Mercedes-Benz’s smallest car offers a wide range of power, equipment, and price, spanning the frugal C250 to the snortin’ C63 AMG. As a driver’s car, the C-class doesn’t deliver the same all-around balance that makes the BMW 3-Series so great. However, Mercedes places a larger emphasis on luxury and refinement, and it shows. Regardless of model, every C-class has a quiet cabin, a composed ride, excellent build quality, and an assertive but unobtrusive powertrain. It offers comfortable seats; a slick, three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel; and a new 5.8-inch display that integrates HD Radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a USB port in the center console. The downsized C250 achieves a respectable 21/31 mpg fuel economy rating, but the smallish 1.8-liter displacement means the four-cylinder isn’t as potent as BMW’s new 240-hp turbo four. Buyers who demand all-wheel drive are restricted to the C300 sedan, which uses a 228-hp V-6. The C350’s direct-injected 3.5-liter revs eagerly and accelerates quickly when the right pedal is planted. All C-classes come with a smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic, but it’s not quite as quick as the eight-speed gearboxes offered by some competitors. While the proletarian C-class models may cede some performance to the BMW 3-series, there’s one big exception: the C63 AMG, which packs a normally aspirated 6.2-liter V-8 that charges off the line with an authority that is absent in BMW’s M3. The high-performance BMW boasts a more neutral and more tactile chassis, but the Mercedes is just as fun around a track.

Drive: Rear-wheel, 4-wheel

Trim levels: C250, C300 4Matic, C350, C63 AMG

Body styles: Coupe, sedan, 4- or 5-passenger

Engines: 1.8L turbo I-4, 201 hp, 229 lb-ft
3.0L V-6, 228 hp, 221 lb-ft
3.5L V-6, 302 hp, 273 lb-ft
6.2L V-8, 451/481 hp, 443 lb-ft

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Passenger volume: (coupe/sedan) 80.5/88.2 cu ft

Cargo space: (coupe/sedan) 11.7/12.4 cu ft

A thorough refresh for 2012 has injected the C-class lineup with a fresh look, one new body style, two new engines, and a longer list of safety features. After a six-year absence, the four-cylinder engine has returned to the U.S.-market in the C250. The C350’s new direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 provides a 34-hp bump over last year’s engine. All C-class models have been face-lifted, and the addition of a two-door coupe brings a more aggressive stance.

ABS; front, side, front pelvis, side curtain, and driver’s knee air bags; traction and stability control; tire-pressure monitors; and drowsiness alert are standard. Automatic high-beams, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, swiveling headlights, parking sensors, and rear side air bags are optional.

All: 31-21 mpg city/19-31 mpg highway

  • More refined than a 3-series
  • Excellent build quality
  • C63 AMG is as good as an M3
  • Nav system has a steep learning curve
  • Not as nimble as a 3-series

Now with two doors and four cylinders.

  • Audi A4/S4
  • BMW 3-series
  • Infiniti G
  • Lexus IS

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