The last time I drove a regular C-Class, ‘regular’ as in not one of the breathed-on AMG versions, was about a half-dozen years ago. At that time, I said: “Mercedes-Benz produces a very fine sedan for the compact luxury car segment. An award winner, it is smart looking, pleasant to drive and comes with a variety of powertrains that significantly alter its personality.”

My apologies. While attempting to be both accurate and succinct, I managed to make the C-Class sound humdrum. Allow me to make amends courtesy of the new 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class — specifically the C 300 4Matic I’m driving about town. Yes, the fifth-generation version is as smart looking as is its predecessor and very pleasant to drive, with a serene disposition. It is also heavily digitized and, with its reasonable starting price — for something competing at the lower rung of the luxury ladder — of $56,700, ($60,365 as tested), punches above its weight in the goodies department.

Full disclosure: Part of the enjoyment comes from the fact this Mercedes is not one of the luxury brand’s many crossovers. Not that I have anything against them, but I remember a time when MB was a car company. And I have a soft spot for this not-so-compact four-door, going back to the 190 — the progenitor of the C-Class series — the first Benz I ever drove, way back in 1983. Also, while roads these days are inundated with crossovers, including Mercedes’ nine separate models, it is somewhat comforting that, according to the company, the C-Class was its best-selling model worldwide over the last decade, more than 2.5 million of the fourth-generation sedan and wagon sold since debuting back in 2014 (#savethesedan). China is the car’s biggest market, followed by the US, Germany and Britain.

With gasoline and diesel prices still at disconcerting levels — though not nearly as brutal as they were earlier in the summer — it would prove beneficial to even those with the financial means to shop Mercedes that the new C-Class boasts unbelievable fuel economy thanks to some super-fantastic engine technology, or even plug-in battery power. Maybe that’s in the pipeline, but for now the C 300 benefits from a newly developed, turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder — hooked up to a nine-speed automatic — that is aided by a second-generation integrated starter-generator (ISG) and a 48-volt on-board electrical system, the first “classic” model series, notes Mercedes, to undergo a systematic electrification of its powertrains. The engine delivers a solid 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which does make the 2022 model more powerful than its predecessor. And ISG provides an additional 20 hp and 147 lb-ft more torque when required, so the sedan certainly has some jump when foot hits pedal.

Maybe not quite sport sedan impressive, but with plenty of verve to get around slow-moving transports or merge onto the highway. For the record, in Sport+ mode it’s a six-second rush to 100 km/h from standstill, certainly satisfactory for a nearly 1,800-kilogram family four-door (a kickass 402-hp, Mercedes-AMG C43 will debut as a 2023 model). And smooth — for a four-cylinder — though I still pine for the silkiness of past C-Class V6s. The slight clattering of the turbo-four heard at start-up when one is outside the car is absent when ensconced in the well-insulated cabin.

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

To be clear, the C 300’s powertrain doesn’t generate the sort of fuel economy one would expect from a hybrid such as a Toyota’s Prius. However, neither does it hurt when it comes to filling up at the pumps. The ISG acts as a mild hybrid at low engine speeds, aiding in functions such as gliding (where the engine switches off), boosting or energy recovery that make some fuel savings possible. NRCan rates the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic at 9.9/7.1 L/100 km city/highway.

In terms of its handling dynamics, it’s best to think of the C 300 4Matic as an all-wheel-drive sedan with a sporting personality rather than as a sport sedan. Its ride is exemplary, cosseting driver and passengers alike. There’s a decent weight to the steering, at least in the Sport+ setting; the feel degrades in the default Comfort mode as well as Eco. Though it might have been particular to the tester, the car’s brakes were grabby at lower speeds.

Looks-wise, the most noticeable change to the four-door is a softening of its body lines and the inclusion of hood power domes. The more observant will detect what Mercedes calls the C 300’s “cab-backward” design, with the windshield and passenger cell moved slightly rearward. Both front and rear passengers will benefit from the car’s improved exterior dimensions, notably a 65-mm increase in length — elbow room in the cabin has been increased by 22 mm in the front and 15 mm in the rear, rear headroom has increased by 13 mm and there’s 35 mm more rear-seat kneeroom. Still, as appreciated as the extra stretch-out room is, taller occupants could still find the back somewhat confining, especially if sitting behind someone leggy. As for trunk space, at 455 litres volume is unchanged from the previous model.

Aided by the $2,300 Sport package that includes such add-ons as AMG body pieces, chrome star-pattern grille and the 18-inch AMG five-spoke aero wheels, the tester adopts a jaunty, sleek profile. But it is the cabin that truly impresses, the layout and the dash area adopted from the flagship S-Class, with a (slightly) less overwhelming interpretation. The tester’s addition of the super-comfy sport front seats, sport steering wheel wrapped in Nappa leather and the brushed stainless-steel pedals are all part of that Sport package. On the whole, Mercedes clearly spent the bucks to make sure the C 300’s luxury intentions are obvious to all. It’s almost impossible not to feel special when ensconced inside.

Much like the S-Class, the C-Class features a driver-oriented cockpit and floating dashboard, a freestanding high-resolution LCD screen (either 10.25-inch or 12.3-inch), a portrait-oriented high-definition touchscreen, and the second generation of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (aka MBUX), including the “hey Mercedes” voice assistant. You had better like using the touchscreen because, except for a few key buttons below it, that’s where most of the car’s controls are accessed. There’s a ton of information available — maybe too much for the average customer — but the graphics are crisp and bright, especially though not exclusively the map setting.

first drive: 2022 mercedes-benz c 300 4matic sedan

2022 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic Photo by Brian Harper

Ditto the instrument pod; the look of the screen can be individualized with a choice of three display styles (Discreet, Sporty, Classic) and three modes (Navigation, Assistance, Service). But the one feature that had my wife asking if we could afford to put the C 300 in our driveway on a permanent basis (we can’t) was the camera system, which, with a touch of the appropriate button, provides multiple views of the area around the car — front, back, both sides and overhead. For someone who has issues when parking due to compromised vision, the missus was completely taken with the feature.

After eight years on the market, the previous, fourth-generation C-Class was long past its best-before date, especially against the newer and less expensive BMW 3 Series, its fiercest rival, as well as increased competition from Audi, Lexus and others, including the surprisingly good Genesis G70. The new C 300 4Matic rectifies this oversight. It looks smart on the outside, even better on the inside and is chock full of the latest onboard and safety technologies. Even if it might be somewhat mild mannered, it’s merely the first of the new line.

The one question that for now remains unanswered is whether this will be the last generation. With all the automakers moving toward electric vehicles, what does this say about the future of the gas-powered automobile? It’s all but dead certain Mercedes will debut the EQC, its electric C-Class-sized sedan, in a couple of years. Is there room for both on the assembly line and in the showroom? If the fifth-generation C-Class is the last of its type, rest assured that it is going out with a bang.

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