The 2006 Mercedes-Benz C-Class lineup has been revised and streamlined, but the C-Class remains the most accessible of all Mercedes cars sold in the United States.
The C-Class hatchback coupes and wagons have been eliminated, and only the sedans remain. No problem here, in our view, because the sedans have always represented the C-Class best. Moreover, the 2006 C-Class is powered by an all-new line of V6 engines, with more horsepower and more advanced technology than before. The luxury models feature a high-tech seven-speed automatic transmission, and the C350 Luxury sedan has the classic Mercedes balance of ride quality and handling. The line also includes sport models for those who want a sportier driving experience, and that's what Mercedes has been emphasizing in its advertising.
Inside, the C-Class cars look and feel like a Mercedes-Benz, with firm, supportive seats and mostly high-quality materials. The C-Class delivers Mercedes engineering and safety technology, with optional all-wheel-drive that will improve traction in wet or wintry conditions.
In short, the C-Class brings the three-pointed Mercedes star to the rest of us, with sedans starting below $30,000, or about the same price as a loaded Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.
New engines for 2006 complement the substantial C-Class updates made just a year ago. Mercedes redesigned the C-Class interior for 2005, freshened the exterior styling and further distinguished the sport models from the standard luxury sedans. A new six-speed manual transmission greatly improved shift action. New paint technology imbeds microscopic ceramic flakes in the clear coat finish, increasing its resistance to chipping and degradation over time.
At the top of the C-Class line, Mercedes introduced the new C55 AMG, an extreme sports sedan that can knock your socks off when you floor the accelerator then pull them back up when you hit the brakes. (Or is it the other way around?)
Mercedes C-Class sales have increased four fold over the past decade, and it doesn't take a degree in marketing to understand why. For those seeking Mercedes-Benz engineering, design strengths and mystique in a mainstream sedan, it doesn't get any easier than the C-Class.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class lineup has been simplified for 2006, thanks to the elimination of several models. The station wagons and three-door coupes are history. All that remain are four-door sedans, and most are powered by an all-new V6. This engine is Mercedes' first dual overhead cam V6, with the latest control technology and fully variable valve timing.
Most of the C-Class is divided into Sport and Luxury models. The Sport models have firmer suspensions, lower ride height and more powerful brakes than the Luxury models. The Sport sedans also have a thick, three-spoke steering wheel, more thickly bolstered front seats and aluminum trim, and are trimmed with aggressive lower body cladding previously reserved for expensive AMG models. The least-expensive C-Class car is the C230 Sport sedan ($29,200). The C230 is powered by a 2.5-liter version of the new V6, generating 201 horsepower (considerably more than the least powerful C-Class in 2005). It comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission and 17-inch wheels with high-performance tires.
Standard equipment on the C230 Sport sedan includes dual-zone automatic climate control with interior air filtration, leather-faced seats with 10-way power adjustment for driver and front passenger, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with redundant audio controls, one-touch power windows and automatic headlamps.
The C280 Luxury sedan ($32,950) comes with the same comfort and convenience items included in the C230. The primary difference is the C280's engine: a 3.0-liter version of the new V6 rated at 228 horsepower. The C280 also comes standard with the industry's first seven-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch wheels and all-season tires, and wood interior trim rather than aluminum.
The C350 Sport sedan ($37,550) and C350 Luxury sedan ($38,150) are both powered by a 3.5-liter V6 generating 268 horsepower. The Sport gets the six-speed manual and larger performance tires; the Luxury version gets the seven-speed automatic and all-season tires. Both add position memory for the seats and mirrors.
Sport models can be equipped with the seven-speed automatic transmission as an option ($1,410). All-wheel drive, which Mercedes calls 4MATIC ($1,800), is available on the C280 and C350 Luxury sedans; 4MATIC comes packaged with heated front seats.
Options for C-Class models include the Sunroof Package ($1,790), which includes a power sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, and a universal garage-door. The DVD Navigation system ($2,200) includes a stereo upgrade. Individually priced options include a CD changer ($420), heated front seats ($680), and Tele Aid emergency communications hardware ($820).
The limited-production C55 AMG sedan ($54,450) tops the C-Class line. Powered by a hand-built 5.5-liter V8 rated at 362 horsepower. The C55's Speed Shift five-speed automatic, brakes and suspension are improved to match its prodigious horsepower.
Safety technology is a key component of the Mercedes brand, and every C-Class is equipped with world-class safety features. Among them: Active front head restraints. In the event of a rear collision exceeding the system's deployment threshold, the front head restraints move forward nearly two inches and upward by more than an inch, helping to support the head and reduce whiplash injuries. The C-Class has side-impact airbags for front passengers as well as curtain-style head-protection airbags for front and rear passengers. Rear passenger side-impact airbags ($385) are optional.