The verdict: Redesigned for 2022, the 2023 Mercedes-Benz C300 sedan’s advanced technology and fun-to-drive elements can’t paper over its serious flaws.
Versus the competition: Mercedes can’t decide if the C300 competes against the Tesla Model 3, an upstart Genesis G70 or a traditional luxury sports sedan like the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series — and it’s ended up behind them all.
Luxury cars are no longer solely about nice materials, meticulous build quality and impressive performance. These days, technological advancement is just as important, and Mercedes-Benz finds itself at the heart of that competition. The automaker has an EQ lineup of electric vehicles and an advanced Mercedes-Benz User Experience system, and it’s even moved toward electrifying its AMG performance cars — all evidence that it’s aware of the luxury market’s sea change. But the automaker can’t seem to consistently execute these changes well, and the C300 sedan is the latest victim of Stuttgart’s attempts.
Related: 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class: Honey, I Shrunk the S-Class
Inside and out, the C-Class has been redesigned in the image of its much bigger S-Class sibling. It features upmarket exterior styling and interior technology, including a standard tablet-style 11.9-inch touchscreen with the latest MBUX operating system. The base C300 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, making 255 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque. The mild-hybrid system can briefly add a boost of 20 hp and 148 pounds-feet of torque.
We drove a 2022 C300 sedan with 4Matic all-wheel drive (rear-wheel drive is standard), but the car is unchanged for the 2023 model year. A host of options took its $46,600 starting price (with AWD) all the way to $60,870 (all prices include destination). Big-ticket options included a Multimedia Package that added a head-up display and augmented reality navigation (though not in the same display, as they appear on higher-level Benzes), plus a Driver Assistance Package that brought adaptive cruise control, lane change assist and blind spot assist with intersection collision warning. There was also an AMG Line With Night Package that added performance-oriented design cues and features. Our test C300 came equipped with winter tires, though unfortunately, our time in the car coincided with some unusually warm November days.
We had mixed feelings about the redesigned S-Class when we reviewed it. Would similar changes to the C-Class cause similar problems?
Driven to Frustration
2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 | Cars.com photo by Jonathan Earley
The new mild-hybrid turbo four-cylinder and nine-speed automatic transmission are an excellent combination. Power comes effortlessly and the car practically leaps forward with a tap of the accelerator pedal; some editors actually thought it was too touchy. When you stand on the accelerator, power just keeps coming. The addition of the mild-hybrid system makes the engine stop-start system’s operation seamless, which adds to the feeling of luxury.
The C300’s handling also impresses; it feels as nimble and agile as any non-high-performance model in its class. The AMG Line With Night Package includes a sport suspension, sport-tuned steering and a thicker sport steering wheel that makes for a confident grip. I just wish the C300’s steering feel matched its agility; there’s an unwelcome nonlinearity to it that makes it feel as though the car has completed a maneuver before the driver has finished turning the wheel.
Other aspects of driving the C300 are even more frustrating. The AMG Line With Night Package includes a sport brake system with drilled front rotors, joining that bordering-on-touchy accelerator pedal with a brake pedal with the opposite problem: There’s far too much travel, leaving it feeling almost entirely disconnected from the actual braking process. Having almost no communication from the pedal makes achieving a smooth stop difficult.
Beyond that, ride quality is overly harsh. Given the car’s winter tires and our unseasonably warm weather, we expected a mushy, overly cushioned ride because winter tires are softer than all-season or summer tires, and they usually have more sidewall, too. What we got was a brittle, harsh ride that made every trip more exhausting than necessary.
In its sportiest setting, the C300’s exhaust makes a pleasant, low rumble — or at least it seems to from inside the car. In reality, the exhaust sound is so augmented that it’s much louder inside the cabin than outside. Also not helping the C300’s cause are the large and obviously fake exhaust finishers in the rear bumper; the actual exhaust tips protrude under the car and are visible to drivers behind the C300. Such easily broken illusions detract from the sense of luxury.
Owners do have to use premium gas — that most luxurious of fuels. Fuel economy for the C300 4Matic is average for an AWD luxury sports sedan with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine: The EPA rates the 2023 sedan at 24/33/27 mpg city/highway/combined.
2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 | Cars.com photo by Jonathan Earley
Mercedes-Benz trickled S-Class technology down to the C-Class, and it brought most of the same issues here as it did in that car — plus some new ones. You’ll find most of those problems in the 11.9-inch tablet-style touchscreen, which is also where most of the controls are located (the first problem). Fewer physical controls in or around the center console of a car can be mitigated by steering-wheel controls, but the C300’s steering wheel has touch-sensitive controls, including an especially aggravating volume slider.
We called out the S-Class for the needless complications in its MBUX multimedia system, and most of that carries over to the C-Class. I can forgive the C-Class a bit given its target buyer is likely more familiar with modern technology (millennials don’t usually field tech-support calls from other millennials), but it’s still needlessly complex. Bodies of water in the (optional) navigation map shimmer, and buildings are lit up at night. It’s distracting. Even more distracting is the augmented reality navigation display in the central touchscreen. In more expensive Mercedes, the AR navigation appears in the head-up display, but it’s relegated to the touchscreen here and distracts more than it helps. A camera system displays the view ahead of the car on the screen and places virtual navigation icons over the image. Keeping this in the driver’s line of sight via the head-up display isn’t perfect and takes some getting used to, but looking down and to the right to see them on a touchscreen is much worse.
What this all feels like is an attempt to compete with the Tesla Model 3. Features like AR navigation appear to exist simply because they can, not because they improve the driving experience. The lack of physical buttons feels more futuristic, but it’s hard to argue it’s luxurious; a lack of physical controls likewise makes the S-Class feel less luxurious.
One piece of tech that does feel like a highlight in the C-Class is the digital instrument panel. It’s easily configurable, clear and easy to read. There’s nothing to set it apart from a variety of digital instrument panels in more and less affordable mainstream and luxury vehicles — BMWs, Toyotas, Fords and the like — but at least it works well. The same goes for the voice command feature, which is activated with a simple “Hey, Mercedes.”
Another problem with the C300 is that its interior just isn’t a very comfortable place to be. Other editors and I had issues finding a comfortable driving position, and the backseat felt cramped. A large center floor hump cuts into foot room back there, and head- and legroom are also on the smaller side. This isn’t unusual for the class, but that doesn’t make it any less aggravating.
Interior materials quality was also mixed. Not one of our editors believed the upholstery on the seats was all real leather despite the “Power Red/black leather” line item on our test vehicle’s window sticker.
On the positive side, there is some ability to personalize the interior to the driver’s taste thanks to a configurable instrument panel and adjustable ambient lighting. It’s one of the first times I’ve actually enjoyed adjusting the ambient lighting in a test vehicle.
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The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2022 Top Safety Pick+, the organization’s highest designation. To earn that rating, a vehicle must ace a variety of crash tests, all trim levels must offer headlights that earn a rating of at least acceptable, and the car’s vehicle-to-vehicle and daytime vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention systems must be rated at least advanced. The C-Class’ standard Active Brake Assist and optional Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function both meet the front crash prevention standards. Mercedes-Benz is known for its a la carte options structure — again, our test vehicle’s options added almost $15,000 — and while some safety features are standard, the more advanced systems remain added-cost options. Some luxury brands (Genesis and Lexus, for example) make many of these features standard.
Falling Further Behind
Five years ago, a C300 came in third in our comparison of seven luxury sports sedans. Since then, its competitors have improved while Mercedes seems to have lost its way.
What the C300 offers owners now is a frustrating, tech-laden package with a three-pointed star on the grille. There just aren’t enough enjoyable driving qualities to make the C300 worth a recommendation over its competitors; Alfa Romeo, BMW and Genesis all make cars that are more fun to drive, and if you’re simply looking to show off all the cool techy things your car can (but probably shouldn’t) do, get a Tesla Model 3 and shell out for Full Self Driving.
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