The driving position is terrific. And the driving itself is delightful, thanks in part to the steering and suspension set up and to a bi-turbocharged V6 engine that, when encouraged by your right foot, acts like a big-ol’ V8 as it provides an eager 329 horsepower and not only a wonderfully thrustful 354 pound-feet of torque, but torque that peaks with a broad plateau all the way from a mere 1,600 rpm to 4 grand.
Such performance might have you thinking AMG — the high-performance and motorsports division of Mercedes-Benz. Well, there is no AMG badge on the car — you have to opt for one of the two C63 versions (one with 469 hp and the other with 503, and 516 pound-feet of torque), but this C400 does wear a set of 18-inch 5-spoke AMG wheels and its interior has AMG mats on its floor.
Speaking of the interior, you need to both see and feel the three-dimensional black ash open-pore wood trim. I’d call it stunningly elegant, but it’s even better than that.
There’s so much about this all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan and its coupe-version sibling that they recently were declared “World Car of the Year” for the 2015 model year in a vote involving 75 automotive journalists from around the globe.
And to think that while the engine and transmission come from Germany, 40 percent of the content in the car is made in America and the C-Class is even built here, in the Mercedes assembly plant in Vance, Alabama.
If only there wasn’t that irritating part-rattle, part-squeak from the driver’s side window, or maybe it’s the window frame or where the glass touches the frame, in the car we’ve been driving for a week. And if only I found the exterior styling to be something other than ordinary (at least to my eyes). And if only I found the switchgear even slightly intuitive.
And worst of all, if only the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 wasn’t such a nanny of a car. At least a lot of the built-in backseat driver technology is optional, and even then there are switches to turn it off.
Base price on the C400 sedan equipped with the 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 and all-wheel drive is $48,500. The steel gray paint on our car is a $720 option.
As usual, this press-fleet vehicle is packed with options:
- $970 for Parktronic with active parking assist,
- $1,480 for a panorama sunroof,
- $990 for head-up display,
- $1,190 for an Airmatic package that includes air suspension with a control so the driver can pick from several “agility” settings,
- $2,300 for a special interior package with ventilated seats and illuminated door sills,
- $2,690 for a multimedia package with 8.4-inch display screen, navigation, DVD and CD player, satellite traffic, downloadable music, rearview camera and such,
- $250 for a hands-free access package that opens and closes the trunk lid,
- $2,800 for a driver assistance package with Distronic Plus steering assist, active blind-spot assist, active lane-keeping assist, Pre-Safe braking with pedestrian recognition, Bas Plus with cross-traffic assist and Pre-Safe Plus with rear-end collision protection.
Add it all up, with $925 for destination and delivery, and this mid-size C-Class sedan costs a whopping $62,905.
The willing engine, responsive automatic (that you can manually manipulate via paddle shifters), the air suspension and adjustable agility settings make for a car that is fun to drive.
Mercedes says the 2015 C400 can sprint from a stop to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds — it wasn’t all that long ago that such a number was reserved for cars such as the Corvette — and yet is rated at 29 mpg on the highway and at 24 overall.
The C-Class comes with a full array of standard safety equipment, from electronic stability to LED headlamps.
But I found it a real chore just to try to figure out how to change the radio station, let alone to switch from, say FM to satellite radio, or how to use the rotary-style computer mouse thing on the center console to switch, say, from audio to navigation systems.
But my real issue was with the optional driver assistance package, which I found to be more intrusive than those I’ve experienced from other automakers.
Yes, I could switch the systems off, but I wanted to experience them, and to attempt to figure out when they’d intrude on my driving. I found the Mercedes system too intrusive, and as hard to figure out as a mother-in-law sitting in the back seat.
Wander a little close to the right lane-marker stripe and not only would the car response with a little vibration through the steering wheel, but the wheel would turn you back into the center of the lane and reduce power while doing so. I understand the steering assist but not the power reduction. What if I needed to accelerate to avoid a collision? Maybe the camera or sonar or whatever technology is at work would help, but I want to control the power with my right foot and don’t want to have the car hesitate when I need to accelerate.
Plus there were times when I didn’t have to wander toward the right edge of the lane, when simple changes in the color of the road surface seemed to trigger the system. And why primarily when wandering to the right? Only once did it happen when I edged to the left — and that was terrifying because it was on the freeway at freeway speeds.
If this behavior is anything like what we can expect from self-driving cars, I want no part of them.
However, I really wouldn’t mind spending a lot more time in the 2015 Mercedes C-Class, though I’d much prefer one that didn’t include the driver assistance package. (You also can keep the big panorama roof. Just let me keep the bi-turbo and air suspension and black ash and such.)
And if I could have an old-fashioned knob to change radio stations, that would be a nice bonus.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C400
Vehicle type: 5-passenger sedan, all-wheel drive
Base price: $48,590 Price as tested: $62,905
Engine: 3.0-liter bi-turbocharged V6, 329-horsepower @ 5,250 rpm, 354 pound-feet of torque @ 1,600 rpm Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 111.8 inches Overall length/width: 184.5 inches / 71.3 inches (excluding mirrors)
Curb weight: 3,693 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 21 city / 29 highway / 24 combined
Assembled in: Vance, Alabama