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2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class ReviewThe Good
The C-Class lineup expands for 2012, adding two new coupes, and Mercedes-Benz refreshes its most popular vehicle, giving it a new turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant, exterior and interior updates, and new, more fuel-efficient V6 engines.The Bad
Some owners and reviewers say the 2012 C-Class's new 4-cylinder engine doesn't deliver the performance expected from a Mercedes-Benz, despite related improvements in fuel economy, and the rear seat remains a tight fit for taller passengers.
The CarGurus View
With some of its competitors edging ahead when it comes to performance, handling and features, the C-Class was greatly in need of a refresh, which it received for 2012. The result is a more competitive and comfortable car that also makes a nod toward fuel economy. Owners overwhelmingly like what they see in the redesigned C-Class, and compare it favorably to many competitive vehicles. Of course, Mercedes-Benz's reputation for building quality cars doesn't hurt, making the C-Class the car to beat in its category, at least in many owners' minds.
At a Glance
Although it's not a completely new car, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class receives extensive updates for 2012. The automaker notes that more than 2,000 new parts distinguish the 2012 C-Class from the previous year's version. Outside, restyled bumpers, headlights, taillights and a new aluminum hood, which reduces weight and helps improve fuel efficiency, give the C-Class a freshened exterior appearance, and establish a design link with the E-Class. Inside, the automaker revamped the C-Class's dashboard, controls and center console, resulting in a more refined appearance. In addition, Mercedes adds a new leather-wrapped steering wheel, borrowed from the CLS.
Mercedes also adds a new base trim level, the C250, consisting of the C250 Luxury Sedan and the C250 Sport Sedan, as well as a new C250 Coupe. For the first time in the U.S., a 4-cylinder engine powers the entry-level C-Class trims. Thanks to direct injection and turbocharging, the 4-cylinder engine posts fuel economy numbers of up to 31 mpg. Joining the C250 Coupe in the lineup is a new C350 Coupe. Other C-Class trims for the 2012 C-Class include the C300 Luxury 4Matic Sedan and Sport Sedan, the C350 Sport Sedan and the C63 AMG Sedan and Coupe.
Two new V6 engines, designed to improve fuel economy, power the C300 and C350 trims, while the C63 AMG retains its V8 powerplant. Mercedes offers the C300 trims as either rear-wheel-drive sedans or with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Luxury trims feature a traditional chrome grille with the three-pointed star perched above the grille, while on the Sport trims Mercedes positions the three-pointed star in the center of the grille. Sport trims also include a front apron with mesh air intakes, sculpted side sills and a rear skirt under the bumper. The top-of-the-line C63 features a unique grille, headlights, rear spoiler and wheels, as well as a sport exhaust system, sport suspension and unique exterior upgrades, all designed by AMG, Mercedes' in-house tuner.
Mercedes also adds 5 new driver-assistance systems to the C-Class for 2012, including Attention Assist, which detects drowsiness and alerts the driver, and Blind Spot Assist. Other new systems include Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist and Park Assist with Parktronic. Finally, Mercedes introduces a new generation of telematics designed to make such features as wireless music, text message display and phone book transfer easier to use.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class competes against such upscale midsize vehicles as the BMW 3 Series, the Acura TL, the Cadillac CTS, the Infiniti G, the Audi A4 and the Lincoln MKZ. A number of its competitors, including the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4, already come equipped with cutting-edge 4-cylinder engines, which gave Mercedes the incentive to update its own lineup.
The C-Class's new 1.8-liter 4-cylinder powerplant, which produces 201 hp at 5,500 rpm and 229 lb-ft of torque, drives the C250 trims from 0-60 in 7.1 seconds. High-pressure direct injection manages the fuel spray in time increments as small as 0.1 milliseconds, resulting in higher efficiency and ultra-low emissions, according to the automaker. The 4-cylinder engine delivers fuel economy numbers of 21/31 mpg and requires premium fuel.
Mercedes also updated the line's V6 engines, incorporating direct injection to improve fuel economy by as much as 15 percent. A new, lightweight 3.5-liter V6 engine powers the C300 Luxury and Sport trims. It features direct injection as well as variable valve timing, and generates 248 hp, an increase of 20 hp over the previous year. In addition, it delivers the 251 lb-ft of torque over a wider range of rpm, ensuring optimal performance during acceleration. The V6 pushes the C300 trims from 0-60 in 6.0 seconds and achieves decent fuel economy numbers of 20/27 mpg. It also requires premium fuel.
Both C300 trims come equipped with the automaker's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which incorporates a 4-wheel electronic traction system (4-ETS) and integrates with the C-Class's standard electronic stability control system to maximize stability and handling on all types of road surfaces. Under operation, the system continually monitors traction and grip, and makes necessary adjustments at the first sign of slippage by sending power only to wheels with grip.
The C350 trims get an upgraded version of the 3.5-liter V6, which generates 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. That's good enough to drive the C350 from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds. Fuel economy numbers check in at a decent 20/29 mpg.
The 4-cylinder and V6 engines link to a 7-speed automatic transmission, which ensures smooth acceleration as well as good fuel economy thanks to two overdrive gears. It includes Touch Shift, which enables manual shifting, and adjusts shift points to match the driver's style, thanks to adaptive logic. In addition, the C300 Luxury and Sport, C350 Sport and C350 Coupe receive a new driver-selectable ECO start/stop feature, which automatically shuts off the engine at stop lights or when idling to conserve fuel. The engine instantly restarts when the driver's foot lifts off the brake pedal. The C250 and C350 Coupes also receive steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters as standard features.
A hand-built 6.3-liter V8 engine continues to power the C63 AMG. It puts out 451 hp and an impressive 443 lb-ft of torque. The C63 clocks a 0-60 time of just 4.4 seconds. Mercedes pairs the V8 with a 7-speed AMG SpeedShift MCT transmission with four driving modes, including Controlled Efficiency, Sport, Sport Plus and a Manual shift mode. Aluminum paddle shifters located on the steering wheel give the driver fingertip control. Like the other C-Class engines, it requires premium fuel.
Ride & Handling
Vehicles sporting the three-pointed star have always been known for their solid build, smooth ride and good handling, and that remains true for the 2012 C-Class. However, some reviewers say the C-Class doesn't quite deliver the sporty handling of such competitors as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Infiniti G35. Overall, the automaker tuned the C-Class trims more for ride comfort than sporty handling, although the Sport trims and coupes feature more aggressive suspensions. All C-Class sedans and coupes feature rear-wheel drive, with the exception of trims equipped with 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
The C250 Luxury and the C300 Luxury sedans ride on an Agility Control suspension that makes automatic adjustments based on road surfaces and each driver's style. When road surfaces toss the vehicle around, the system automatically firms up individual shock absorbers for better stability and feedback, as well as a smoother ride. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering comes standard.
The C250, C300 and C350 Sport Sedans, as well as the C250 and C350 Coupes add a sport suspension with firmer coil springs and shock absorbers for sharper handling and a tighter feel. In addition, Mercedes lowers the ride height for better stability and a more aggressive stance. For the C250 Coupe, Mercedes offers an optional track-tuned performance suspension with a constant-ratio direct-steer system. The package also includes upgraded perforated brakes and a performance-tuned exhaust.
The C63 Sedan and Coupe continue to ride on an AMG sports suspension, which includes a redesigned front axle and a reinforced rear axle, as well as AMG shock absorbers and stabilizers that automatically adjust the air spring tuning, depending on the driving situation, to provide dynamic handling. Mercedes also equips the C63 trims with aluminum paddle shifters, an AMG sport exhaust and an AMG high-performance braking system. Owners can add an AMG limited-slip differential as an option.
Cabin & Comfort
Interior updates for the 2012 C-Class include a redesigned dashboard, restyled air vents with metallic trim, new controls with a metallic finish and a new center console. Mercedes also includes new a leather-wrapped steering wheel with a chrome-plated central spoke. The goal of the interior redesign was to create a more stylish, upscale appearance with a sporty feel, according to the automaker.
The new C250 Luxury Sedan comes standard with such features as Burl Walnut wood trim, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, HD radio, illuminated entry, a SmartKey remote controller and auto-dimming interior and driver-side mirrors, as well as a 5.8-inch color LCD display for the audio system and other interior functions, accessed through steering-wheel-mounted controls. The C300 Luxury adds a tilt/sliding sunroof and a 4.5-inch color instrument cluster.
The C250 and C300 Sport Sedans, as well as the C250 Coupe, feature sport cabin styling with a three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, aluminum trim and rubber-studded aluminum sport pedals. The C250 Sport and C300 Sport also include a tilt/sliding sunroof and 8-way power-adjustable sport front seats, while the C350 Coupe gets Burl Walnut trim, a panorama sunroof and sport seats with integrated headrests. The C350 Sport comes equipped with Black Ash wood trim, heated front seats, a 14-way power-adjustable driver's seat with 4-way power lumbar support and a 450-watt Harman Kardon Logic7 sound system.
Mercedes equips the C63 AMG Sedan and Coupe AMG with sport front seats with deep side bolsters, a 3-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel, heated front seats, AMG gauges and rubber-studded aluminum sport pedals. The C63 AMG Sedan also includes Black Ash wood trim, 8-way power-adjustable front seats, a tilt/sliding sunroof and the Harman Kardon sound system, while the C63 AMG Coupe gets aluminum trim, a panorama roof and a 14-way power-adjustable driver's seat. In addition, the automaker offers a wide range of options, including leather upholstery and a COMAND hard-drive navigation system, on all C-Class trims.
The IIHS named the 2012 C-Class a Top Safety Pick, since it earned a top rating of Good for protecting passengers during all types of crashes, including frontal, side-impact, rear and rollover crashes. The NHTSA gave the C-Class an overall rating of 4 out of 5 stars, which breaks down to 5 stars for side-impact crashes, 4 stars for rollover crashes and 3 stars for frontal crashes.
All C-Class trims come with 9 airbags, including front pelvic and window curtain airbags, as well as a driver's-side knee airbag. Owners can also add optional rear side-impact airbags. Antilock brakes, an electronic stability control system, brake assist and rain-sensing windshield wipers are among the other standard safety features. Attention Assist also comes standard for 2012, while safety options include Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, a rear-view camera and the Parktronic parking guidance system.
What Owners Think
Owners say they're overwhelmingly impressed with the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, for a number of reasons. The automaker's well-earned reputation for build quality remains intact, with a great number of owners commenting of the C-Class's solid feel and overall quality. Many owners also report that they chose the C-Class after driving competitive vehicles, adding that they feel the C-Class was the best fit for them. The C-Class's dynamic exterior styling, quick acceleration, nimble handling and cutting-edge technology features, as well as its attractive, well-equipped interior, all appeal to owners. It's no surprise, then, that they routinely give the C-Class top overall marks, and some add that it's an even better car than they expected.
The few negative comments about the C-Class usually concern the new 4-cylinder engine, with some owners noting that the C250 doesn't deliver the performance of some competitive vehicles. In addition, some owners find the C-Class's seats too firm and the backseat tight for taller adults. Some owners also complain about limited cargo space. But other than those issues, owners give the C-Class an overall rating of 5 out of 5 stars.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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