The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic comes tantalizingly close to setting a new standard for small luxury sedans, but a couple of gaffes by the product planning gurus at Mercedes headquarters in Stuttgart relegate it to the middle of a pack of fine competitors like the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Cadillac ATS.

Prices for the C-class sedan start at $40,400 for an all-wheel-drive 4Matic model with a 241-hp 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The C400 rear-drive comes with a 329-hp twin-turbo 3.0L V6 and starts at $48,590. All C-classes have a seven-speed automatic transmission.

Mercedes expects to add a rear-drive C300 priced at $38,400 in the first quarter of 2015. Two-door C-class coupes are available, but they still use the old platform, not the 2015 sedan's more modern engineering.

I tested a C300 4Matic with a stunning interior, power sunroof, Burmester audio, blind spot alert and a sport package that combined functional upgrades like perforated front brake discs with cosmetics like a black AMG headliner. It cost $49,870. All prices exclude destination charges.

The new C-class platform is about 3.7 inches longer and 1.6 inch wider than the 2014 sedan. Despite that growth, the car is 200 pounds lighter than its predecessor. About 50 percent of the body shell is aluminum, compared to less than 10 percent of the old car. The stiff, light body contributes to fuel economy and a quiet, comfortable ride.

The 2015 C300 is nearly the same size as the less expensive CLA250 sedan Mercedes introduced last year, which starts at $29,900 for a front-wheel-drive model. The C300 is 2.2 inches longer and has 2.0 cubic feet more passenger space, according to EPA measurements. The C300 has noticeably more rear headroom and a comfortable, accommodating front seat. Both cars have small rear door openings and limited rear legroom.

The 2015 C-class' passenger compartment is smaller than the Audi A4, Acura TLX, BMW 328i, Cadillac ATS and Infiniti Q50. It's about the same size as the Lexus IS. The C-class' 12.8 cubic-foot trunk tops all but the BMW and Infiniti.

The C300 4Matic's EPA fuel economy rating of 24 m.p.g. in the city, 31 on the highway and 27 combined beats the competition by as much as 4 m.p.g. in the key combined figure.

The 2.0L turbo's output is lower than the comparable A4, ATS and the Q50 and TLX's larger V6s, but performance is satisfactory. Mercedes' reliable seven-speed shifts quickly and smoothly.

The styling is unobtrusive. The short rear deck is reminiscent of the Infiniti Q50. LED lights help offset that and give the C300 a visual identity.

The ride leans more toward luxury than sportiness. Even with the optional sport suspension, the test car pillowed rough roads. The speed-sensitive steering is balanced and responsive, with good on-center feel.

The interior is stunning, with the best design and materials ever in a small Mercedes. Aluminum air vents, buttons and switches look and feel terrific. The test car also had cranberry red leather upholstery and soft covers on the upper dash and doors.

The controls are less satisfying. The car had voice recognition for its Garmin navigation, but not for phone calls. To select a name from my contacts or dial a number, I had to use either a touch pad or a dial in the center console, either of which required me looking a display screen rather than watching the road. That's an unacceptable distraction, particularly in a car whose competitors offer excellent voice recognition. The C300 only gets full voice-rec if you shell out $2,690 for the optional Comand multimedia system. I found the touch pad difficult to use in a moving vehicle for other functions as well.

The audio volume control suffered from an intermittent fault. It ceased to work frequently when playing CDs. The problem did not occur with other inputs like radio, iPod and streaming audio.

Those are surprising and relatively elementary oversights in what's otherwise a very good car. Don't be surprised if Mercedes remedies them quickly and the 2015 C300 becomes even more appealing.


Behind the Wheel

2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic

All-wheel-drive five-passenger luxury sedan

Price as tested: $49,670 (excluding destination charge)

Rating: Three out of four stars

Reasons to buy: Fuel economy, interior look and feel.

Shortcomings: No voice recognition for phone; intermittent electronic fault.

Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings:

(Automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive models)

2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic: 23 m.p.g. city/31 highway/27 combined. Premium gasoline.

Acura TLX SH-AWD V6: 21/31/25. Premium gasoline.

Audi A4 Quattro: 22/31/25. Premium gasoline.

BMW 328i xDrive: 22/33/26. Premium gasoline.

Cadillac ATS4 2.0L: 20/28/23. Regular gasoline.

Infiniti Q50 3.7x: 19/27/22. Premium gasoline.

Lexus IS 250 AWD: 20/27/23. Premium gasoline.

Source: www.fueleconomy.gov

Comparative base prices (excluding destination charges)

(Automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive models)

2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic: $40,400

Acura TLX SH-AWD V6: $44,700

Audi A4 Quattro: $37,600

BMW 328i xDrive: $39,500

Cadillac ATS4 2.0L: $37,245

Infiniti Q50 3.7x: $38,950

Lexus IS 250 AWD: $39,085

Source: Autotrader.com

Specifications as tested

Engine: 2.0L turbocharged 16-valve four-cylinder

Power: 241 hp @ 5,500 rpm; 273 lb-ft of torque 1,300-4,000 rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic


Wheelbase: 111.8 inches

Length: 184.5 inches

Width: 71.3 inches

Height: 56.8 inches

Curb weight: 3,594 lbs.

Where assembled: Vance, Ala.

Key features on vehicle tested:

Standard equipment: Antilock brakes; stability control; brake assist; air bags; collision prevention assist plus; Attention Assist; automatic headlights; LED daytime running lights; push button start; CD player; touch pad; USB port; Bluetooth connectivity; power front seats; memory for driver's settings; power steering column; power locks, windows and mirrors; split folding rear seats; dual-zone automatic climate control; power folding mirrors; auto-dimming mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Options: Black ash open-pore wood; backup camera; blind spot alert; power sun roof; 19-in. AMG black alloy wheels; SiriusXM satellite radio; heated front seats; Burmester audio system; LED headlights; leather upholstery; memory for front passenger settings; ambient light; illuminated door sills; sport suspension; sport body kit; perforated front brakes; sport seats; flat bottom sport steering wheel with shift paddles; black headliner; AMG floor mats; aluminum pedals, MB-Tex dashboard and upper door trim.


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