The Mercedes-Benz C-Class line was heavily updated for the 2012 model year so changes for 2013 are minimal. But there are some.
Prices have been slashed across the range, the C 250 4Matic sedan has been dropped and the C 300 gets a new engine that produces more power while using less fuel.
The lineup now consists of C 250 coupe and sedan with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, C 300 4Matic sedan with the new engine, C 350 coupe and sedan in RWD and 4Matic variants and a C 63 AMG 4Matic coupe and sedan.
There are no changes to the exterior other than variations of head- and daytime-running lights.
On the inside there is a new colour scheme for the instrument cluster and the positions of the cruise control and signal lever stalks has been reversed, putting the latter where it belongs – close to the nine o’clock position. You can now signal without worrying about engaging the cruise control.
One other change involves the addition of an ECO driving monitor in the instrument cluster on the C 300 and C 350 models. This feature is tied into the new automatic start/stop system which shuts the engine off when the vehicle comes to a stop and remains at a complete stop, re-starting instantly when you lift your foot off the brake pedal.
This system alone likely accounts for the majority of the improved fuel economy with the new and more powerful 3.5 litre V-6 used in my test car – a 2013 C 300 4Matic.
In order to maintain its lead in the luxury-brand sales race in Canada, over BMW and Audi, Mercedes-Benz has slashed $5,000 from the price of the top-selling C 300 4Matic model for 2013. But a close check of the standard equipment list reveals some features that were standard last year are now missing.
The price of my test vehicle came in at $46,800 with a few options, including a $1,700 Sport package that included 17-inch alloy wheels, an AMG styling package and a sunroof.
A Comand Nav package added $2,250 and a Premium package $2,350. The latter included heated seats, folding mirrors and bi-xenon headlights. Several of those items were standard last year, including those in the Sport and Premium packages.
This model accounts for the majority of Mercedes sedan sales in the country and it has seen the biggest change in the lineup for 2013 in the form of a new engine.
A slightly detuned version of the 3.5-litre V-6 used in the C 350 replaces the aging 3.0-litre V-6 used here previously. The 2013 C 300 has 248 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque compared to 228 horsepower and 221 lb-ft from the old 3.0-litre.
The seven-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic system are carried over unchanged.
Known internally as the M276, the 3.5-litre V-6 was developed by Mercedes-Benz during the period it owned Chrysler and some of the basic architecture can be found in Chrysler’s new Pentastar V-6.
The difference in performance between the 2012 C 300 4matic and the 2013 version is quite dramatic. In back-to-back comparisons I found the new engine, with direct injection, has more snap off the line and a willingness to respond to increased throttle pressure lacking in the old.
It also sounds a great deal more aggressive with a bit of attitude emanating from its dual pipes.
As noted above, the C 300 4matic is a big seller but it is only one of more than 20 Mercedes-Benz vehicles offered with the 4Matic system. In this class all-wheel-drive is almost mandatory in Canada to meet the competition and satisfy consumer demand.
Unlike the massive American market, where all-wheel-drive is only a blip on the sales charts, 4Matic sales dominate here.
Mercedes-Benz has offered all-wheel-drive on its cars for more than 25 years and the current 4Matic system is the fourth generation.
It uses the 4-wheel Electronic Traction System (4ETS), to monitor each wheel for slippage. When a loss of grip is detected at any individual wheel it is braked slightly and power is transferred to the other side or drive axle, to the point that the vehicle keeps going even if only one wheel has traction.
This is a permanent all-wheel drive system with a tiny centre-differential housed within the transmission case sending power to both front and rear wheels and allowing them to turn at different speeds.
Separate differentials send power to the left and right wheel at each end. The system sends 45% of engine output to the front wheels and 55% to the rear, but can vary that to 30/70% front/rear if necessary.
While 4Matic is a jewel in slippery conditions, it also comes into play the rest of the year.
In all cars, under all road conditions, there is a tendency for the front end to plow or understeer. This is a designed-in safety feature to warn drivers to slow down.
When the 4Matic system detects the onset of understeer it reduces power to the outside wheel and transfers it to the other side. This action reduces the amount of understeer, which causes the vehicle to run wide, as the inside tire tugs the vehicle back into the intended direction.
You can feel the system at work at slow speeds in slippery conditions and at higher speeds on dry pavement. Once you are ready to power out of a turn and unto a straight, apply more power and you can sense the 4Matic system diverting more power to the rear wheels. Neat!
The C 300 is a Mercedes-Benz so one expects rock-solid construction. Whether diagonally traversing a rough railway crossing or simply closing a door you get a sense of that granite-like structure.
The interior is clearly worthy of the brand with excellent fit and finish and ample soft-touch surfaces. The overall impression is rather sombre, but at least you can order up some variations in leather and wood to lighten things up – along with your pocket book.
The infotainment system is awkward to use and the lack of a backup camera seems strange when it has become common on cars costing less than half as much.
The front seats are wide and supportive and the rear seat offers more legroom than the competition, but this is no limo.
In summation, the Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic offers the image, quality and solid build quality expected of the brand in a compact, fun-to-drive package.