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Review: 2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 4MATIC

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class heads in a new direction.

Throughout recent history, the BMW 3-Series has been the default measuring stick for any vehicle in the compact premium class. With the all-new 2015 C-Class sedan, Mercedes is throwing that standard out the window.

Instead of trying to match the 3-Series in terms of driving dynamics, Mercedes is sticking to what it does best — luxury. To that end, Mercedes has transformed the C-Class from a 3-Series imposter into what essentially amounts to a smaller S-Class.

So has that shift in focus benefited Mercedes' compact entrant? Come with us as we find out.

What is it?Though still considered Mercedes' compact model, the C-Class has been moved up the corporate ladder thanks to the recent launch of the smaller and cheaper CLA. Befitting of its up-scale move, the C-Class now features classier looks, a more luxurious interior and an available air suspension.

The C-Class range starts with the C300 model powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Our tester was the top C400 trim, which uses a twin-turbocharged version of Mercedes' 3.0L V6. For those that need even more power, AMG's C63 will land next year with more than 500 horsepower.

Both the C300 and C400 ship standard with Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. Starting next year C300 buyers will be able to specify rear-wheel drive, but C400 shoppers will be stuck with 4MATIC.

What's it up against?The C-Class competes against the aforementioned BMW 3-Series as well as the Audi A4 and Cadillac ATS. Though in a different class in terms of size and prestige, value-minded buyers might also have the Hyundai Genesis sedan on their shopping list.

How does it look?The C-Class borrows the majority of its design cues from the range-topping S-Class, but this is a copycat job we don't really mind.

If anything, the S-Class' styling looks even better when scaled to the smaller frame of the C. The long-hood, short-deck lid formula remains, but it's much more pronounced on the shorter wheelbased C-Class. The S-Class' rear-end styling is a little tidier on the C-Class too, thanks to a more shapely bumper design.

The front of the C-Class wears Mercedes' latest corporate mug and features large air inlets in the lower bumper, a pronounced, two-bar grille and up-swept headlights with LED accents. Those LED "eyebrows” also mark the start of a character line that runs through the sedan's rear doors.

And on the inside?Modern and functional, the 2015 C-Class' interior is a major improvement over the outgoing model.

Slide behind the wheel of the C-Class and your eyes are instantly drawn to the water fall center stack that flows into the center console. There are still plenty of classic Mercedes touches — such as heritage-style air vents and an analogue clock — but the rest of the C-Class' interior looks as though it was plucked from a high-end, modern furniture store.

Our tester's Open-pore Black Ash Wood trim with aluminum accents only added to the ambiance.

Toggle switches run the width of the center stack and make the HVAC system a breeze to use. Infotainment controls for Mercedes' COMAND system are decidedly more high-tech, with the 2015 C-Class employing a new touchpad/dial wheel combination.

The touch-based system — which allows for advanced gesture controls like pinch to zoom — is a welcome step forward, but there are still improvements to be had. Relying on a user interface that pre-dates the touchpad by several years, we can't help but think that Mercedes' COMAND would benefit from a sleek redesign that would take advantage of the system's new capabilities. Still, there are some useful new features, such as a quick-swipe to bring up the radio tuner.

Display duties for COMAND are handled by a high-mounted 8.4-inch LCD screen. In use for a few years now, you've probably formed your own opinion on the iPad-glued-to-the-dash look by now. No matter your thoughts on its design merits, the screen provides good clarity and is actually well positioned for a quick glance.

The C-Class' speedometer isn't quite as easy to read thanks to tight number spacing, but our tester's Head-Up Display neutralized that complaint. As with most modern Mercedes vehicles, the C-Class is saddled with way too many control stalks behind its steering wheel.

Seats are positioned low in the C-Class, giving the interior a cockpit-like feeling. Despite being cocooned by high doors, the C-Class offers plenty of head, leg and hip room in its front seats.

The C-Class' rear quarters are a little more cozy, but there is still room for two adults back there.

Our tester's multi-way electric seats made it easy to find the perfect driving position, but we wouldn't mind a little more comfort to boost long-haul comfort.

But does it go?Mercedes may no longer be chasing the 3-Series for handling supremacy, but that doesn't mean the C400 isn't a pleasure to drive.

When equipped with Mercedes' AIRMATIC adjustable air suspension, the C400 is truly three different cars in one. In comfort mode, the C400 wafts along like a much larger luxury car, which is no small task considering our tester's low profile tires. Engaging sport mode — which also tightens up the car's steering and quickens throttle response — turns the C400 into a competent sports sedan with a noticeably firmer ride. Flip the switch to Sport+ and the C400 is essentially becomes an AMG-.

And if none of those factory settings fit your driving mood, there is also a custom mode that lets you mix and match your ideal settings. When we weren't bombing down a country lane, we preferred the Comfort mode's softer suspension, the Sport modes's throttle response and the heavier steering of the Sport+ setting.

The 3.0L biturbo V6 in our C400 test car provided excellent grunt off the line thanks to its 354 lb-ft of torque, all of which is available from just 1,600rpm. Passing maneuvers were also no sweat behind the wheel of the C400. Brakes are also top notch with good feel.

As with the C300, the C400 shifts through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Although there is a manual shift mode, we suggest letting the computer handle everything as the system is reluctant to let you hold gears.

During our initial drive of the C400 we came away impressed with its whisper-quiet cabin, but we weren't as bowled over with our tester this time around. Road and wind noise was still kept at bay, but our test car suffered from a couple squeaks that were unbecoming of a $60,000+ luxury vehicle. Most of the creaks and groans emanated from the driver's side window area, leading us to suspect that the colder winter air doesn't play nice with the C-Class' rubber seals.

Decked out with Mercedes' Driver Assistance Package, the C400 is the closest thing to an autonomous vehicle you can buy today. Adaptive cruise control ensures you stay the perfect distance from the vehicle ahead while active lane keeping ensures you keep it between the yellow lines. Mercedes' system still requires you to keep your hands on the wheel, but the C400 is a glimpse into the self-driving future.

Leftlane's bottom lineWith the 2015 C400, Mercedes-Benz has delivered the flagship experience in a smaller package.

Offering features never seen before in the segment, the 2015 C-Class should attract more than its fair share of attention from typical 3-Series and A4 buyers. And for anyone considering the CLA, please take our advice — save up and spring the C.

2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 4MATIC base price $48,590. As tested, $63,705.Iridium Silver paint, $720; PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist, $970; Panorama Sunroof, $1,480; Head-Up Display, $990; AIRMATIC Package, $1,190; Interior Package, $2,300; Lighting Package, $800; Multimedia Package, $2,690; Hands-free access package, $250; Driver Assistance Package, $2,800; Destination, $925.

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