Review: Mercedes C-Class, more than an entry-level sports sedan

Mercedes bets on a premium sports sedan and wins.

A WINTER SPORTS SEDAN: Thanks to its 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, the Mercedes C300 felt right at home as winter arrived in New England.
A WINTER SPORTS SEDAN: Thanks to its 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, the Mercedes C300 felt right at home as winter arrived in New England. –Bill Griffith

Back in 2007, Mercedes-Benz came out with the C-Class as an entry-level premium sedan. It seemed like a good idea that would be a natural way to “grow the brand” in the U.S. market.

It worked.  You could buy a Benz for less than $40,000 or obtain an attractive lease because the cars were projected to have great residual value.

A good friend, who’d always wanted a Mercedes, leased a C230 with, of all things, a manual transmission. He considered it a great deal.

It seems that a lot of other people did, too.

What’s not to like? The average person on the street sees the three-point star and immediately recognizes the car as a Mercedes and its driver as the owner of an extremely upscale brand.

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Since its introduction, the C-Class has become M-B’s best-selling series with more than 2.4 million sold worldwide.

Of course, when it came time for the next generation, the temptation had to be great to cash in on the C-Class success by making it bigger, more powerful, and hiking the price.

To its credit, Mercedes kept the base price down, but offers all sorts of ways to personalize your vehicle. Those bring the price up quickly.

This week’s test vehicle fits that profile.

The base price is $42,425 (including the $925 destination charge). However, after an option list that looks almost as long as my “Honey-Do List,” the bottom-line price is $59,260.

Before going into details about standard features and options, there are some important things to mention.

Styling, performance, handling, and interior quality all are superb. I have no qualms in qualifying this test vehicle as a great-handling sports sedan without pointing out a few places where M-B cut corners to cut costs.

It was a great drive on sunny days and did just fine during our first snowfall of this winter with all-season tires.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the car isn’t designed for the technology-challenged. The 8.4-inch high resolution screen stands out like a neon billboard on the beautiful terrain that’s the C-Class interior—a cozy home of leather, wood, and aluminum. It takes time to figure out the controller setup that runs the infotainment system. Mastering the voice-recognition system might be the best way for a new owner to start up the learning curve.

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This second-generation C-Class has been around for a few years so any bugs should be out of it by now. For M-B fans, the big news here is that a coupe and cabriolet now are available. If those are something you’d like to test drive, I’m right there with you.

INTERIOR DESIGN: The C300’s interior is elegant, but the designers need to find a better place to hang that large touchscreen. —Bill Griffith

However, coupes have lost some of their luster for me.

The look is great; functionality not so great.

Those extra-long doors are tough to open when you park next to another car.

Said doors also are a pain—along with sliding seats forward—for anyone to enter or exit the rear seat.

The same goes for the driver, who’d like to stash a coat, bag, and maybe another package on the back seat when heading out for a call. All these are a snap in a four-door, so that’s yet one more reason I prefer this C-Class sedan.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that puts out plenty of horsepower (241) along with 273 lb.-ft. of torque. It goes through a 7-speed transmission to the rear wheels first but also to all four wheels as needed via the M-B 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.

We found it to be a perfectly tuned power train.

Couple that with standard independent front and rear suspension—the front suspension links are separate from the strut-spring assembly—and we found it to be a perfect sports sedan setup.

Also standard were systems such as collision prevention assist-plus, attention assist (drowsy driver alerts), and (fixing a notable omission in prior years) a rearview camera.

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Inside, the black ash wood and gray leather made for a wonderful combination.

You, the prospective buyer, can judge these options: Metallic paint ($720), Manual rear seat window sunshades ($380), heated and ventilated front seats ($1,030), panorama roof ($1,480), rear deck spoiler ($350).

They are the small items.

The big ones are:

1. $8,650 Premium package that adds an 8.4-inch touchscreen, navigation and voice control, five years of traffic and weather, automatic high beam assist, active blind spot and lane-keeping assists, a cabin “fragrance” system (no joke), ambient lighting and automatic locking systems, a semi-autonomous in-traffic control system, cross-traffic assist along with many other features.

2. Leather seating ($2,050) with added passenger-seat memory and adjustments.

3. Sport package ($2,175) with AMG sport body styling, AMG floormats, sport pedals with rubber studs, upgraded dashboard and upper-door panels with special fabric and stitching.

Mercedes big-wigs put out lots of flowery quotes when they introduced this C-Class sedan.

For example, “Mercedes at its best—that’s the new C-Class, which sets new standards for the mid-range segment on many fronts,” says Prof. Thomas Weber. “It is characterized by an emotional yet clear design which is continued in the high-quality and modern interior. Its efficient and high-performance engineering provides the basis for a high standard of driving enjoyment.”

 There was a great temptation to poke a bit of fun at some of those quotes.

 However, there’s another factor to consider.

 They’re right. It’s a great car.

Mercedes Benz C300 —Bill Griffith

2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic Sedan

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $42,425 / $59,260. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 23 city / 29 highway / 25 overall. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 26.3. Drivetrain: 2.0-liter I-4, 7-speed automatic transmission, All-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passenger sedan.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 241. Torque: 273 lb.-ft. Overall length: 184.5 in. Wheelbase: 118.8 in. Height: 56.8 in.

Width: 71.3 (w/o mirrors extended). Curb weight: 3,594 lbs.

THE GOOD

Quality style, handling, power-train, first-class cabin.

THE BAD

The German engineers’ “You will learn to do it our way” approach to the infotainment system.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A must-consider sports sedan.

ALSO CONSIDER

Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, 4-Series Grand Coupe, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS.

Bill Griffith can be reached at wgriff@gmail.com.  Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.

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