The C-class sports sedan from Mercedes-Benz is often called the “baby Benz” because it was the smallest and least expensive model the German automaker sold in the U.S.
Baby has grown up.
Mercedes revealed details Monday about the next generation C class, which will go on sale as a 2015 model next fall. The car is roomier than the current model and will offer more safety features and amenities, including a touch pad on the center console that will work the controls.
“The car matures,” said Steve Cannon, chief executive of Mercedes-Benz USA. “The level of refinement takes a dramatic step up.”
The role of the C had to change because it is no longer expected to bring entry-level buyers into the Mercedes brand, Cannon said, a task that’s now on the shoulders of the smaller and less expensive CLA.
Mercedes hasn’t discussed its pricing strategy but hinted that the vehicle will sell close to its current cost, which starts at around $36,000 and quickly climbs north with options. The CLA starts at about $30,000.
This latest generation will be built at the automaker’s factory in Alabama, the first Mercedes sedan built in the U.S. market, Cannon said.
The model also will be built at other factories around the world as Mercedes works to assemble more cars closer to the markets where they are sold to avoid the negative affects of currency fluctuations.
The bigger C gives Mercedes a balanced progression in cars in size and price the starts with the CLA and also includes the E-class to the S-class, Cannon said.
“This is feeding the entire eco system,” he said.
Mercedes plans to debut the car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month.
Even with the new model, Mercedes will still likely trail arch-rival BMW in the sports sedan segment, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Automotive.
Mercedes, which will sell about 343,000 C-class cars this year, trails BMW 3-series sales by about 130,000 vehicles, a gap that would be hard to close even with the new model, she said.
But while competing with BMW is important, it’s probably not Mercedes' top priority for this segment of the market.
“Mercedes is more concerned about maintaining their own personality and brand and not so much about surpassing BMW,” Brinley said.
Still, a lot is riding on the C, currently Mercedes biggest seller both in the U.S. and the world, Brinley said.
“It has been the heart of their market for quite some time,” Brinley said.
The new C will launch with two engine choices.
The C300 will come with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine that will produce an estimated 235 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.