Taking your hands off the wheel while your car slices through a high-speed corner next to a 500-metre drop-off requires an act of faith. But the Mercedes C-400 lets you pull this off without a problem. This is new territory, both technically and psychologically: the Mercedes reads the road ahead with a suite of digital systems, and smoothly guides itself through the curve. But it's hard to stop thinking about the vast chasm of mountain air a few metres to the right, and I keep my hands near the wheel just in case.
The brilliant digital systems buried beneath the skin of the 2015 C-Class represent just one facet of this all-new car, but they set the tone for the entire machine.
On the face of it, a C-Class Mercedes is just another mid-sized sedan. But there's more to it than that. Mercedes is a storied brand that comes with a long history and the weight of expectation – buyers expect something special.
The new C-Class is not a disappointment on that score. It feels sporting and luxurious, with a womb-like cabin, well-weighted controls and elegant detailing. Most buyers won't care that the suspension components are forged from aluminum, but these are the kind of details that lift a car out of the ordinary.
On the highway, the Mercedes was smooth and quiet, and the Distronic cruise control automatically adjusted the car's speed to the traffic ahead. Next came the unforgiving mountain roads near Mount Rainier. Although it's not a true sports car, the C-400 was competent, flying smoothly through the curves and powering easily up the long grades.
For Mercedes, the 2015 C-Class is an exceptionally important car. It is the company's best-selling model, making up nearly a quarter of its overall sales in Canada. The 2015 model, which will be available next month, isn't just a refresh – this is a clean-sheet redesign that takes advantage of the latest materials, engineering and manufacturing technologies.
Is the new C-Class better car than its predecessor? The early testing says yes.
And even though it was spooky to take my hands off the wheel in the middle of a mountain curve, that steer assist system really worked.
Engines: C-300: 2.1-litre turbocharged four-cylinder; C-400: Twin-turbo 3.0-litre V-6
Base Price: $43,000 (C-300 4Matic); $51,400 (C-400 4Matic) As tested: $61,400
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with paddle shift controls
Fuel Economy: TBD
Alternatives: Audi A4/S4: BMW 3-series; Acura TLX; Lexus IS/ES; Lincoln MKZ; Volvo S60; Infiniti Q50; Cadillac ATS
Looks: This is an Armani suit on wheels.
Interior: Legroom is in the NBA category. The controls are well laid out, and the fit and finish are first rate. The interior design is understated, but the iPod-style digital display adds a futuristic touch.
Performance: The four-cylinder C-300 will be more than adequate for most drivers. Performance buffs should opt for the V-6-powered C-400.
Safety: The C-Class is equipped with a full suite of safety aids. A system called Pre-Safe automatically tightens the seat belts and closes the windows if a crash is imminent.
Cargo: Luggage capacity is 480 litres. Roof load has not yet been listed. The C-Class is not rated for towing.
Infotainment: Extensive. A 7-inch display, Bluetooth connectivity, integrated media port and Internet-capable apps are standard.
The Verdict 9.0: This is an elegant, great-driving machine that upholds the Mercedes tradition of luxury and performance.