The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class can fairly be described as the car Mercedes wants to build, not the car Mercedes needs to build. But it wouldn’t have scored our luxury car award if it didn’t bring the goods, too.
For starters, it is beautiful, particularly in the profile view where its dramatically long hood, arching roof and scalloped body sides play with light and shadow like no C-Class before it. Our C300 4Matic Sport test car was particularly seductive in sparkling metallic black with multi-spoke 18-inch wheels.
Elegant as it may look on the outside, what seduces us most about the C-Class is its interior, which is arguably the most important aspect of any luxury car. Our tester came with an avant-garde color scheme that combined red seats and panel trim over black, complimented by striking matte black open-pore ash wood trim. Many more traditional color and wood combos are available, but for the sheer wow factor, this car’s cabin was a hit. “The extravagant cabin looks more lavish than cars double its price,” said road test editor Aki Sugawara. “It’s not just the materials, but their layout and function, that felt properly upscale,” said managing editor Justin Hyde. “As a work of art, the C300’s interior wins hands down. It’s stunning,” said editor at large Alex Lloyd.
The C300 4Matic arrived with a 241-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed automatic, while the C400 4Matic comes with an even more muscular, 329-hp V-6. Even with its more modest output, the C300 4Matic proves that luxury cars and four-cylinder power are not mutually exclusive. “Good power and smooth acceleration,” said editor Chris Shenon. “The car was fun and sporty to drive, but was also very quiet.”
If the C300 — $51,595 as tested — has a weak point, it’s a lack of overall driver engagement compared to the more focused entries in the segment, such as the BMW 3-Series and the Cadillac ATS. “The power was fine, but the ride and handling were isolated from reality,” said Hyde, with Sugawara adding that the C-Class “isn’t a car you’d relish flogging in mountain roads.” Indeed, there is a slightly artificial feel to the steering and handling, and the omnipresent safety tech features always seem to be holding a ruler over the knuckles of a driver that doesn’t obey every rule. On the other hand, as a luxury car, the C-Class’ creamy ride and autobahn-worthy high-speed stability deserve high praise.
The C-Class has never been more connected to the greatness in its bloodline or more comfortable in its skin as a Mercedes-Benz. It is, for the first time ever, a bona fide Mercedes, an S-Class for the masses in look, feel, and character.
This was not an easy win for the little Benz. Hyundai’s remarkable new Genesis sedan turned in a strong performance this year, with technology, cabin appointments and assembly quality equal to the Mercedes — for $3,000 less, despite lodging between the E-Class and S-Class in size. No other Yahoo Autos award was more closely debated.
Where the Mercedes had some sporting pretense, the Genesis embraced the kind of bump-free ride that many luxury buyers seek out without losing its reflexes. “This is one of the biggest surprises of the year,” said Sugawara. “Suspension and chassis engineering have typically been the weak points of the Korean automaker, but the Genesis is tuned to perfection.”
“The Genesis has all the right parts to compete as a luxury sedan, with no apologies for costing thousands of dollars less than some,” said Hyde. “I would sum up its failings as a lack of confidence, from a somewhat stale interior design to branding that leaves only a single Hyundai badge on the decklid. Hyundai should be more proud.”