Introduction – Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!
It’s been six years since Mercedes-Benz last redesigned the C-Class sedan, yet the model ranked higher than every other compact premium car in the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study. That’s remarkable given the design’s age and the number of competitors in the segment.
Built in Vance, Alabama for the U.S. market, the 2020 C-Class sedan remains among the most popular Mercedes models. However, changing consumer preferences mean this is the final year of U.S. production of the car as the automaker seeks to expand capacity in Alabama for additional SUV production.
In addition to the sedan, Mercedes offers the C-Class in coupe and convertible body styles. Most buyers choose the C 300 with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. Performance-tuned AMG versions include the C 43 with a twin-turbocharged V-6 and the C 63 and C 63 S equipped with twin-turbo V-8 engines.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated the only version of the C-Class sedan that Mercedes could provide for evaluation in the Los Angeles area. It was a high-performance AMG C 63 S equipped with extra-cost paint, 19-inch forged aluminum wheels, carbon ceramic brakes, carbon-fiber trim, performance seats, digital instrumentation, and five different option packages: AMG Night, Exterior Lighting, Multimedia, Parking Assistance, and Driver Assistance. The price came to $94,540, including the $995 destination charge.
What Owners Say… – Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 C-Class sedan, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
Compared to the entire segment, the C-Class draws more female owners. They comprise 38% of owners, according to J.D. Power data, compared to 35% for the segment. C-Class owners are slightly younger, with a median age of 56 years (vs. 57), and they are slightly more affluent with a median annual household income of $155,978 (vs. $150,146). Among C-Class owners, 72% say their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (vs. 66%).
Mercedes-Benz C-Class owners are more likely to strongly agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is quality of workmanship (65% vs. 57% for the segment), that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (53% vs. 46%), that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (70% vs. 64%), and that they’re willing to pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (42% vs. 37%).
At the same time, C-Class owners are less likely to agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (70% vs. 80% for the segment) or that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is fuel economy (38% vs. 45%).
Owners say their favorite things about the C-Class are (in descending order) the interior design, exterior styling, engine/transmission, driving dynamics, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the C-Class are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, climate control system, infotainment system, storage and space, and fuel economy.
In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the C-Class ranked first out of 13 compact premium cars.
What Our Expert Says… – Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.
More than half a decade ago, the current-generation C-Class introduced a new Mercedes-Benz design language favoring clean lines, organic shapes, and tasteful adornments. The result is styling that has aged well and remains fresh and modern six years on.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
Each version of the car gets distinctive grille, bumper, and wheel designs. The AMG C 63 versions feature vertical chrome bars to signal the presence of serious underhood muscle, while orange-painted brake calipers convey the optional carbon ceramic braking components.
Mercedes C-Class owners cite interior design as their favorite thing about the car, and that’s easy to understand. Beautifully rendered in quality materials, the artfully styled cabin mixes traditional elegance with high-tech modernism to make the car look and feel special every time you drive it.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
The test car had carbon fiber trim, brushed aluminum accents, and both yellow seat stripes and yellow exposed stitching throughout. Other colors and trims are available.
Equipped with optional AMG Performance Seats, the test car’s front chairs proved confining yet comfortable. They hold you in place for taking corners at high rates of speed yet remain agreeable over longer stints behind the wheel. There’s isn’t much room for stretching out in a C-Class, but if you prefer greater freedom of movement you’ll want to stick with the standard seats.
The test car’s rear seat cushion places occupants fairly high in the car and supplies terrific thigh support. But the space is cramped, with little foot room under front chairs. Also, the optional AMG Performance Seats have full hard seatbacks that are unfriendly to the knees of rear passengers. Rear air conditioning vents and USB charging ports make the back seat more habitable.
Climate Control System
During a warm summer afternoon driving west toward the sun, the air conditioning system had no trouble keeping the C-Class cool inside. Using the climate system is a pleasure, too, thanks to the classy metallic piano-key dashboard controls.
Equipped with a 10.25-inch static display screen, the C-Class does not benefit from inclusion of the latest Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system. As a result, using the technology can cause frustration.
Since the display is not touch-sensing and because the voice recognition system isn’t nearly as capable as what you’ll find in an MBUX-equipped Mercedes, you’re left with two ways to interact with the infotainment system in the C-Class.
The first is by using small touch pads located on the steering wheel. Over time, these might become second-nature, but in my experience the driver is continually checking either the instrumentation or the infotainment display to ensure that inputs on the wheel correspond to inputs on one of the screens.
Mostly, I used the controls on the center console, which look high-tech but are devoid of topographic reference points. As a result, the driver regularly looks down at the center console to use them, the road ahead disappearing completely from peripheral vision.
In short, the C-Class desperately needs MBUX and a touchscreen display.
The test car also had a 13-speaker Burmester sound system producing remarkable clarity across the sound spectrum. I thought the audio components sounded best when the Sound Focus was placed on the front seats.
Storage and Space
Mercedes C-Class owners cite storage and space low on their lists of their favorite things about the car, and that’s easy to understand.
A center console storage bin under a padded split armrest features plush padding and a decent amount of size. Otherwise, accessible storage is limited to a small smartphone tray, the cupholders, and the lower door panel bins. The car’s glove compartment is a good size but they way it opens makes it impossible for the driver to see into it let alone reach items stored there.
Around back, the C-Class sedan has a small 12.6 cubic-foot trunk. The cargo floor is long, aiding utility.
Visibility and Safety
You sit low in the rakishly penned C-Class, even with the seats raised to a higher position. The result is a laid-back driving position that some people will like more than others. Dual hood bulges are visible from the driver’s seat and help to place the car on the road.
The test car included the optional Driver Assistance Package, which for an extra $1,700 equips any C-Class sedan with 13 active driving assistance technologies. Among the more unusual items are front cross-traffic assistance with active braking, automatic emergency stop assistance that responds to medical emergencies, Pre-Safe Plus active cabin preparation for a rear-impact collision, and an active lane change assistant that steers the car into an adjacent lane when the driver signals such intent.
In use, the components of the Driver Assistance Package are nothing short of brilliant. The systems work with smooth and subtle sophistication, rarely calling undue attention to themselves. Plus, they are easy to understand, program and use. Collectively, these traits mean drivers are more likely to use them than to turn them off.
If a collision does occur, the C-Class sedan earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not provide an overall rating for this car but does assign 4-star ratings for frontal-impact protection and rollover resistance.
Equipped with a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine, the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S generates 503 horsepower between 5,500 rpm and 6,250 rpm, and 516 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,750 rpm to 4,500 rpm. That’s plenty for a car that weighs 3,900 pounds, as evidenced by a claimed 3.8-second sprint to 60 mph. A 7-speed AMG Speedshift MCT multi-clutch automatic transmission powers the rear wheels.
Even when idling, this car feels alive in your hands. Accelerate like a normal person, and it whines and bucks as though seeking to be unleashed from a cage. Get it out into the country, far from civilization, switch into Sport+ or Race mode, and the C 63 S is an absolute beast, it’s dual-mode exhaust roaring with menace.
The problem, of course, is that you will rarely, if ever, use all of the power here. Instead, you’ll be loafing around in urban and suburban driving situations, the exhaust mellow unless you manually activate the loud setting to…actually, I don’t know why you’d want to advertise this car’s potential by attracting local law enforcement to your presence.
The good news is that if you run the car primarily in Comfort or Sport mode at or near posted speed limits, there’s no real penalty to be paid aside from occasionally overeager transmission behavior that causes the car to leap forward with more enthusiasm than you intended.
As is true for most vehicles, C-Class owners rank fuel economy as their least favorite aspect of the car. The AMG C 63 S is the most powerful version of the C-Class sedan and is rated by the EPA to get 21 mpg in combined driving. On the testing loop, it returned 20.3 mpg. Given the amount of performance available, that’s remarkable.
My assertion that you simply cannot come close to using this car’s maximum performance on public roads extends to its handling capabilities. To approach anything resembling a limit requires velocity that is prudent only on closed courses such as a racetrack or autocross.
What you’re left with as a daily driver is a firm-riding, fairly loud automobile with steering that requires a bit of muscle. The test car’s carbon ceramic brakes react immediately to pressure, so you must retrain yourself to go light on the pedal. There is road noise. There is powertrain noise. And on imperfect pavement, the interior buzzes and creaks.
Essentially, with the AMG C 63 S you trade a traditional luxury car experience for a track-ready performance car driving character. If you’re buying this version of the C-Class because it’s “the best” (as in, the most expensive), you might be disappointed in the car’s coddle factor – there isn’t one.
But if you’re buying this car for its intended purpose, you will be blown away by its sheer competence. It is an enormously gratifying automobile to drive hard and fast.
Final Impressions – Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!
Among the most aspirational brands in the world, Mercedes-Benz knows that how it feels for a customer to drive one of its vehicles can go a long way toward ensuring satisfaction and creating a loyal owner. In fact, Mercedes-Benz ranks second among luxury brands in the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Automotive Brand Loyalty Study.
When it comes to the 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, choosing the right version of the car is critical to your happiness.
Most people are likely to prefer the C 300, which offers the best blend of design, performance, ride and handling, technology, and value. The AMG C 43 is perfect for people who want greater performance without sacrifice in other areas. The AMG C 63 and its more powerful C 63 S variant are best bought by hardcore driving enthusiasts to whom the car’s impressive acceleration, cornering, and braking abilities are of paramount importance.
Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.
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