2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4MATIC Review: League of its own

David Zenlea

“This car,” my three-year-old announced upon settling into her child seat, “is nice.

I’m aware you don’t visit this fine automotive site to read the banal new-car impressions of a toddler. Yet “nice” is the perfect adjective for the latest C-Class. Moreover, it speaks to something profound about the luxury-car game in 2023.

The C-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s compact luxury sedan, which means it competes against the Audi A4 and BMW 3 series. The latter model enjoyed spectacular success and influence of 1990s and early 2000s, setting a sporty tone for this segment that endures today. This performance-priority mindset developed alongside other industry phenomena: depressingly thin profit margins and ruthless cost-cutting (which has banished truly premium materials from anything costing less than six figures), and—my favorite—automotive journalists who think at-the-limit handling behavior is the only relevant decider of a vehicle’s merit.

mercedes benz c300 4matic rear
David Zenlea

Whatever the reason, over the past 20-odd years, the widespread definition of a luxury car has narrowed to the point that every automaker with premium aspirations, from Cadillac to Kia to Volvo, has attempted to build a Bavarian-style sport sedan. Some have been great, but all too often, they’re not. More to the point, very few have been “nice” in a way that would be obvious to a child or anyone else who hadn’t been immersed in Yuppie culture, let alone twenty years of car magazine comparison tests.

That’s why the C-Class, which Mercedes launched as a new-generation model for 2022, is so refreshing. Voluptuous styling is a refreshing break from the ­Angry Birds vibes of the latest 3-series and its groupies. As with the Benzes designed by Bruno Sacco in the ’80s and ’90s, it conveys gravitas with simplicity. The effect is that of a scaled-down S-Class, which makes sense; both ride on Mercedes’ modular rear-drive platform (MRA 2, in Benz-speak).

In the manner of most vehicles loaned to media, this C300 was loaded with optional equipment, including AMG multi-spoke wheels ($600) and the AMG Line with Night Package ($3050). No doubt, the no-money-down lease special edition of the car wouldn’t look quite as ritzy. Yet I suspect even then, without high-gloss black exterior elements, the basic proportions of the car would convey enough mass and elegance to distinguish itself from the smaller, dumpier CLA-Class.

This interior, meanwhile, offers up a riot of colors, materials, and shapes. On the dashboard, top-stitched leather meets wood meets aluminum and piano black trim, part of the same AMG Line with Night Package. Blue accent lighting emanates from every crevice, including the door pulls, which are themselves sculpted to look as if they’re floating. Even the climate-control vents are neat steampunk pieces, recessed in multiple layers of trim and lit from within. All that probably reads as over the top and garish. Trust me, it’s not. Think outgoing-generation C-Class, with even more sense of occasion.

As in the larger S-Class, a massive touchscreen is the cabin’s centerpiece, and in this setting it’s a letdown. It’s not just that the interface is occasionally fussy, although it is (as are the touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel). Fifteen years on from the introduction of the first iPhone, touchscreens have lost their novelty. What’s left is a ubiquitous and exasperating aspect of twenty-first-century existence, from the headrests of coach airplane seats to the self-checkout line at the grocery store. As soon as the car shuts off and the backlight goes out, the driver is left to stare at a pile of their own oily finger smudges. Hardly luxurious. Mercedes is far from the only automaker to missed the mark in this regard, but the effect of the tech is notable here because the rest of the interior is so lush, so considered.

mercedes benz c300 4matic steering wheel
David Zenlea

Although performance isn’t the point here, there’s plenty of it. A 255-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-four, familiar from the previous generation, is fortified by an integrated starter-generator that adds 20 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque in short bursts. Any left lane is yours for the taking. (For those who want more, there will again be C 43 and C 63 AMGs, although unlike in the past, they, too, will be powered by four cylinders.)

Adjustable drive modes dutifully stiffen the suspension, add heft to the steering, and quicken shifts. The AMG Line pack brings a sport tune for the suspension and steering, plus perforated front brake rotors, which lend athleticism but don’t interrupt the overall theme of easy-pace luxury. To wit, the car feels most cohesive in Comfort mode, steering wheel passing lightly between your fingers, dampers silently soaking up the worst Michigan road construction throws at them. Mind you, we are not talking about a 1990s Buick here: body motions, braking, and steering response all meet our very high modern standards. Yet there’s an overwhelming sense that the point of this competence is to comfort rather than enthuse.

With engineering attention going to EVs and profits coming from SUVs, sedans have become backwaters. The C-Class demonstrates how this predicament can present an opportunity. Freed from expectations, an everyday luxury sedan can just be, well, nice.

mercedes benz c300 4matic low rear
David Zenlea

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4MATIC Sedan

Price: $46,600 / $63,440 (base / as-tested)

Highs: Looks, feels, and drives like a slightly smaller S-Class.

Lows: Give us more buttons, please. Options stack up quickly.

Takeaway: In a segment full of Brand-X BMWs, the C-Class is more than ever a Mercedes-Benz.

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    I think it looks great. Shame about the next C63 being a hybrid 4-cyl., I was hoping they’d exit the V8 with a bang, but it was more of a whimper.

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