DETROIT – Mercedes officially rolls out its new C-Class at the North American International Auto Show here, touting its new features and luxurious interior as it tries to establish the former-entry level car as a more upmarket choice now that the lower-priced CLA has been slotted below it.

Mercedes has taken the unprecedented step of offering its most advanced semi-autonomous-driving technology on the C-Class, just months after it was first featured in the automaker’s flagship S-Class model.

Called “Stop & Go Pilot,” the system can drive the car briefly and make emergency stops if the driver is temporarily distracted. It also can autonomously follow a car ahead of it in slow traffic, including braking, accelerating and steering.

“This is the only car in its class that offers semi-autonomous features like the Stop & Go Pilot,” says Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche.

The new C-Class is more than 200 lbs. (91 kg) lighter than its predecessor and claimed to be the most aerodynamic in its class, with a coefficient of drag of 0.24. It is available with two dramatically different “faces” that offer consumers a more traditional Mercedes grille or a sportier grille resembling that on the CLA.

The C-Class is the German automaker’s highest-volume car in the world and its biggest seller in the U.S. “We are very proud that the new C-Class will also be the first German car in this segment built for the U.S. right here in the U.S., in our plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama,” Zetsche says.

Mercedes has been building SUVs and CUVs in the U.S. for almost 20 years. BMW also produces CUVs in the U.S. at a facility in South Carolina.

Besides gushing about the virtues of the new C-Class interior, executives also reveal at the show:

  • A highly styled concept version of the upcoming S-Class Coupe.
  • The S 600 limousine, sporting a twin-turbo 523 hp V-12 and designed to be “the best car money can buy.”
  • The GLA 45 AMG, a high-performance compact CUV based on the AMG version of the CLA sedan.

dwinter@wardsauto.com