KENNEBUNKPORT, ME – The ’12 Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe will account for just 10% of the nameplate’s U.S.-market volume, but those sales will deliver near- and long-term growth, a key brand executive says.

Though the all-new 2-door represents the first “true” C-Class coupe to arrive on U.S. shores, don’t expect the novelty to seduce C-Class sedan buyers, says Bernie Glaser, Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. general manager-product management.

“If you’re buying a coupe or a sedan, it’s a different buyer,” he tells WardsAuto at a media event here, noting the ’12 C-Class coupe is not a hatchback like previous C230 models.

Consider that the C-Class lineup, which now spans seven models, already enjoys the highest conquest rate of any nameplate in Mercedes’ U.S. showrooms, and the brand is poised for long-term growth, Glaser adds.

Lower Luxury cars, as defined by WardsAuto segmentation, are growing by leaps and bounds in the U.S. There are 25 model-year ’11 nameplates, compared with 17 in 2001. Only the Middle Luxury cross/utility vehicle segment, which added 11 nameplates in the same model year, is growing faster.

The Lower Luxury’s 3-point increase in car-market share since 2001 only is outpaced by Upper Small’s 6-point hike. Through August, Lower Luxury accounted for 10.5% of the U.S. car market.

The ’12 C-Class, which now consists of coupe and sedan versions of the C250, C350 and C63 AMG models, plus the C300 all-wheel-drive sedan, benefits from the most ambitious mid-cycle refresh ever undertaken by Mercedes, a move that comes one year ahead of the scheduled redesign of the BMW 3-Series, its chief competitor.

The refresh brings some 2,000 new parts to the C-Class. “When we give our engineers a chance to redesign, they take it seriously,” Glaser says.

About 1,500 of those new parts are found in the car’s interior, which Glaser describes as the “biggest revolution” from the outgoing C-Class. Among the additions are:

  • A new head unit that accommodates an FM phase-diversity twin tuner; HD, AM and weatherband radio; MP3-compatible CD drive; and USB port.
  • &A standard-equipment 5.8-in. (14.7-cm) color display and optional 7-in. (17.8-cm) display paired with a rear-view camera; hard drive storage for music and photos; CD/DVD player; and navigation system with which Sirius XM Satellite radio subscribers can monitor traffic and weather in real time.
  • A redesigned dashboard supported by an aluminum cross-member to mitigate noise and vibration.
  • A thicker steering wheel with multifunction controls and, in Sport models, a flat bottom for greater comfort.

Further upping the ante, Mercedes is offering a panoramic sunroof as standard equipment.

Referring to Germany-based BMW, Glaser concedes, “our friends from Bavaria” dominate the Lower Luxury segment. Through September, C-Class sales totaled 39,263, some 22,000 fewer than the 3-Series, according to WardsAuto.

But one feature of the new C250 lineup could make for “some sleepless nights at Oktoberfest,” Bavaria’s world-famous fall beer bash. For ’12, Mercedes brings to the U.S. its M271 1.8L turbocharged, direct-injection in-line 4-cyl. engine, he says.

Rated at 201 hp, it can deliver 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) on the highway. And the I-4’s maximum torque of 229 lb.-ft. (310 Nm), available at 4,300 rpm, exceeds by 8 lb.-ft. (11 Nm) the peak twist generated by the 3.0L V-6 it replaces in the C350 sedan.

Mercedes last sold a U.S.-market 4-cyl. engine in the C230, in 2005.

The ’12 C-Class now is rolling into U.S. showrooms, Mercedes says. Coupes equipped with the auto maker’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system arrive early next year.

Mercedes never before has offered 4Matic in a C-Class coupe. But Glaser says it only is available with the 302-hp, 3.5L V-6, which this year adds direct injection for improved fuel economy.

The 60-degree V-6, which generates peak torque of 273 lb.-ft. (379 Nm), delivers 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) highway. AMG models feature a 6.3L V-8 that pumps out 451 hp and maximum torque of 443 lb.-ft. (601 Nm). Highway fuel economy is 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km)

Sedan prices range from the C250’s $35,675 to the AMG’s $59,805. Coupe prices go from $38,095 for the C250 to $62,305 for the AMG.

emayne@wardsauto.com