SEATTLE -- Mercedes-Benz is vying for the luxury compact crown with the redesigned 2015 C-class sedan, equipped with new technology and features trickled down from the S-class flagship.
BMW is the market leader in the segment, with the 3- and 4-series compacts. But Mercedes-Benz executives say the C class may finally give them the edge.
The C class looks like a smaller version of the S-class sedan, and it has the optional $2,800 Intelligent Drive package of integrated safety features. They include adaptive cruise control, rear-end collision protection, Pre-Safe braking and steering, and cross-traffic and lane-keeping assist.
“Mercedes-Benz is demonstrating that we are not just going to set the standard with the S class, our goal is to set the standard in every segment -- even one that might be traditionally associated with the 3 series and BMW,” said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. “We have spent the last few generations closing that gap.”
On sale Aug. 25
With the new-generation C class that goes on sale Aug. 25, “we are going to set a standard for style, for interior fit and finish and standard features,” Cannon said. “We have been more of an S- and E-class company.”
To further separate the C class from the CLA sedan -- the entry to the brand that went on sale last year -- Mercedes made the C-class sedan about 4 inches longer and 1.5 inches wider than the previous model.
With the frame and body structure made of aluminum, it will be more agile and handle better than today’s model, said Bart Herring, general manager of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA. The redesigned C class is up to 200 pounds lighter than today’s model.
The C class will have Collision Prevention Assist Plus as a standard feature. The system senses if a collision is imminent, and if the driver doesn’t respond, it autonomously brakes the car at speeds up to 124 mph. It also can brake to avoid a stationary vehicle ahead and to prevent rear collisions.
Competing brands don’t offer this feature in this segment -- or on many of their high-end vehicles, Cannon said.
Collision Prevention Assist Plus “is us throwing down the gauntlet -- no one has it in the segment,” he said. “Our competitors do not have it on their highest cars. It demonstrates where we are going.”
The Intelligent Drive package is another edge, said Herring. “We have networked it to almost give the car senses to set you up to make better decisions or assist to keep you out of danger. That is cool on a $100,000 S class.
“But nearly everything on the S is available on the C.”
Mercedes continues to charge a premium over BMW for its C class -- the new generation is $1,000 more than the predecessor and a comparable 3 series. The base rear-drive C300 costs $39,325, including shipping. That model doesn’t go on sale until early next year. The C300 all-wheel-drive goes on sale in a few weeks and will cost $41,325, including shipping. The more powerful C400 4Matic starts at $49,515, including shipping, and also debuts later this month. It is a new model.
Mercedes’ sales of the C class peaked at 88,251 last year in the United States. Sales fell 28 percent to 33,034 vehicles during the first half of this year.
BMW sold 119,521 3- and 4-series cars last year, its second-highest record. Indeed, BMW has been ceding 3-series sales to the competition from its 2007 peak of 142,490 cars. The coupe version was renamed the 4-series.
Cannon would not give figures but said the new-generation C class “will do significantly better because we have brought a new direction to the table.”
In the next two years, a C-class coupe, convertible and plug-in hybrid will be rolled out in the United States, Cannon said. The derivatives will help drive the volume.
“Just three years ago, the only C class we had is the sedan, and then we added a coupe, which was retro-engineered off a four-door sedan,” said Cannon. “We have developed this coupe completely separately as an offshoot.”
Drew Slaven, vice president of marketing, said Mercedes-Benz will market the C class to a younger buyer -- the up-and-rising professional. The median age of the current C-class buyer is 52.
“That may seem counterintuitive,” considering the brand developed the CLA to bring in younger buyers, he said.
“The CLA allowed this car (C class) to move up a bit.”
The 2015 C class likely will appeal to “younger, affluent buyers who have a lot of professional runway ahead of them,” Slaven said.
A shortage of CLAs -- supply fell as low as nine days this spring -- also helped Mercedes run out the C class, Cannon said.