Life has not been kind to the three-pointed star lately. The A-Class was criticized for its poor packaging and the harsh ride, the B-Class for its bland design, the CLA-Class for being over-styled, the facelifted E-Class for not righting enough of the wrongs, and the new S-Class for courting ostentatious luxury. Next in line for their verdicts are the GLA-Class crossover (due in September) and the new C-Class range (due in March 2014) – the latter of which promises to be exceptional in more ways than one.
The Next C-Class
For a start, the 2015 C-Class is a great-looking car: sleeker and sportier, but not a four-door coupe; roomier and more practical, but not too close to the E-Class; an ergonomic breakthrough; and a lesson in build quality, but not too advanced or fashion-oriented for the typically conservative clientele. Applause is also due to the fact that the next C-Class is going to shed up to 220 lbs in weight, that it boasts a line-up of more frugal engines, and that it will be offered in mild hybrid (MH) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) forms. In addition, Mercedes is promising an even more comprehensive active and passive safety package, a more comfortable ride, and a host of new convenience options.
Take for instance the stunning, all-new interior: gone is the glossy-yet-staid living-room atmosphere the marque has been cultivating for so many years. The W205-generation C-Class breaks with tradition by introducing more modern materials, easier to read instruments, and an iPad-size color display masterminded by the central Comand controller. The number of buttons, switches, and telltales has been drastically reduced; the new dashboard layout looks simple and contemporary; and the airier cabin offers quantifiably more head- and legroom in the back. Although the C-Class is a relatively low-margin product by M-B standards, the company decided to spend an extra $350 per unit on making the roof, all four doors, the front fenders, hood, and trunk lid of aluminum rather than steel. As a result, the lightest new C-Class weighs less than 3086 lbs, an advantage which is bound to pay off at the wheel and at the pumps.
A New CLK
The next C-Class will again be offered as a four-door sedan (W205), a wagon (S205), and – for China only – a long-wheelbase notchback (V205) aimed at chauffeur-driven owners. Thanks to MRA, the brand's new modular rear-wheel drive architecture, we can expect a much more space-efficient packaging. In the case of the wagon, the cargo capacity is believed to increase from 17.1 to 17.6 cu ft. The two-door models due in 2016 will also benefit from the roomier cabin layout.
To be badged CLK (once again), the C-Class coupe will be partnered by a four-seater convertible, following a pattern interrupted in 2010. Both versions had been on hold for several months, but in March they received green lights together with the corresponding E-Class variants that may be sold as CLE. While the CLK is expected to undercut the BMW 4 Series and the next Audi A5, the CLE will be positioned in no man's land between the 4 and 6 Series. The CLK is claimed to be a highly emotional driver's car, combining good looks (no B-pillars!) and entertaining road manners with a range of more economical turbocharged engines. Coupe and convertible both will be available with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
A C-Class powered by a fuel cell? Perhaps in the distant future when a decent hydrogen infrastructure is in place. An electric C-Class? No, e-power is B-Class only. A range extender? Too close to a proper hybrid. A CNG engine? Coming, but not for all markets. A hybrid? Yes, actually two of those: a mild hybrid (MH) and a PHEV, but no full/parallel hybrid which kind of combines the worst of both worlds. MRA is actually already engineered for hybrid use, battery accommodation, and for the upcoming new nine-speed automatic. The W205 MH – better known as the C300 Bluetec Hybrid – is, if you like, an electric range extender that mates a 27-hp electric motor to the familiar 204-hp 2.2-liter I-4 diesel. This model, which is primarily for European markets, can reportedly cover over 10 miles in silent, zero-emissions mode. One rung up, we find the C350 Bluetec Hybrid powered by a 252-hp turbocharged gas-fed I-4 in sync with a 68-hp plug-in motor. In PHEV configuration, the C-Class is said to be good for up to 30 emission-free miles, which happens to meet the current requirement posted by the Chinese red tape.
Unlike Audi and BMW, Mercedes currently has no three-cylinder engine that would fit the C-Class, and the only small four-cylinder units are those built to order by Renault. Long-term, this strategy will have to change, but right now the core C-Class powertrains are the ones we know from the A- and B-Class. In the future, a new four-cylinder (codenamed M256, and most likely to come from Daimler's tie-up with Renault-Nissan) will form the basis of a new straight-six, which will replace the current V-6. That's the good news. The bad news is the late introduction in 2017 and the fact that the diesel variant (OM656) is going to launch at least one full year before the M256 gas engine. The aforementioned nine-speed automatic will incidentally premiere in the all-new 2016 E-Class with the C-Class application duet to follow later that year.
Here is what we envisage the global engine line-up to look like when the 2015 C-Class goes on sale in 2014:
- C220 CDI: 2.2-liter turbodiesel I-4, 170 hp
- C250 CDI: 2.2-liter turbodiesel I-4, 204 hp
- C300 CDI: 2.2-liter turbodiesel I-4, 231 hp
- C180: 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4, 156 hp
- C200: 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, 184 hp
- C250: 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, 211 hp
- C300: 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, 252 hp
- C400: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, 333 hp
- C63 AMG: 4.0-liter V-8, 462 hp
Later in the life cycle, we make see a C63 AMG Black Series rated at 485 hp. Somewhat surprisingly, there are no plans to offer a V-6 diesel.
Renderings courtesy Autobild/Larson