By on January 22, 2009

Our illustrious Editor-in-Chief predicts the death of the manual transmission. The “stick-shift is toast,” Farago says, in his own special way. I disagree. If you want to go fast, get a paddle shift automated manual, a la Nissan GT-R. Time and again, the little levers have proven to be the fastest way to get around a track. Want easy breezy beautiful Orange County commuting? Get a traditional automatic. But if you want to maximize the man machine interface, nothing beats a manual. Three pedals can enliven the most leaden of automobiles. To wit: the Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport.

The current gen C’s sheetmetal is wedgy and attractive in a Brunhilda sorta way, complete with bucktooth tri-star emblem. The C marks a return to classic Mercedes’ design language and uberholprestige proportions– with a bit of bling for the boyz. The C300’s inside is a stark tribute to the best of German interiors: finest quality construction matched to minimalist ergonomics, blah blah blah. I wouldn’t have sampled this car if it weren’t the only brand spanking new manual transmission-equipped C300 in the entirety of Dallas. Or Texas, for all I know.

Guiding the Benz out of the car park onto Lemmon Ave, the engine’s improved responsiveness was immediately apparent. With a stick to summon the six, the powerplant pours on the power, smoothly, o demand. No torque converter guessing. No waiting to see what the automatic will do. No Novocaine injection. The C300 practically leaped away from the intersection, displaying the sort of verve even the more powerful C350 can’t produce. The engine growled seductively, then hummed placidly as I heel-n-toed the downshift (perfect pedal placement). If it weren’t for the long transmission throw, the German box car’s transmission would be perfect.

In fact, the Merc suddenly ceased to be a velour track-suited sorority girl’s dream. It became a lithe driving machine to rival the legendary BMW.

Just kidding. The C-Class can’t match the 3-Series’s rightly legendary driving dynamics. But the manual Merc is a more versatile beast. Here you haff a half-sized sports sedan offering sporting fun: a row-your-own corner carver that rewards and challenges when the going gets twisty. And then, when you want to kick back and chillax in your own little world of entry-level wealth, the C300 is just the pill you need. The stick shift is dead. Long live the stick shift!

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50 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2009 Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport (Manual)...”


  • avatar
    tom

    Nice…great review. I also dig the new/old Mercedes design language. Although I’d prefer to have the three pointed star on the hood instead of on the grill…

  • avatar
    dean

    I’ve never driven a DSG-type automatic, but give me a manual tranny any day. I like being able to tell which gear I’m in just by feel, being able to drop two gears in a single movement, and knowing that when I push the accelerator I go NOW, not when the computer finally realizes that I’m serious.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Amen!!! Long live the stick!

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I’d like to drive one of these new Benzes. I gotta say I like the style.

    I’ll chime in….I own a GTI with DSG. I was only a manual driver in the past, and I wanted manual again. But nothing else had the blend of comfort, performance, and price that the GTI had…except the GTI manual transmission (well, the clutch actually) is TERRIBLE. The pedal travel is so long, you get cramped up against the gas and brake pedals. So I threw down the grand and got the DSG. For an auto, it is great, and the shifts are superb.

    With that said, I’m going back next time. I miss the stick. Just because its a DSG and blips on downshifts doesn’t mean its more fun. Its not. And when you leave it in D, it still does the typical automatic activity of being in too high a gear and lagging when you want a downshift.

    Best auto tranny there is. For me, I still love the car, but I’m getting a manual from now on. Just too much fun to rip through gears or perfectly hit a downshift. Nothing compares.

  • avatar
    BobJava

    As traffic increases and Americans get lazier, the manual will (almost) disappear.

    Plus, as you said, it might have been the only C300 manual in Dallas. Car shopping for a manual-shift car is painful. You have no selection, and the salesperson is angered that he/she can’t sell you the auto with a bunch of options. They all tend to be closer to the stripper end of the options list.

    On that note, in theory, many of us wouldn’t have a problem with paddle shifters as a replacement for a manual, but then the auto makers charge you a couple extra grand.

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Long live the stick shift indeed (and long live my car ownership since thieves tend to shy away from manual transmission cars).

    Nothing beats the man-machine interface that a manual provides. You put it very well Mike: if you just want to go fast drive a double clutch equipped GT-R…or heck, drive a 7 speed auto Benz E550! But if you want complete control over the car and engine without computers being in the way, a manual is the only way to go.

    Heck, my wife better be able to drive a manual…..and like it too.

  • avatar
    rkeep820

    +1

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Any chance MB will bring one of the 2 liter force-fed engines over here? I don’t see much point in a 220 HP V6 when you can get as much out of a lighter, cheaper, and more frugal 4. Plus, the V6 isn’t the smooth inline-6 from the good old days.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I doubt I’d ever go back to an automatic.

    In my opinon, the weaker hp/cheaper the car, the more you need a manual:

    These cars typically:
    * Have bad (terrible) automatic gear selection

    * Usually give you an extra gear (or more) in manual form (I’m looking at you, 2000 plymouth neon 3 speed auto vs 5 speed stick)

    * let you really ring the engine out when you need to get going, merge, hills, etc.

    * typically make you more involved with the car & your surroundings.

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    I agree with Jerome10. A DSG is much better than any other automatic transmission but still not as direct as a manual. Also, with a manual, you can better estimate the repair and maintenance costs. For a DSG … (touch wood and pray).

  • avatar
    JJ

    Any chance MB will bring one of the 2 liter force-fed engines over here? I don’t see much point in a 220 HP V6 when you can get as much out of a lighter, cheaper, and more frugal 4. Plus, the V6 isn’t the smooth inline-6 from the good old days.

    Any chance ‘mericans will buy a C180/200?

    I’m glad here in Europe it’s still about 80% MT. Except at Mercedes the divide is probably more like 50/50. And obviously some models aren’t even available with a stick over here either, but then again, even in Europe nobody would buy an S-class with a stick shift (because nobody buys an S-class for engaging handling characeristics).

    If you opt for Euro-delivery it shouldn’t be a problem to get a stick I would imagine. I also wonder where in the production proces they add those horrible side-blinkers to the fenders? Just put on a US spec fender when the car is on the production line? In videos of those production facilities you never see that happen.

  • avatar
    mountainman

    I would certainly hope that the manual transmission does not go extinct. Absolutely, the newer DSG style tranny’s can shift faster than us slow carbon units, but there is still no better way to experience total driving pleasure than to row your own.

    Where I give the development of the slushbox credit, is that, well, it has developed and evolved. What great improvements to the manual tranny have come about in let’s say, the last 10 years?

    Honda/Acura have awesome sticks that snick through the gears, but other than that, it seems like all the R&D goes into the auto trannys. Case in point: “If it weren’t for the long transmission throw, the German box car’s transmission would be perfect.” Why can’t they just buy an S2000, take apart the darn thing, and figure it out?

    Long live the Stick.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Whatever are disagreements, my wife and I agree whole heartedly on one thing, if it doesn’t have a manual, we won’t even consider it. It just doesn’t feel right to drive a car that shifts for you. Even the manumatic type auto transmissions don’t offer the connection that a stick and clutch do. It is getting harder and harder to find a manual. I believe the sales numbers for manuals are somewhere in the vicinity of 2% of total car sales. The final death knell for me was when Porsche started offering the 911 with an auto. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future instead of restomodding a classic and adding an auto transmission, there will be kits of some kind to retrofit a manual transmission to your auto only car. Of course, you pretty much must have an automatic for a hybrid equipped vehicle.

  • avatar
    srogers

    Our only hope is that the Europeans continue to demand manuals transmissions so that the investment is made and it’s not too expensive for manufacturers to continue to send them our way.

    All of us keeners clamour for manuals, but we’re a shrinking blip in the market. I’d bet that of the 50 cars in my work parkade, mine’s the only one with a shifter. My guess is that real manuals will disappear.

    Maybe a niche car like the Miata can survive with a real shifter.

  • avatar

    I can’t believe you found a stick to drive. It’s been seven years since I last found a stick on an MB lot in the Detroit area. Since then, whenever I’ve asked, the answer has always been the same.

    Not a big fan of how this car drives with the automatic. Not bad, just boring.

    Reliability has been average so far.

    http://www.truedelta.com/car-reliability.php?stage=pt&bd=Mercedes-Benz&mc=179&email=Guest

  • avatar
    JeremyR

    Every car I’ve ever purchased for primarily my own use has been a stick. I don’t expect that to change as long as I have a choice, for reasons others have thoroughly discussed.

    Unfortunately, my wife continues to insist on an automatic transmission for her primary vehicle, even though she knows how to drive a stick. Some people just require more coddling, I guess.

  • avatar

    I’ll stop driving a manual when I lack the leg strength to depress the clutch pedal.

    My wife and I are also in agreement on the necessity of a stick. She graduated from a Miata 6-speed to a 335i Coupe 6-speed. She insisted on the manual because the manu-auto simply didn’t cut it.

  • avatar
    changsta

    manuals aren’t THAT rare are they? i know many people that drive manual. maybe the percentage of people that buy manuals in canada is higher than in the u.s.? even my sister has a manual!

    also, we get the c230 in canada, and i’ve seen manual benzes on the lot here in toronto, especially the B class.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    When I went to buy a new Honda Civic last summer, I asked the salesman “Do you have anything on the lot with a manual?” His answer was yes, ONE, that one over there.

    Which, to my good fortune, was exactly the trim line and color I wanted. So I bought it and put a few more Detroit unionists out of work.

  • avatar
    tedward

    changsta…yeah, they are. I live in NY and they are almost non-existent outside of hondas and vws. I suppose some bmw’s also. Oddly enough, I see more sticks in very wealthy (northern westchester) and very poor (upstate NY) areas than I do in regular middle-class suburbs.

  • avatar
    tedward

    maybe people become more cow-like when they aren’t bored or desperate.

  • avatar

    You can take my stick shift away from me… when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    jmo

    I can teach anyone to drive a stick within 15 min. The key is the use of the tach. Take them to a parking lot, rev it up to 2,000rpm, and slowly let up on the cluch while using the gas to keep the revs up. That is the key. With that, there is no bucking and stalling and they get the feel of when the clutch starts to engage. After a few tries in the parking lot they get the feel of how it should go and they can do it without refering to the tach.

    I was taught by people who learned before cars routinely came with tachs and trying to do it by ear is much harder.

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    Y’know, I realized how hard it is to find a manual car when shopping for my first car. Looked on autotrader for listings, because you can whittle down listings by transmission, and after clicking the box reading “manual” almost 90% of the previous list went poof! My dad also searched for months for a car without a damned PRNDL.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Learning how to drive stick isn’t that complicated, but most people don’t want to bother. There is no joy in it for these folks.

    Any connection with lack of interest in driving and Toyota sales?

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    Any connection with lack of interest in driving and Toyota sales?

    Hah! You nailed it jkross2. Toyotas are road bourne home appliances. Actually, that’s not fair to home appliances – I’ve seen Frigidaires and SubZero refrigs with more sex appeal than Toyota’s current crop of snoozers. Toyota is successful because all the people who used to like Buicks needed a home when GM quality was at its nadir.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    MS, I’m also in shock that you could find a manual Benz.

    mountainman :
    January 22nd, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Why can’t they just buy an S2000, take apart the darn thing, and figure it out?

    GM did something easier for the Soulstice/Sky…they called Aisin, the transmission supplier.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    I love this new C-Class. Is it dynamically superior to the 3? No. But it is SO solid and it reminds me of my M-B 190e 2.6 Sportline. One of my favorite cars of all time.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    yes yes yes the manual is a joy in certain situations (twisty roads unemcumbered by other traffic and the police)

    however in heavy traffic say on the interstate they are a boring chore.

    the main problem with autos is that they take way too long to shift and the ratios are set up for tooling along at 60-70 miles and hour on the interstate – fix that and the auto is in business.

  • avatar
    Recluse

    Thanks for the review.

    In 2005, I test drove a Mercedes C350 with a manual transmission, and found it very enjoyable to drive. I was surprised at how well-done the whole setup was for such a low-demand option.

    I ultimately had to go with something a little more affordable, but if I had known then how rare they were, I’d have sucked it up and bought it.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    jmo:
    I was taught by people who learned before cars routinely came with tachs and trying to do it by ear is much harder.

    That would depend on the vehicle. A 12 year old early 70’s jeep with the straight 6 and a bad muffler was an excellent MT ‘teacher’.

  • avatar
    Carzzi

    Near the end of the W201 (190-class) run, MB imported to the USA the “sportline” trim. So equipped, the car had a manual trans option, lowered suspension and a faster steering rack.
    I have one of these and it quite a hoot to drive. It turns in with the litheness of a 3-series, even though the actual steering feel is rather numb (it is recirc ball after all), and grips very well.
    The interior was rather special too, 4 leather buckets (no rear center-belt or even the perfunctory “hump”).
    Fewer than a thousand in this trim with 6-cyl engines (2.6L) were imported I’m told; I bought mine off Craigslist for a song a couple of years ago and drive it nearly everyday.
    If I find a nice used C300 -stick a decade from now… I’ll buy one. The shape is very Bruno Sacco.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Follow someone, or worse, ride with someone who is pumping and rowing through town.

    Stop on a hill behind one and you have to leave a full car length for them to roll back before they can get going forward.

    Why stop at manual gear changes? Why not manually regulate fuel pressure, water temperature, spark advance, cam timing, air-fuel ratio, and battery charging amps?

  • avatar
    protege_eco

    I will agree with everyone else here…long live the stick! In 2002 when I bought my beloved Mazda Protege, the salesman said over the phone, “Now, the one we’re talking about is a stick.” I replied without skipping a beat that I’d take it! My wife isn’t a fan of manual gearboxes. While my Saturn Vue has an auto, I’ll always love a manual over an auto…

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    CarPerson wrote: “Why stop at manual gear changes? Why not manually regulate fuel pressure, water temperature, spark advance, cam timing, air-fuel ratio, and battery charging amps?”

    Why stop with automatic transmissions? Why have sex manually when you can have cybersex?

  • avatar
    relton

    There are, of course, many reasons for not having a stick shift. Foremost among them is the fact that people who do not have to massage the drivetrain of the car can concentrate on their driving, and avoiding accidents. One of the reasons, albeit a smal one, for the increasingly improving safety record in this country is the diminishing number of cars with stick shifts.

    Anyone who has had the entry level human factors class has been exposed to the theory of task distraction. One of the first experiments in class illustrates this.

    One of the reasons commercial air safety is so good is that pilots are removed from non-core dstractions, allowing them to fly the plane.

    Other comments about the relative cost of manual tranmissions show an ignrance of current autombile repair costs. Ford manuals, for example, are all made by ZF, and cost the devil to repair. Usually there is no repair, only replacemnts that cost may thousand of dollars. Changing clutches ina modern car is another extremely costly repair job, often requiring engine removal, or major disassembly of the driveline and rear suspension.

    Serious, expert drivers of race cars would have an automatic any time, if the rules allowed it. Successful automatics in F1 caused them to be outlawed a while back, and that scenario has been repeated in almost every other racing venue.

    I could go on (and I have, years ago, on this site)but I think I made the counterpoint.

    Bob

    ps
    I have a few manual transmission cars, and I do know how to drive a stick.
    B

  • avatar

    CarPerson:
    Follow someone, or worse, ride with someone who is pumping and rowing through town. Stop on a hill behind one and you have to leave a full car length for them to roll back before they can get going forward.

    If they’re an idiot and didn’t get any proper training… then yes, you’d want to give them some room. Friends of mine who hold this same opinion generally don’t know how to drive a manual.

    CarPerson:
    Why stop at manual gear changes? Why not manually regulate fuel pressure, water temperature, spark advance, cam timing, air-fuel ratio, and battery charging amps?

    Indeed! Why even have a steering wheel or pedals?? Hell, why bother walking now that electric wheelchairs are available? Here’s why. Manuals are more fun and give you more involvement with and better control of the car.

  • avatar

    The manual transmission has been pronounced dead many times in the past fifty years, but it ain’t happened yet. I prefer manual just because most autoboxes I’ve driven epitomize the axiom that just because somebody does something for you doesn’t mean they do it well.

    There is admittedly something terribly antediluvian about driving a car with a computer-controlled engine, computer-controlled brakes, and a manual clutch — like having a lever-action Winchester with a laser sight. For me, it’s a matter of preference, rather than principle.

  • avatar
    carguy622

    Long live the stick! Nothing is as engaging and working the pedals and shifting the gears.

    I try and teach all my friends how to drive it, just so they can see how much fun it can be. I was terrified when I had to learn, but now I love it. I’m hoping I’ll be able to convince my friend to get her Miata in a stick, as it should be.

  • avatar

    I find it interesting that when I learned to drive in driver’s ed, I was taught on an Automatic, yet, in china, my friend was taught on a stick. Most of their cars seem to be sticks.

    I frankly love automatic because I don’t wanna be bothered with the extra hassle of choosing gears.

    When they put alot of HP in a car and it moves through its gears quickly, most people couldn’t really keep up with the gear they should be in, so they’d end up in an innefficient gear.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    relton:

    “There are, of course, many reasons for not having a stick shift. Foremost among them is the fact that people who do not have to massage the drivetrain of the car can concentrate on their driving, and avoiding accidents.”

    Or they can concentrate on their cellphone conversation, or getting another slug out of their Big Gulp….

    “Other comments about the relative cost of manual tranmissions show an ignrance of current autombile repair costs….Changing clutches ina modern car is another extremely costly repair job, often requiring engine removal, or major disassembly of the driveline and rear suspension.”

    I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with this, for some high buck RWD car. But my current manual shift car (FWD) is running on its original clutch at nearly 150k miles. By that mileage many folks with an automatic transmission might be well along with their 2nd one, and I don’t want to price one of those, either.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Forgot to add, that sometimes, unfortunately, it seems that all the development goes into the automatic, and the manual gets minimal attention. Some vehicles I’ve read (without experiencing first-hand) where they’ve actually said the auto was far better were the Cadillac CTS, the Infiniti G35, and even the Toyota Camry.

    The complaints always center around the fact that with the autos, the engine/drivetrain seem to be well done, the cars accelerate smoothly and smartly and sound right doing it. Whereas the manual versions sound thrashier and less refined, there seems to be more jerkiness, more vibration in the pedals, etc. Basically it is painfully obvious that yes, they offer a manual for those who want it (especially important for a “drivers” car like a G35 or CTS…I don’t imagine most Camry manual drivers are buying them because they like to drive), but you’re not getting the same drivetrain refinement you get on the automatic.

    So, what’s it gonna be? The take rate on a manual is incredibly low overall. So the car companies don’t spend much time and money on a manual, if they even bother to include one. So the manual versions don’t feel as good to drive as the automatics, so those maybe on the fence go with an auto, which the car companies then use as “proof” that people don’t want/like manuals.

    Look at a car like the Miata. A vast majority are manuals. People want them that way. Now maybe its because its a pure sports car that people want a manual, but I gotta think that a huge reason for it is that the shifter/clutch/pedals/refinement is as excellent as it is. But then on the flip side, the Civic is actually not a bad little manual, and the Acura TSX is a very good manual, yet most of these cars are autos. So maybe it is the Miata’s pure sports car that makes the manual so popular. Otherwise you’d see 60-70% take rates on TSX’s with manuals (especially because its auto isn’t really that great), and you don’t.

    Hell, even Mazda and I suppose Nissan, who you could almost always count on for having manual transmissions on nearly every model have started offering auto-only lines in the US. You can get your CX-7 with a stick in Europe, but auto-only in the US. I kinda wonder if we might be down to BMW, VW, and a very few Hondas, Mazdas, Nissans, and the Mustang and Corvette as the only manuals we’ll soon be able to buy.

    Can you still get a 5 series in a manual??

  • avatar
    reconman

    Good review. Great comments. Nice car. What’s up with this car’s 4-star frontal crash score ??? Weak.

  • avatar
    V6

    for me a DSG is the same as a CVT.

    i don’t care that a DSG shifts faster just like i don’t care that a CVT will use slightly less gas compared to a conventional auto.

    proper manual > DSG
    proper auto > CVT

    just the way it is

  • avatar
    pb35

    Some a-hole was tailgating me in one of these this morning. I doubt it was a stick. Nice car though, I kinda want one after this reading review.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    I like a manual because of the control I get in snowy conditions. Its then that you want the highest gear and consequently least torque going to the drive wheels. And you don’t want to be surprised such as when an autobox shifts you to a more efficient gear, bumps the torque and the drive wheels spin.

    OTOH, it will be harder to maintain manuals. My A4s are manual and there is only one guy at the dealer who can work on them. This dealer is part of a big Penske complex – Porsche/Audi/Mercedes/Lexus/Bentley/BMW/Mini/godknowswhoelse and its still just one guy. Suppose they could outsource to the contiguous Porsche shop….

  • avatar
    TwoTwenty

    I like manual transmissions as well, but depending on the car. I can’t imagine our 1996 C220 with a stick, and I can’t imagine our 1990 Miata without one.

    I like the new W204 because reminds me of our W202 C-Class – much more so than the W203 – but I would get the new one with a stick. It’s too bad they don’t offer it with the luxury trim in the US. I would like MBUSA to offer the C180 reviewed on TTAC, which sounds exactly like an updated version of our C220 – with a stick.

  • avatar
    roadracer

    Nice car. If Mercedes offered a C350 with a stick shift and wood trim inside I’d strongly consider one.

  • avatar
    netrun

    I am a huge fan of the new M-B C class so any new review on it makes me happy!

    I am also a huge fan of manual equipped cars.

    That said, sometimes it sucks to have a manual. One time I was in a 2 mile long traffic jam at a border crossing. The problem was that the road inclined up and then crossed a bridge. Ugh.

    This is why I like the idea of the automatic manuals – no clutch. Unfortunately, the execution has yet to match the beauty of the idea.

  • avatar
    corcoran

    I’ve owned a 6-spd manual C300 Sport for a year now and received a heavy discount because nobody was interested in a C-Class with a clutch. During that time I’ve put 13,000 trouble-free miles on the car and admittedly I am surprised how much I like the Mercedes 6-speed.

    Previously I’ve owned a number of manual transmission BMWs including an E36 M3 and 540. BMW still has the best manuals in the business, but the C300’s gearbox is noticeably improved compared to previous generation Mercedes manuals I’ve driven. Had my car been a C63 I would’ve had no problems with the AMG-spec automatic – but with only 225+ horsepower, the manual transmission helps considerably as TTAC described.

    Would I buy one again? Probably. My only complaints are the Continental tires and the transmission doesn’t feel as stout as the BMW. Other than that I think it looks better than the BMW 335, has great ergonomics and the nav/stereo interface is perfect (minus the need for touch-screen).


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