DETROIT -- The midsize sedan segment is important for any automaker, and for Mercedes-Benz, it is bread and butter. The C-Class not only makes up a major portion of Mercedes-Benz sales, but also serves as the first taste of the brand for many buyers. At the 2014 Detroit auto show, Mercedes-Benz showed the newest generation of this most important model, one that it can little afford to get wrong.
And from all appearances, Mercedes-Benz got the right mix of features and design.
The body of the new C-Class maintains the same general lines as the previous generation, with a short trunk following behind the cabin. Subtle styling changes include organically molded shapes in front, such as the sensuous grille bars, and a sporty, raked trailing edge for the undercarriage. A glass roof is a modern touch. As with the current generation, buyers can opt for a standard model with the classic Mercedes-Benz hood ornament, or a Sport version with the badge embedded in the hood.
At 3.7 inches longer and 1.7 inches wider, the new C-Class offers more room for rear passengers, which will likely make it more suitable as a chauffeur-driven vehicle in the Chinese market.
To improve efficiency, Mercedes-Benz used aluminum extensively throughout the body, resulting in a 220-pound weight decrease.
Mercedes-Benz will offer two versions of the C-Class in the US, a C300 4Matic and C400 4Matic, both coming standard with all-wheel drive. The C300 4Matic gets a 2-liter turbocharged direct-injection engine, good for 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Under the hood of the C400 4Matic sits a 3-liter V-6, also using direct injection and turbocharging, with output of 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque.
Those engines are mated to Mercedes-Benz's seven-speed automatic transmission, a combination that should result in very good fuel economy.
An air suspension will be optional on the C-Class, as will a connected infotainment system with an 8.4-inch LCD. The new controller for this system is an evolution of Mercedes-Benz's previous infotainment controller, adding a touch-pad module for easier alpha-numeric input.
The most impressive feature, especially for this class of vehicle, is Distronic Plus with Steering Assist. Distronic Plus is Mercedes-Benz's version of adaptive cruise control, and Steering Assist is a new feature first seen on the C-Class. This technology makes the C-Class nearly autonomous in slow traffic, by automatically steering the car to keep it in its lane.
Another included advanced driver assistance feature is automatic parallel parking.
The features Mercedes-Benz offers on the new C-Class keep it on the high-tech cutting edge, an important position in the current market. The engine updates and the lighter body should also keep the fuel economy competitive with other luxury cars. The choice for the US of only all-wheel-drive versions is interesting, but could be compelling for buyers, if Mercedes-Benz can keep the price equivalent with offerings from BMW, Audi, and Lexus.