The cars we loved.
The mid-sized C-Class family of cars has been Mercedes Benz’s bread and butter in the US since its beginning in 1993. As families go, this one is big. Coupes, sedans station wagons and convertibles make up the array of cars that go under the C-Class moniker. That’s not even mentioning the AMG variants. When Mercedes had a controlling interest in Chrysler, somehow the quality of these cars suffered. With six global factories beyond the two in Germany, the company might have spread the C-Class too thin, or bitten off more trouble than it could swallow with the acquisition of MoPar boys. When Mercedes parts met those from Chrysler, the result was beneficial to Chrysler. For Mercedes, not so much.
Its quality fell to the point that many were losing confidence in the once benchmarked brand. While not dropping like a rock, Mercedes quality did not keep pace with the fast rising Koreans and a resurgent American Big Two (Ford and GM). The same thing in varying degrees was happening to BMW and Audi. Mercedes would eventually free itself of Chrysler, but not before leaving scars on both companies. Before it could get back to the business of repairing its reputation, it had to start at the bottom (in the US market).
To turn things around post-Chrysler, Mercedes went about re-engineering it’s the C-Class first. The trademark rounded merged headlights that first appeared in 2000 were gone and in its place a return to the rectangular shaped lenses of the past, but with a modern twist. New technologies like BLUETEC would introduce the first ever four-cylinder Mercedes with a diesel engine. Of course, no such diesel cars would not make it to America, but the C250 would arrive with a four cylinder (1.8L) turbo for improved efficiency. Mercedes had been a leader in the use of diesels in the past to improve fuel efficiency. Today,7-speed transmissions, direct injection and multi spark ignition can squeeze 201 hp and 31 mpg from its entry-level C250, with no hint of black smoke in sight. There had been subtle changes to the model lineup, all with the intent of moving towards simplification.
When the dust cleared, America initially got a line up based on four model designations: Classic, Elegance, Avantgarde and AMG. Of the four designations, the Classic and Elegance trims were closest to the traditional ideal of the old widow’s soft riding Mercedes. Now the choices come down as C250, C300, C350 and C63 (AMG). To capture the more youth oriented BMW 3-Series market, the Avantgarde models would feature a lower profile, firmer ride and more responsive steering. These were usually V6 powered C350 or sport models of the C300. The C300 and 350 are the only models to feature Mercedes’s four wheel drive system called 4MATIC. Initially the C-Class ranged in power from 228 to 268, not quite matching the top non M BMW 335i. For those who wanted more performance, the ultimate C-Class was the 400+ hp AMG C63 models, a direct competitor to the BMW M3.
Mercedes claimed that the 2008 AMG C-Class models were designed from the ground up for performance, suggesting that pervious AMG cars were just bolt on performance specials. This may have explained why critics in the past complained of heavy under steer in the C –Class AMG cars they tested. If you’ve ever boosted a car’s horsepower in a game like Gran Turismo without bolstering its suspension, you’d understand the effect. Mercedes went out of its way to correct the shortcoming by marketing Agility Control and AMG inspired lowered sport tuned suspensions on the regular models. While AMG cars were link to a long racing heritage that was not always exploited in a brand that had been seen as an older gentleman’s car. To show how serious it was, Mercedes even offered AMG buyers the opportunity to attend the AMG Driving Academy, a driving course similar to what BMW touts at its Spartanburg South Carolina facility.
With engines as small as a 1.8L and as big as 6.3L, the C Class goes much further than BMW in trying to address power and efficiency options in its regular gasoline powered cars. The renewed attention to performance has trickled down to the standard range of Mercedes cars. Quality too has improved, but the ghost of the recent past still haunts the pre-owned market and threatens today’s resale value. Despite all of Mercedes Benz’s efforts, the C Class is still seen as softly sprung luxury cars that attract a slightly older buyer than the more youth oriented BMW 3 Series.