2012 Mercedes-Benz C2502012 Mercedes-Benz C250Auto reviewers love to use the word “refinement,” usually in reference to luxury sedans whose manufacturers met their goals for meticulous quality, performance, safety, ride, handling, and sheer pampering of driver and passengers. It’s more of a feeling than a statistic or cold value analysis. 

The word comes up frequently in descriptions of Mercedes-Benz sedans. And so it must appear again in our assessment of the 2012 C250.

We were gratified by the C250’s fulfillment of a prediction we made in late 2009, in our review of the V-6-powered C300: “Until quite recently, Mercedes-Benz offered a model called the C230 with a smooth-running, durable four-cylinder engine in the U.S. market; surely this power plant will return as the federal government’s new CAFE standards kick in.” Sure enough, gasoline prices are through the roof, the federal government is setting extravagant fuel-economy targets, and Mercedes-Benz has dared to bolt a smallish (1.8-liter) four-cylinder engine into its entry-level luxury sedan.

The combination gives the fairly well-to-do a chance to project a green image (21 mpg city, 31 highway) while enjoying a high standard of luxury and performance.

The engine may be small, but it’s potent, delivering 201 horsepower and pushing 229 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through a seven-speed shiftable automatic transmission. Also available are the aforementioned C-300, which can be equipped with all-wheel drive; the C350 sedan, with a 302-horsepower V-6; and the C63 AMG, with a 451-horsepower V-8. All but the C300 AWD model are also available as a two-door coupe.

Whatever its configuration, the C-Class is best viewed as a personal luxury car. It has a small trunk (12.4 cubic feet in our C250) and its back seat is poorly suited for big or tall adults.

Somewhat disappointingly, a number of features that are standard in many lesser cars — notably, Sirius satellite radio and heated front seats, included in a $2,500 option package — cost extra. In fact, our $34,800 C250’s price ballooned to $44,610 thanks to such desirable items as the COMAND control system with navigation, in-dash CD and DVD changer, and blind-spot assist.

As much as we were initially bewildered by BMW’s iDrive system, which controls the audio and other systems by a wheel at the driver’s right hand, we’ve always found COMAND exceptionally easy to operate. It greatly enhances the driving experience — quite unlike the stalk-mounted cruise control that always seems to get in the way when the driver tries to signal a turn.

The C Class is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick.

Although the C Class has a number of limitations — its comparatively small passenger compartment and trunk; its low-slung body and rear-drive configuration in most versions; its considerable price, especially with options that bring it to its full potential as a compact luxury sedan — it has the feel and personality of true greatness. You know — refinement.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $44,6105

Engine: 1.8-liter Four, 201 horsepower, 229 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 7-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel

Weight: 3,428 lb.

Suspension: Four-wheel independent, MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 17 x 8.5 inch alloy

Tires: 245/40R17 all-season 

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 12.4. ft.

Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons

Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway 

Fuel type: Premium