, warm, and inviting, like your rich friend’s summer house.
Numerous hints of delight — like the click of the metal screw closure on the big eyeball vents, the expanses of wood on the uncluttered center console, and the newly introduced scrawlable touchpad for the still illegible COMMAND system — enhance your emotional connection. We can do without the glovebox-mounted perfume shpritzer, at least until we figure out how to fill it with Silly String.
We chose to drive the sportiest possible C-Class: big engine, Sport trim, Sport Package, AMG wheels and tires, cladding, flanges, and adjustable sport suspension. Yet even in the sportiest Sport + settings, we would not exactly call this car a carver. It is refined and relatively athletic, with full competence in the way it seamlessly puts power to the pavement, and tracks and slows itself around the twisty bits. Yet there is little of the road feel or rush of power that exists in competitors like the BMW 335i.
As with the classic and refined interior, this seems like a way of playing to a Benz brand strength. No one is, or should be, buying a C-Class to take it to the track. They’re buying it to have a smaller version of a decidedly elegant luxury car, which is precisely what this new C-Class is. The S-Class would not be embarrassed to take this little brother to a formal event, and the C should be pleased at the family resemblance.
As any youngest child will tell you, being the baby of the family means always and eternally being babied by your siblings and parents. No longer the littlest, the C is now a full-fledged member of the Benz family, ready to lord power over peasants and to seamlessly dominate highways and country club valet stands. If anyone in the family has to worry, we’d say it’s the E-Class, as this car is better looking, more sharply attired, more efficient at serving one’s needs, and more delightful. Like that younger sibling that emerges from adolescence and starts garnering interest from your friends, this is likely to grind against his big brother’s bumper. We’ll be interested to witness the E-Class’ progression.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided transportation and lodging for this review