2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Out-C-Classing The Competition
SAN DIEGO — There are some cars that outdo the competition.
With dozens of car brands and dozens upon dozens of different vehicles available from those brands, competition in the automotive space has never been more fierce. That’s excellent news for car buyers since it means cars are, in general, better than ever.
I drive more than 100 cars every year, and, once in a while, the cream rises to the top. That’s happened a few times in the last 12 months: the Rivian R1T and the Ford F-150 Lightning blew me away with their innovation, design, and technological brilliance.
Though I don’t feel that a luxury sedan will have the long-lasting impact of the first two all-electric pickup trucks to hit the market, the new 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class nonetheless joins them as a vehicle that outclasses its competition.
The new 2022 C 300 is best described as an S-Class in miniature. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the brand’s flagship, a technological tour de force that has been the debut vehicle for countless technological advancements. Everything from stability control to radar cruise control made its debut in the S-Class, and a ton of tech that rolled out in the latest S-Class has made the jump to the new C-Class.
An enormous 12-inch center touchscreen (tilted six degrees towards the driver, Mercedes reps pointed out numerous times) runs the latest version of MBUX. This Mercedes-Benz User Experience infotainment system combines navigation, audio controls, and all manner of vehicle systems into a single unified screen. The system will learn as you use it, automatically suggesting potential locations to navigate to and different audio selections. If you always drive to work and listen to NPR in the morning, the car can suggest both those things to you. If you’re always listening to sports radio for your evening commute, up that comes, automatically. Different drivers get their own profiles that can be selected by, no joke, a built-in fingerprint sensor.
The interior of the new C-Class is fantastic, matching a 12-inch digital instrument cluster with that enormous center touchscreen and ambient lighting everywhere. Mercedes loves ambient lighting, and in the C-Class you can choose from just about any color imaginable. There are even ambient light strips inside the various fan vents (which look akin to silver jet engine turbines), bathing every crevice, cupholder, and compartment in gentle purple (or blue or green or pink) light. It’s like a glorious, rolling discotheque.
The newest version of MBUX has a new user interface Mercedes calls Zero Layer. Navigation, audio, and vehicle settings are available with a single touch, rather than needing to dive through a series of complicated menus. Of course, to get into the nitty gritty of the vehicle controls, of which there are many, it takes quite a few taps. But in day-to-day use, MBUX is one of the better systems available. The map, which has an available satellite view that’s quite nice to look at, is visible on that center screen (the one that’s turned towards the driver by six degrees) and also on the dash cluster, so you’ll have no excuse to not know where you’re going.
The exterior is a mild iteration of the prior C-Class, which hasn’t changed in any meaningful way for a couple of decades. The hood has a couple of muscular lines that suggest an impressive amount of zoom that this version of the C can’t quite match, though the forthcoming AMG version will rectify any concern about the lack of power. The turbocharged 2-liter inline-4 makes 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, but it’s a 48-volt mild-hybrid system with an integrated starter generator. This is more interesting than it sounds, combining an alternator, starter motor, and a bit of extra oomph for the engine in one device. It adds an additional 20 horsepower for brief periods and delivers improved fuel economy, with the C-Class rating more than 30 mpg on the highway.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the C-Class is the availability of Digital Light, the most advanced headlight Mercedes-Benz offers. It combines an ultra-bright LED with a DLP chip, a tiny device with more than a million micromirrors that reflect the light in various directions. The upshot is that the car has hugely fine-tuned control over where the headlights shine. It can, for example, shine your high beams everywhere in front of you except for an oncoming vehicle, which means you don’t blind the driver. It can also display arrows or logos on the ground, using flashing triangles to alert you if you depart from your lane. It’s complicated to describe, but it makes possible an incredible amount of features to maximize safety. A headlight is, after all, the most crucial safety feature your car has. If you don’t believe me, try turning them off on a dark backroad in the middle of the night.
Alas, many of these features, like the high beams that illuminate everything except oncoming traffic, are currently illegal in the United States. Under current NHTSA rules, headlights can have only two modes: low and high. But that’s all changing because NHTSA is preparing a new rule that will allow for all manner of advanced technologies like these, hopefully within the next year or two. Mercedes has said it will prepare an over-the-air update to implement all the headlight features currently available in Europe, so if you buy the C-Class with Digital Light today, you’ll get all the fancy illumination innovations activated down the road.
The new 2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 starts in the high-$40,000 range and runs into the low-$60k’s if you spec every option. A more powerful AMG version is coming, adding more horsepower and trick features like rear-wheel steering, but that one will cost a bit more. But if you’re in the market for a compact luxury sports sedan, you can’t do better than this wonderful C-Class.