First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-class

The V-6 in the C350 is a full 1.2 seconds faster from 0 to 60 mph than the C250, which feels great when you're passing the tourist buses waddling uphill, and when you're on the island's fast ring road. But flinging along with those yellow rocks in your peripheral vision is a much more entertaining proposition in the C250. Its combined fuel economy is being touted at an estimated 24, a nice bonus over the C300's 20mpg and the C350's 21 mpg.

For you diesel fans, it's coming. The late arrival of the C250 CDI is an interesting story. Production of the next-generation, NAFTA-model C-Class moves to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 2013. That's when you'll get your diesel. As MBNA public relations chief Geoff Day points out, when you can still get double-digit fuel economy improvement with internal combustion gas engines, diesel just isn't as critical. That could very easily change by 2013. Any bets on the price of gasoline in two years?

The four-wheel independent suspension (three-link, strut-type in front, multi-link rear) with stabilizer bars front and rear, is carryover. Adding the Dynamic Handling Package allows you to choose between comfort and a sporty setting with the push of a dash button, and a dial next to the gear selector will change shift points from economy to sport mode. If you live on Tenerife, it makes a big different on the ravaged interior roads.

Five new driver assistance systems based on state-of-the-art camera, radar, and sensor technology, make it into the C-class. Attention Assist to detect driver drowsiness is included. Adaptive High Beam Assist, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, and Parktronic are available as options.

Timing and pricing
Because of its late summer arrival in the U.S., the new C-class will be badged as a 2012 model. Base price, if it follows the typical M-B pattern of launching a refreshed model at the same price as the outgoing car or at an "equipment-based, better value price," should be in the low $30,000 range.

No word on AMG pricing, but we are assured that the C-class AMG models -- launched in Europe with the more prosaic C-class models -- will make it to America in August. The C63 AMG coupe, revealed to the press under strict photo embargo, will show its striking face at the upcoming New York Auto Show. Check back with for the details.

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