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Buying Used: 2015-2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

By Mark Toljagic Wheels.ca

May 5, 2022 7 min. read

Article was updated 11 days ago

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“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?” sang the late, incomparable Janis Joplin. Was anyone expecting a prayer for a Fiat?

The three-pointed star that graces every Mercedes-Benz telegraphs the brand’s lofty status, sumptuous luxury and reputed quality. Yet as aspirational and innovative as the automaker is – having invented the safety cell, antilock brakes, traction control, airbags and more – the reliability of its cars and sport utilities hasn’t always matched buyers’ expectations.

In the last dependability studies conducted by J.D. Power in Germany and the United Kingdom, the vaunted brand finished below the industry average and 19th from the top in both markets. In the 2022 U.S. study, Mercedes ranked just below the industry average and 18th overall, eclipsed by the likes of Toyota, Kia and Buick.

[caption id="attachment_168037" align="alignnone" width="2560"]206 Mercedes Benz C- Class 2016 C-Class Wagon[/caption]

For Mercedes leasees, reliability is a minor concern since they return their cars before the warranty expires. But for used-car shoppers, it’s unsettling news that can play havoc with household budgets. We’ll delve into the problems shortly.

There was a time not long ago when the C-Class was Mercedes’ most affordable offering in North America. Today, there are no less than six MB models that are priced below the entry-level C-Class sedan, which migrated upmarket in recent years.

The fourth-generation C, all-new for 2015, borrowed some of the styling cues of the S-Class with its long, sculpted hood, pronounced fascia and distinctive C-pillar and rear deck. The C-Class couldn’t help but grow in key dimensions, with the wheelbase expanding by almost eight centimetres, overall length by nine cm and width growing by four cm.

Despite ballooning in size, the sedan shed 100 kg with a body and chassis composed of nearly 50 per cent aluminum. Riding on the new super-rigid Modular Rear Architecture platform, the suspension incorporates four links up front and five at the rear axle to enhance handling. There’s an optional self-leveling air suspension system available to provide unrivaled ride comfort in a compact sedan.

Inside, the C-Class delivers considerable visual élan. Whether upholstered in standard MB-Tex synthetic leather or the genuine article, the contemporary-look cabin features exceptional materials and assembly. The product of Mercedes’ Italian design studio, the cabin blends wood, soft-touch surfaces and metallic accents to great effect.

[caption id="attachment_168036" align="alignnone" width="2560"]2017 Mercedes Benz C Class 2017 C-Class Coupe[/caption]

Featured front and centre is an updated infotainment and navigation interface with a standard 7-inch or optional 8.4-inch tablet-like display affixed atop the centre vents. A new touchpad interface is now part of the COMAND infotainment system in an attempt to keep fingerprints off the screen. Some drivers did find the ergonomics of the new C-Class a little off-putting, though.

“If you slightly touch or bump the round knob on the console, you can unintentionally change the radio station, or the navigation or the phone settings. Also, the turn indicators and windshield wipers are on the same lever handle. Often you accidentally turn the wiper on when you wanted to turn left,” one C-Class owner griped online.

Mercedes simplified the C-Class powertrain lineup with just two engine choices at the outset in 2015. The C300 is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The C400 comes with a 3.0-litre turbo V6 rated at 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic all-wheel-drive come standard on both, as does fuel-saving automatic engine stop-start.

In U.S. government testing, the C-Class sedan received five out of five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for total frontal protection and five stars for side protection. Each car came standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, front pelvic airbags (which deploy lower than the side airbags), a driver knee airbag and full side curtain airbags. Also standard are Collision Prevention Assist Plus and PreSafe – two features that can autonomously apply the car’s brakes to avoid a collision.

For 2016, the C400 was replaced by the similar C450 AMG with a 3.0-litre turbo V6 rated at 362 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. A fully redesigned coupe and convertible C-Class joined the sedan for 2017, while the AMG C43 earned a new badge and a nine-speed automatic transmission. That nine-speed autobox migrated to the base sedan in 2018, along with some fresh options, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

As of 2019, the C300 4Matic’s turbo four-cylinder now makes 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, while the AMG C43’s turbo V6 makes 385 hp and 384 lb-ft of grunt. Visual updates included restyled headlights and taillights, while CarPlay and Android Auto became standard kit. After that, the C-Class largely coasted on its laurels through 2021, the last year for the fourth-gen models.

Competing with the venerable BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 required Mercedes to up its game with the C-Class, and for the most part it succeeds. Power from the diminutive 2.0-L turbo four is perfectly adequate for getting up to highway velocity – taking 6.1 seconds from a standstill – while the V6 compresses the time-space continuum in just 4.7 seconds.

[caption id="attachment_168038" align="alignnone" width="2560"]2018 Mercedes Benz C Class La Classe C sous son meilleur jour[/caption]

The C’s suspension offers predictable handling and responsive steering, although the ride quality is a little more stiff than seasoned Mercedes buyers might like. Again, the optional air suspension is intended for those who require a more pillowy ride. Braking performance is superb and suitably engineered to keep motorists out of serious trouble.

Direct-injected turbo four-bangers are all the rage, but they rarely sound great, and that’s the case here. The engine noise at idle is more agricultural than turbine-smooth – but that’s the price of efficiency: drivers can easily top eight litres/100 km in mixed driving while exercising the turbo power. The V6 is considerably thirstier, but not exceedingly so. Bear in mind both engines demand premium fuel.

OWNERS TALK RELIABILITY

True to the marque, the C-Class emulates an executive jet with its exquisite cabin and creature comforts, gliding at supra-highway speeds with little noise to ruffle the experience. Owners extol the car’s premium seating, high-tech gear, vault-like construction and unmistakable presence on the road. Enough S-Class DNA has trickled down here to satisfy just about anyone. Lows are limited to a clumsy touchpad interface, small trunk and tight quarters in the back seat of the coupe and convertible.

As noted at the top, mechanical reliability has been less than ideal. First and foremost, the C’s 2.0-litre turbo four is a problematic engine according to more than a few owners who have experienced catastrophic failures.

“Apparently, the piston rod let loose and crashed into the top of the manifold, crushing the spark plug. I got quotes of $15,000 to $17,000 to replace the engine. I just feel that a Mercedes engine should last more than 69,000 km,” wrote a luckless owner online. Discussions revolve around a known frailty where the piston rod attaches to the camshaft in 2015 and 2016 C300s.

Beyond the engine, C-Class owners have reported problems with the panoramic sunroof, whose panels may misalign, or even fly off the car at speed. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated allegations of roof panel detachments. The front polycarbonate roof panel could detach due to improper use of adhesive during installation. Mercedes instituted a recall to address the issue.

In the event that the engine cannot turn over, the starting current limiter may overheat from repeated attempts by the starter motor to start the vehicle, introducing a fire risk. Mercedes recall 2017080002 addresses this problem in 2015-2017 models. There is a recall of 2015 models to address a loss of electric power steering assist due to an error in the power steering control unit software.

A more common frustration involves the run-flat tires that grace C-Class cars. Run-flats can’t be repaired, so a nail puncture typically costs almost $500 for a new tire at the dealership. The tires also ride roughly and wear out quickly. It’s no surprise some motorists swap out the run-flats for conventional tires that are more affordable and last longer.

Other caveats include fuel leaks that can introduce fumes in the cabin, fussy infotainment displays, overly sensitive sensors that mysteriously activate the brakes, and “jerky” nine-speed transmissions.

Overall, this Mercedes-Benz doesn’t quite live up to the hype. The C300’s four-cylinder engine is problematic in 2015 to 2017 models and should be avoided. German cars require very expensive German parts that can take weeks to arrive. If you’re buying a used C-Class, having a second vehicle in reserve is a good idea.

2015-2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

BODY STYLE: Five-passenger compact sedan, coupe and convertible

DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel drive; seven- and nine-speed automatic transmission

ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo four (241 hp, 273 lb-ft or 255 hp, 273 lb-ft); 3.0-litre turbo V6 (329 hp, 354 lb-ft or 362 hp, 383 lb-ft)

FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium) 10.1/7.1/8.9 L/100 km city/highway/combined

CARGO VOLUME: 455 litres (16 cu-ft)

TOW RATING: N/A

PRICE: $26,000 (2015); $55,000 (2020)

WEBSITE: mercedes-benz.ca

The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.

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