- the next mercedes-benz c-class, shown here in prototype form, will be four-cylinder only and come with mercedes's nine-speed automatic transmission.
- that includes amg versions, which will get hybridized four-cylinder powertrains—even the amg c63.
- u.s. buyers are expected to get a c300 sedan, followed by amg versions and possibly a plug-in hybrid, with an on-sale date probably in late 2021.
there it is, the new c-class: still partially covered, but impressive, with a wide stance and a fair amount of what designers call the prestigemass, the measure of prestige: the length of the body between the front axle and the root of the a-pillar. it is even longer than before, a clear indication that the c-class has kept its rear-wheel-drive layout.
"it is impossible to achieve this kind of handling and balance with a front-wheel-drive platform," says christian früh, head engineer for the new c-class whose responsibilities have also included the e-class coupe and cabriolet. the c-class has been an incredible success story for mercedes-benz, with a history that stretches back to the w201 baby benz, launched in 1982. the new model marks the sixth generation if you include the 190, which did not yet bear the c-class moniker.
in a way, the c-class returns to its roots. it will come with four cylinders only, just like the w201; it took three years before the company that was then called daimler-benz added a six-cylinder derivative. we doubt the new model, internally called w206, will ever get a six-cylinder version. there will be nothing but four-bangers, from the europe-only c180 and the c200 up to the c300, rated at around 250 horsepower and available with rear- or all-wheel drive. europe will get some extremely efficient diesel engines, and daimler is planning to add plug-in hybrids based both on the diesel and gasoline versions. the other versions will have a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, without exception.
the plug-in hybrids will be the most powerful c-class models, with the exception of the amg derivatives. but alas, those will lose their v-6 and brutal v-8 engines as well. the next generation of amg c-class models will be fitted with hybridized four-cylinder powertrains—even the amg c63. it will be rated at over 500 horsepower. some customers will be saddened by the loss of the manual transmission, which was still offered in europe on some versions of the current-gen c-class, but every new c-class will be fitted with the company's homemade (and excellent) nine-speed automatic.
but there is plenty of good news about the new c-class. it is not just more efficient than the predecessor, it also comes with strong improvements. the center console is a huge touchpad, and the digital instrumentation and the infotainment system work with extreme precision and quickness. the burmester audio system turns the car into a veritable concert hall. the engineers at daimler realize that a lot of customers spend more money on their car hi-fi system than on the one at home. they also use it more frequently.
there's more innovation: the head-up system now projects information almost 15 feet ahead of the car, making it far more legible. and over-the-air updates will be possible. while the optional air suspension is gone, there will be different chassis setups, with electronically adjustable dampers on the top-end version. and for the first time, mercedes-benz is offering rear-axle steering, which adds high-speed stability and makes the car supremely maneuverable in the city.
two more things have changed. first, there is no more overlap with renault. while the previous generation was temporarily available with co-developed powertrains, no such collaboration happened with the new model. and second, daimler will no longer offer a classic grille with a hood-mounted star—unless you live in china, where the not-for-export long-wheelbase version still comes with the heritage look.
europe will get a station wagon version of the new model, while the current c-class coupe and convertible continue on the existing platform, alongside their slightly bigger e-class siblings. engineer früh, we suspect, is already busy working on the appropriate replacements.
for the u.s. market, we expect to see the c300 sedan, followed by amg versions and possibly the plug-in hybrid. sales could begin late in 2021.