First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-class

Body styles and powertrains
You don't pull big sales numbers without a lot of variants, and the new C-class will be coming to market as a sedan, a coupe, and a wagon -- with AMG versions of all three -- available for order right now in Europe. A convertible is most assuredly on the way. While the rest of the world gets to choose between some combination of three four-cylinder and two V-6 gas engines, or five inline fours and one V-6 diesels, M-B's U.S. marketing team is keeping it simple for us. The C-class sedan will be available this August with a choice of three gasoline engines, all mated to the very fine seven-speed automatic transmission, which is a critical tool in the fuel economy war. The C300 4Matic has a carryover 228-hp 3.0-liter V-6 with 221 pounds-feet of torque. The C350 Sport has a much more robust 302-hp 3.5-liter V-6 from the E-class with 273 pounds-feet of torque. But it was the brand new turbocharged 201-hp 1.8-liter direct-injected inline four powering the entry-level C250 that had the attention of the press corps. It was all about the torque -- a solid 229 pounds-feet, beating the 3.0-lter V-6's. Well, it was torque, a very sophisticated turbocharger, and the weight advantage the smaller engine has over the bigger V-6s. All in, the C250 weighs 400 pounds less than the C300, and even beats the modern C350 by 300 pounds.

The appeal of the C250 was especially noticeable after a long day of driving on the sinuous and narrow mountain roads of Tenerife, which led from lush vegetation in the south into a harsh moonscape of lava spilling from the steep center of the island to its north coast. Roads are fairly well maintained, as befitting a place geared directly to a well-heeled tourist clientele, but the interior roads snake for miles along the edges of vast crevasses reminiscent of Kauai's canyons, and you can see the canary-yellow paint of way-too-short stone blocks lining the road edge for miles in the distance, a cheerful reminder that nothing but a very long drop awaits you on the other side if you overcook a turn.

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