I’m not sure which salesperson or marketing guru came up with the idea of “the customer for life,” but it’s a compelling concept. It’s also central to the success of any given auto maker – a car is a big purchase , and one that could be made many times over the course of a lifetime.
As any savvy business type will tell you, the cost of acquiring a new customer is greater than that of retaining an existing one. The art of customer retention has been supported by leasing; it’s a natural segue when a customer drives a car for three years, hands back the keys and secures a new version of the same model or another from the same brand.
German manufacturers are particularly adept at this and have added another layer of ingenuity into the mix: The new versions are often larger, more luxurious and have more features than their predecessors, so they represent a compelling option for customers when those leases expire. The move toward larger versions of existing models has also paved the way for smaller models to join the fleet, giving rise to the entry-luxury segment.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class illustrates how German brands keep customers engaged.
When it first came to North America in 1993, it was the company’s entry-level compact vehicle and the only compact it offered. Two decades later, it’s still considered a compact, but the CLA is even smaller, while the GLK and GLA crossovers are compact in size as well.
The fourth-generation version of the C-Class, which we drove in and around Marseille, is the largest, most luxurious and most feature-packed version of the car. Given that it’s been seven years since the debut of the third generation, the pent-up demand from customers is sky-high.
The latest C-Class will: a) at the very least satisfy you or b) likely thrill you. However, hardcore driving enthusiasts who expect Mercedes to show Audi, BMW et al a clean pair of heels will be disappointed.
The new C will come in a variety of flavours and we will only see a fraction of them. Initially, the ships will unload the C 300 4MATIC and C 400 4MATIC, a pair of gas-powered all-wheel drive sedans. Next year, Canada will receive the C 63 AMG high-performance version, as well as a C-Class coupe, convertible, at least one diesel, and possibly a wagon.
Armed with a twin-turbocharged V-6, the C 400 was the quickest of the cars sampled in the south of France. Yet, despite its 329 horsepower and the fact that this car is lighter than the old (achieved through the liberal use of aluminum and other means), it didn’t feel as fast as expected.
On the open road, the C 400 displayed superb composure. It had the Mercedes-Benz air suspension system and it soaked up imperfections in the pavement with ease. In fact, the car performed like a much larger sedan in this respect.
The least impressive aspect of the car’s performance was its steering. It felt ropey and it was impossible to predict how much steering lock would be needed to negotiate a given corner. This will matter not one whit to those using their C 400 for everyday commuting duties.
One other standout aspect of the new C-Class is its interior; here, again, the notion of this compact sedan mirroring its larger siblings is confirmed. The car has a beautifully refined, clean look that sets a new standard for this segment. The elegant simplicity of the cabin is, in part, achieved by a new touchpad and rotary dial in the centre console that control most of the car’s functions and eliminates the need for switches.
The other major change is a new exterior look that, again, echoes other cars in the Mercedes fleet. Depending on the model and the appearance package chosen, the car could have one of three different front-end looks.
The C 400 comes standard with a sport package and a front fascia with gaping air intakes – it’s no shrinking violet. There’s no question that it will resonate with those who appreciate the look of the latest CLS-Class.
Whether the 2015 edition has been worth the seven-year wait depends on individual expectations, but Mercedes-Benz lease-holders would be wise to give it a look.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C 400 4MATIC
Type: Mid-size luxury sedan
Base price: Not available
Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 329 hp/354 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Drive: All-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Not available
Alternatives: Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS
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