By on February 26, 2012

People form lasting impressions at an early age. This might explain why, among the general population over 35, neither Audi nor BMW can match the mystique of a Mercedes. Even the bottom-of-the-US-range C300 raises eyebrows from people who’ll give an Audi A7 nary a passing glance (and who’d view spending an extra $8,000 for a hatchback as lunacy). But will this continue to be the case with subsequent generations, or will Mercedes follow in the footsteps of Cadillac? A brand is only as strong as its weakest link. Does the C300 justify the cachet attached to its three-pointed star?

The previous C-Class, the W203, was a prettier car. But it was also a plainer one. The W204, with its squarer cut, crisper creases, and more complicated graphics, has considerably more road presence and, of at least equal importance, looks more expensive. Most important of all: it’s widely recognizable as a Mercedes-Benz. Proof, in case you need it, that Mercedes retains latitude to break with current convention: a standing hood ornament. A Cadillac that attempted the same would be dismissed as hopelessly out-of-touch.

The interior similarly won’t win any beauty contests but through the sophistication and sheer quantity of details sufficiently suggests you’re not in a mainstream car. Materials were upgraded with this year’s refresh, and generally avoid any charges of seeming cheap (though the HVAC dials could feel more solid). Leather seating is increasingly rare on Mercedes-Benz lots, and you won’t find it inside this $43,980 specimen. But people are prone to assumptions, and the MB-Tex vinyl is hard to distinguish from the standard grade, heavily processed leather. How many people have owned a Mercedes without ever realizing that their upholstery was petroleum-based?

In an attempt to minimize the number of buttons by pairing a console-mounted knob with a multifunctional display, BMW has iDrive, Audi has MMI, and Mercedes has COMAND. That latter is neither as sophisticated nor as easy to use as the latest iterations of the others, but as with all such systems, you’ll eventually sort it out. Or not. More of a bother: Mercedes doggedly continues to position the cruise control lever where other manufacturers position the turn signal (the stalk is mounted just  little lower.) Even towards the end of my week in the car I unintentionally activated the system multiple times per day. Also in need of tweaking: power seat adjustments that react too quickly for frustration-free fine-tuning.

A more positive sign that you’re in a Mercedes: the doors latch closed with a solid mechanical thunk. Though considerable engineering hours were expended refining this sound, the car comes by it honestly. The C300’s body structure oozes rock-hard solidity. Crash tests back up this impression. In a 35 mph frontal offset crash test, the structure deforms by only one to three centimeters. The side impact structural deformation figures are even more impressive. (Note: Lower numbers are better in these stats.) Mercedes are arguably unworthy of their reputation in some ways, but safety isn’t one of them.

The driving position in the C300 could hardly be better, with a more open view forward than you’ll find from behind the BMW 3-Series’s more imposing instrument panel. (My suspicion: Cadillac studied the C-Class very closely when designing the architecture for the new Cadillac ATS.) Opinions vary about Mercedes-Benz’s traditional sehr flach, sehr fest Sitze. Some people will find them properly supportive for hours. Others will simply find them flat and hard. Count me among the latter group, perhaps because I took no long trips in the car. Thankfully the seatback curves more than the bottom cushion, and so provides decent lateral support. Typical of the segment, the rear seat will accommodate adults in a pinch. A little more toe room under the front seats would go a long way. For long distance room and comfort you’ll want to step up to the E-Class or even the S-Class.

The C300 4Matic’s specs aren’t promising. While the V6s in mainstream midsize sedans start at 3.5 liters, that in the Mercedes is a mere 3.0. The mill’s 228 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) and 221 pound feet of torque (from 2,750 to 5,000) must contend with 3,737 pounds of curb weight. And yet, through whatever magic that made the 1990s S300 viable, acceleration feels more than adequate even right off the line, and spirited with a heavy foot north of 4,000 rpm. The seven-speed automatic isn’t the quickest or slickest, but the right ratio is always in there somewhere. Two modes are provided, E and S. I could detect no difference between them. Though much has changed over the decades, the engine note retains traces of Mercedes’ traditional mechanical thrum—it doesn’t sound like any old six.

All-wheel drive is exclusively available on the C300 and no rear-drive option exists. The rear-wheel-drive C-Class is offered with either a 201-horsepower, 229-pound-feet turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder or a 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Though the latter is no doubt a strong performer, few dealers stock it. If even the 3.5 isn’t strong enough for you, there’s also the AMG C63 with a 451-horsepower V8.

The argument against the six: fuel economy. A larger, heavier, and more powerful BMW 528i xDrive manages EPA ratings of 22 city, 32 highway. The next 3-Series xDrive should do even better. An Audi A4 quattro: 21/29. And the 333-horsepower Audi S4: 18/28. The C300 4Matic: only 18 city, 25 highway. The trip computer backed up these subpar numbers, reporting about 20 in suburban driving. The C300’s six might punch above its specs, but this comes at a price.

The C300 is available in both Sport and Luxury trims. I’ve steered people towards the former over the years, as it adds a body kit and more athletic suspension tuning at a very un-German price: free. Scratch that: this year the better looking, better handling C-Class variant actually costs a little less. For their own reasons (that I cannot fathom) Mercedes provided the latter. Even in Luxury trim the suspension is firm enough to remain composed in enthusiastic driving—and to fidget on some roads, despite shocks that allegedly adapt to road conditions. Power is shunted to the front wheels only when the rears slip, and even then the torque split is 45/55, so the feel remains that of a rear-wheel-drive car—complete with tail-out oversteer on slick surfaces. (Don’t worry, the apparently undefeatable stability control will intervene.)

The biggest problem, in either trim: light steering that feels numb even compared to others I’ve described as numb. As in the current E-Class, the steering wheel conveys virtually nothing about the direction the front wheels are pointed or the degree to which they’re slipping. As a result there’s little joy—and even less confidence—in exercising the capable chassis.

Don’t care to exercise the chassis? Simply want to quickly consume mile after mile of concrete slab stretching straight as far as the eye can see, and beyond? Then the Mercedes is in its element and performs admirably. The C300 isn’t silent as a tomb inside, but low quality noises are filtered out. Should you become drowsy, a standard system will detect this and do its best to wake you up.

The tested car listed for $43,980, including $1,515 for sparkly white paint (another sign that Mercedes was trying to handicap the car). A different metallic shade will set you back only $720. Don’t need the embrace of a telematics system? Then you can shave another $660, bringing the sticker down to $42,525. For fancy features like nav, xenons, and passive entry you’ll have to tick more boxes. Seem steep? Well, a similarly-equipped four-cylinder Audi A4 is only about $1,000 less, a much smaller difference than in past decades. While Mercedes still has a sizable edge in cachet among the masses, they’re no longer trying to charge more for it.

And costs down the road? While some Mercedes remain notoriously unreliable (e.g. the SUVs), the C-Class isn’t among them. The W204 C-Class consistently has been about average, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey.

Mercedes-Benz’s image isn’t entirely in its favor. As with Cadillac in the past, many people who could afford a Mercedes—and who do buy similarly-priced competitors—simply cannot picture themselves in one. If these people got over their preconceptions and took the C300 for a drive they’d find…a car with a very solid structure, but little else to separate it from the crowd. The seats might prove supportive on long drives, but around town they just feel hard. The 3.0-liter V6 feels like a larger engine, but will also drink some much more powerful engines under the table. The chassis is sure-footed, but the steering is disconcertingly numb. The electronics are sophisticated, but the same can be said of German competitors. We’re back to that solid structure and safety. Seeking a rolling bank vault with tidy dimensions? Then the C300 is your car. But is this enough, when even Volvo feels the need to talk naughty?

Mercedes-Benz provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

89 Comments on “Review: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic...”


  • avatar
    shaker

    It’s amazing that a 40+k car shares one of the complaints of my 15k Hyundai: I can’t tell which way the wheels are pointing.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    The market that this vehicle is aimed at would be better off in a, dare I say…Buick LaCrosse or a Lexus ES.

    Why sacrifice interior room and overall comfort for unnecessary driving dynamics? Sure the C-Class will handle better, but those in the market for this kinda car don’t care.

    • 0 avatar
      VelocityRed3

      This. A thousand times this. Here in the ATL I see so many people (ok women, it’s not sexist if its true :-) ) driving C-Klasse Mercedes & 3-Series Beemer’s & the very occasional S4. These women would be so much better served (by driving style & the fact that they are almost always alone) in cars that would be cheaper to own/maintain & just much more suited to their actual needs. But of, course, there is the power of marketing. C’est la vie!

  • avatar
    lucas1980

    Well the all new Cadillac ATS beats this Merc in terms of style and they, but still BMW 3 rules this segment.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Every automaker has models they make purely to fill a market niche. For Mercedes its the C class. Over every generation of this car you just never got the feeling that MB lavished the same level of care than they did to the E and S class. But they needed something to complete with the 3 series so they built it and most car mags were polite enough not to be too direct in their criticisms. The result is not a bad vehicle but one that simply doesn’t warrant the MB price tag. For this kind of money just about every other luxury manufacturer delivers better value.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    My hairstylist uncle drives a Mercedes and I’m sure everyone is convinced he’s successful because, “he drives a Mercedes”………ah, the price of brand purchasing……

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    The Audi is just a reworked VW, so please leave it out of this, BMW may be more of a driver’s car, but Merc still rules when it comes to reliability, and resale value.

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      So you don’t much about Audis, completely different platform.

      VW is transverse and the Audis are longitudinal. The four wheel drive is Haldex on the Passat and Torsen on the A4/A5/S4

      Only the A3 and TT are VW based.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      Please everyone, stop pushing the line that Audis are re-worked Volkswagens. That hasn’t been the case since the launch of the B8 A4 (current generation).

      The A4, A5, Q5, A6, A7 and A8 are all based on the Audi MLP architecture. The current 8P A3 is based on the current VW Golf VI platform. The next generation A3 will be based on the VW engineered MQB architecture, but the key word is *architecture*, not platform.

      There is commonality in HVAC systems, electrical systems and engines, but even there you will find substantial differences: Audi’s 2.0T utilizes valve-lift technology that VWs don’t, for example.

      I agree with the argument that Mercedes-Benz finds itself in a generational gap right now, similar to Cadillac and Lexus. In my neighborhood everyone jumped from Cadillacs to Lexus, but in the past few years as the generations age and shift you see far fewer Lexus vehicles on the road and far more BMWs, Audis, Kias and Hyundais. Mercedes? Not even on the radar for anyone that I know, outside of some soccer moms who are interested in them or uber-wealthy financial analysts who apparently must lease an S500 or some gentleman’s code will apparently be broken.

      Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Mercs, but I’ve been at several driving events in the past two years where we compared Audis, BMWs, Mercs and Caddilacs and without a doubt it was clear when talking to people that Merc was definitely at the bottom of the list for people in attendance – by far. The demographic skewed ages 30-40 for sure, but that’s a trend companies like MB need to pay close attention to.

      • 0 avatar
        ExPatBrit

        I understand the Mercedes inferiority complex.

        VW managed to integrate Audi,Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti and soon Porsche.

        BMW does well with Mini and RR, Rover did not so well.

        Mercedes owned Chrysler and launched Smart and Maybach. How did that turn out?

        As for resale not really any more.

        The diesels make damn fine taxis tho.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    The MB-Tex garbage is why I don’t really like Mercedes right now. A BMW, Audi, Lexus, etc from the same class has leather standard, but for a Mercedes it is 1-3k more. I can get leather standard on a 20k Honda Civic EX-L, why the heck do I have to pay for it on a 65k Mercedes GL?

    • 0 avatar
      Spartan

      I’d argue that the leather on a $20k Honda Civic is probably on the seating surface (read: butt) only, also called “leather appointed seating”. What you usually pay for in luxury cars is leather on at least most if not all of the seating surface (read: full leather seating).

      And the leather in a Civic, standard or not, is no where near the quality of leather in most any luxury car. Hell, some leather in luxury cars doesn’t come close to the semi-aniline stuff in a King Ranch F-150.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Leather is overrated. There is nothing that fancy about a beef industry byproduct. Cheap overprocesssed leather is worse than vinyl, and the more natural high end leather is very high maintenance and ends up looking like crap if not babied.

      MB Tex will outlast everything else in a modern Mercedes, and it looks good and is comfortable. Nobody will know the difference unless they see the window sticker. I do wish the Germans were more willing to offer high quality cloth as the base option.

      Pre-war luxury cars had leather for the chauffeur and cloth for the owner, and the Japanese still prefer cloth in luxury cars because moving around on leather sounds like farting. Leather is the ultimate fake luxury.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        This. The V-Tex in my new Volkswagen fools all but the most rabid VWVortex freaks. Mercedes has used MB-Tex for decade and most people were none the wiser. More importantly, it’s comfortable, very durable and looks nice. At least VW and the other German manufacturers don’t snow their customers by calling their vinyl upholstery “leather.” I can’t say the same about my previous Ford.

        I used to prefer cloth seats over vinyl/cheap leather, but cloth in newer cars has gotten so nasty in newer vehicles (I’m looking at you, Honda) that I’d rather have leatherette. I don’t have to worry about it staining like fabric or oiling it like real leather.

      • 0 avatar
        kokomokid

        I don’t understand why, in America at least, you can get cloth only in low- to mid-priced cars. Today’s cloth is great. It breathes, it looks decent, it’s not slippery, and it lasts forever.

        I still have my prejudice against vinyl seats, because the ones I had in the 60′s and early 70′s normally ripped at the seams after a couple years. I’ll see if they have made improvements since then; my MINI has vinyl, or whatever they call it now.

        • 0 avatar

          I have a black cloth interior in my e46. It was a custom order here, but luckily, BMW would put the standard cloth in a US car if you asked nicely. If I can ever go back to that top shelf again, I’ll order another one.

          In-effin-destructable. There is more wear on the leather parts of the seat than the cloth. 10 plus years and 300k of use. No garage. I think that cloth costs OE more than leather.

          Oh, and it is not cold in winter, and you don’t stick to it in summer. I don’t get the leather fetish either, other than as a useless sticker juicer. My VW has cloth as well….

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      I wonder if there’s enough vegan and hindu people that care enough to specifically want their luxury car not to have leather.

      • 0 avatar

        Fisker is the first to cater to this market with a totally leather-free luxury car. With other makes, even those with vinyl seats have leather on the steering wheel.

        Last year at NAIAS I had an extended discussion with a few people over whether or not the X5 there had vinyl or leather. One guy who claimed to be good at telling the difference declared that it was vinyl. It turned out to be leather.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        My 318i had no leather. Vinyl (I belive BMW says pleather, not nearly as cool as MB Tex) seats and some kind of petrochemical (maybe urethane) wheel rim and shifter. Oh, wait, you said luxury car.

        The front ball joints, rear lower control arms and engine mounts sucked, and turned me off German cars, but the pleather looked awesome until the day I got rid of the car, more than 10 years after it was made. Any leather interior e36 of similar vintage had the seats cracked and faded to hell.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I always thought pleather was a derisive portmanteau from plastic and leather, and BMW’s term was “leatherette.”

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      For BMW, not true. The 328i did get leather as part of a free “value pkg” with some other stuff the past few years, but you have to pay for it on the new F30, and it was ALWAYS extra cost on the 335i.

      MB-TEX is amazing stuff – the seats on my ’79 300TD that I just sold looked absolutely as new. I would have HAPPILY had the vinyl in my 3-series if I could have gotten it in other than in nasty tan or black.

    • 0 avatar
      KimJongJefferson

      No.

      As a 328i owner, Leather is NOT standard on a bimmer. it comes as “leatherette”, or vinyl.

      The free leather w/ “Value Package” is an incentive for final year models before the F30′s arrive.

      BMW is no different…though I soooooo love it to death.

  • avatar

    Michael:

    Which would you buy:

    The Premium CTS 4 or the C300 4-matic?

    Why?

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Are we seeing a pattern here of more and more softly sprung and steering numbness cars? Both the Japanese and the Koreans are way deep in it and now we have MB in the same path? and with BMW 5 from the few reviews I’ve read seems to be going the same softer riding route!

    • 0 avatar

      The springs in this car aren’t soft.

      Perhaps enough people, even non-enthusiasts, are complaining about numb steering that auto makers will start to correct this.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        It’s hard for me to believe that auto makers do this on purpose. My theory is most of them simply aren’t very good at developing an EPS system yet. It isn’t that they don’t want steering feel in the cars, they don’t really know how to do it yet.

        Almost every new car review I read complains about numb steering, and EPS seems to be the common denominator.

  • avatar
    jmo2

    “If these people got over their preconceptions and took the C300 for a drive they’d find…a car with a very solid structure, but little else to separate it from the crowd.”

    Little else? The supple, sophisticated ride quality puts it light years ahead of Audi, Lexus, Infinity and Acura in terms of delivering a premium car feel.

    The Lexus IS is beautifully built and a great looking car, but driving it doesn’t deliver nearly the same premium feel – it looks like you’re in something special but it doesn’t “feel” special.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz…

    I can honestly confess that I’ve never understood the appeal of small luxury cars. But obviously MB is finding enough butts for its seats.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Michael,

    Why did you single out the Japanese for crash performance,”In a 35 mph frontal offset crash test, the structure deforms by only one to three centimeters, substantially less than Japanese competitors,” when the poor performers on the deformation test were the Cadillac and a bunch of Saabs? More importantly, scrolling down the page to the driver injury numbers, 4 out of 5 Acuras tested had no hard contact for the driver at all during the test while the Mercedes C-class drivers has hard contract between 23 and 47 gs of deceleration. Sounds painful. While the Mercedes deformed very little as it transferred all of the crash force directly to the occupants of the car, the Japanese luxury cars were not outliers on the chart and you suggesting they were frangible compared to the Mercedes smacks of agenda. Heaven forbid you’d compared it to cars engineered by GM that really did perform inferiorly.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe it’s because He doesn’t equate Cadillac with Mercedes Benz? Perhaps he is comparing Lexus?

    • 0 avatar

      No agenda, but I did focus on the upper tables, that measured the deformation of the structure rather than the force of impact on the dummy. As you imply, the deformation of the structure can sometimes be a good thing, as it absorbs the force of the crash. But, with the frontal impact at least, the part of the structure you want to deform is ahead of the passenger compartment, not the passenger compartment itself.

      There are no current GM cars in the table–the Catera has been gone for a decade. The Saabs with poor scores are similarly ancient. The average appears to have improved a lot over the past decade.

      I’ll modify the review to make a less sweeping generalization, as this was unwarranted.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Wow CJ is touchy today. I suppose since Honda doesn’t have a luxury brand (and yes rebadged European Honda’s don`t count) may upset him. The need to keep saying Acura is a luxury brand, Acura is a luxury brand over and over. If you have to protest too much then it probably isn`t!
        I note anyone who even thinks of disparaging Honda gets the CJ treatment but when even more “outrageous” comments are made about other manufacturers (European and US) they are applauded by the same person. Consistency, yeah not so much.

        Michael – I am sorry you gave into CJ’s browbeating. Especially after he has regularly criticized your reviews and writing. It just shows how fair you try to be.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      You’ll have to excuse CJ as he is just a Toyobot. Anything a car can do a Japanese version can do better. Just ask him what the daily inventory is from the local Toyota dealership is and he has it.

      At least the latest MB-Tex doesn’t have the colorful patterns from a decade ago C-class coupe. The leather in my old C32 AMG was full seat. But after 10 years my friend Solara leather looked like a 90 year old lady. The leather in my 12 9-5 shows distress but cleans up well and is still supple and supportive.

      • 0 avatar
        VA Terrapin

        Meanwhile, NormSV650 is a Japanese car-bashing bot. NormSV650 is the type of guy who would rather sing the praises of an American or European car that’s a clearly inferior instead of give respect to a better Japanese competitor.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        “Anything a car can do a Japanese version can do better.”

        Judging from N.A. market shares, that’s actually true. The Japanese and Korean makes are the ones dominating the field without bailouts.

    • 0 avatar
      VA Terrapin

      This is at least the second time in less than a month where Michael Karesh disparages Asians in a car review. Taking his “sweeping generalization” (Karesh’s words) against Japanese cars in this review and his recent review of the Subaru Impreza where he used a phrase that’s commonly used to insult Asian women, it does seem that he has a sinister agenda against Asians, and against Japanese in particular.

      Too bad, because after a bunch of criticism against TTAC editorial policy recently, TTAC seemed to clean up its act. I guess Michael Karesh didn’t get the message when it comes to anti-Asian bias.

    • 0 avatar
      VA Terrapin

      Mike978 said:
      “I note anyone who even thinks of disparaging Honda gets the CJ treatment but when even more “outrageous” comments are made about other manufacturers (European and US) they are applauded by the same person. Consistency, yeah not so much.”

      There’s a big difference between bashing a specific product and bashing an entire nationality. Cherry picking a few collision results to give the impression that the Mercedes C300 is safer than its Japanese competitors, and then applying those results to Japanese cars in general is stupid and bigoted.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Wow. Seems someone else is a little touchy and jumped of the diving board. Two possibly suspect comments in how many reviews? Michael is well regarded by most people on here and is seen as being pretty fair. It is known other commentators lean one way or the other with how they treat some manufacturers.

        I haven’t seen you complain about alleged disparaging comments about American, German or European cars (and people). But then I might have to suppose consistency isn`t a strong point of yours either.

        I agree with you that there should be no bashing of an entire nationality. However questioning the ability of Honda, Toyota or Subaru et al to build a decent car, or otherwise, does not translate into bashing a nationality. Otherwise, to apply your logic, you and others who regularly bash GM, VW, Ford etc must be bashing Americans and Germans (to name two). I am sure you don’t mean to but if we apply your logic that is where it leads. So why don`t we just cut to the chase and admit that you (and your friend CJ) don`t like GM, Chrylser, Ford or assorted German cars and others on here don’t like Toyota, Honda and assorted other “foreign” cars. There is no right or wrong answer and everyone is entitled to their opinions (if not facts).

        But your recent posts in this thread sound like the pot calling the kettle black.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        VA, why do you think the Japanese car bubble has popped? Poor quality with recalls to back it up for Toyota and Honda. CJ, Bertel, and the like of kbb and consumer reports haven’t accepted that fact.

        I instruct performance driving on a race track like Jack Baruth does. We don’t see Japanese FWD luxo-barges from Honda or Toyota like you see German equivalent at almost every track day. You see the occasional IS or NSX but it’s been years since they released anything new. Japanese make boring appliances that make great rolling couches, not high speed worthy cars with brakes to back it up. Then you have CJ who thinks a V6 Camry can run with any other FWD because it looks good on paper.

      • 0 avatar
        VA Terrapin

        Some points Mike978:

        1) There are quite a few racially bigoted attacks against Asians on TTAC. When these attacks come from readers’ comments like whenever NormSV650 talks about Japanese cars, I don’t usually type my comments. When these bigoted attacks come from TTAC authors on something approaching a consistent basis, that sets a tone where TTAC editors approve racial attacks against Asians. As for attacks against white Americans and Europeans, almost none of that is on a racial basis, so there’s virtually nothing for me to comment about in that regard.

        2) I could care less if someone wants to bash an individual car company, GM, Toyota, Hyundai, Mercedes or any other car company. That’s not my point.

        3) Cherry picking a few results to favor the Mercedes over a few Japanese cars, then applying these results to imply that the Mercedes is safer than Japanese cars in general isn’t just bashing an individual car company, it panders to the belief among anti-Asian bigots that Asians are inferior to whites.

        Michael Karesh has been really disappointing lately. What compels him to make racial attacks against Asians during this past month when he hasn’t done so before on TTAC?

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        VA – so you admit that Michael hasn`t made “attacks” as you put it in the past and you have seen two such attacks recently. Which you then go onto say is “on something approaching a consistent basis”, meaning I assume that it isn`t consistent yet.

        If someone says that Chinese cars are less safe than European cars (NCAP would seem to agree) this doesn`t mean Chinese people are inferior to Europeans. Just like saying British built cars were unreliable and had terrible electrics compared to say Japanese cars doesn`t mean British people are inferior. See it does go both ways.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    Apparently the manual transmission has been dropped. Too bad, I actually like the current C in Sport trim and actually cross-shopped off-lease cars when I bought my GLI. Models with the six-speed were rare but not impossible to find. No manual, no sale. I just hope somebody still offers a smallish, somewhat sporty sedan with a manual when it comes time to replace the Volkswagen.

  • avatar
    Ltd783

    I just do not understand the appeal of this for $43k. A 3 series or an A4 adds some appeal over a $25k sedan, but this is just basic transportation for twice the price. For this money a Sonata Limited does everything just as well, but is roomier, cheaper, more efficient, more reliable, and will hold it’s value better. AWD seems to be an advantage, but for this money you can have a Sonata and a Jeep Wrangler for when it snows.

    Seems like this car is marketed solely to those people who walk into a Mercedes dealer and want the cheapest lease option. This class of car to me reeks of home-equity loans, credit card debt, and other poor financial decisions.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo2

      but this is just basic transportation for twice the price.

      It has a massively more premium feel than a Hyundai/Camry/Accord.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Ltd783, in all fairness, if I get in a situation at highway speed that demands an evasive maneuver to save my ass, I’d MUCH rather be in the C-Class than the Sonata.

      Michael, do you think the steering numbness here has to do with the usual electric power steering disease?

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think it’s simply a matter of EPS. Mercedes engineers are good enough, and have enough money to spend on the car, that the feel (or lack thereof) was likely what they were aiming for. I just don’t understand why, unless their research found that much of their target market wants to feel as little as possible through the steering wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy

        The myth of European luxury sedan’s ability to get you out of dangerous situations is an enduring one. A Hyundai with good tires is just as capable of getting you through a highway maneuver than a C300. Not to rubbish Euro sports cars – I own two of them – but their appeal is mainly in the driving pleasure they deliver. For matters of safety almost ever other vendor has caught up or even overtaken the Europeans. The road fatalities by make and model bear this out.

      • 0 avatar

        The problem with the road fatality data is that different car types tend to be driven differently. Minivans tend to score very well and sports cars very poorly, and not simply because the former are inherently safer.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynasty

        I’ll raise my hand on steering numbness.

        I’ve had three GM vehicles, pre malaise era, when GM still made fine vehicles, which numbed me from the road. I liked it. I’ve also had two Hondas, from the era when Honda still made fine vehicles. And I have a Toyota now.

        My next vehicle purchase is going to be a vehicle that numbs me from the road as much as humanly possible. And I’ll tell you all why.

        I live in an older city on the west coast. The roads are all 95% straight. The lanes are wide, because for some reason when the City was platted, lots of ROW was deeded to the City. The roads are in bad repair. Why would I want a vehicle that’s going to communicate to me every single imperfection? When I get off of work, I want to shut the outside world out. The 3 times out of 100 I get in my car that it would be super awesome to have some super communicative road feel is just not worth it.

        Until the United States decides to start spending billions of dollars on infrastructure rather than billions of dollars on wars, there is going to be a sizable population that wants a cushy numb car.

  • avatar
    MrIncognito

    I’m wondering how the price comparison works. An A4 with real leather seats and AT starts at $35,500. When I plug the Audi A4 premium plus features into true delta’s comparison tool, an a4 with an MSRP of $38,900 is priced at $44,900. Seems like something is wrong here.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Mike, excellent review as always. Kudos to Mercedes for fixing the interior with the refresh. The launch interior was awful, and reminded me of the bad old days of the ’01 C-class craptastic interior. Mercedes may build the C-class because they have to rather than want to, but at least it looks like a Mercedes on the inside now. I don’t like the headlight treatment though, looks too much like a Subaru.

    I hope this post refresh Benz interior and the F30 3 series interior push Audi to do better with the next A4/A5, which look like the cheapest of the German three now. Certainly a very different story than say the B5 Audi A4 2.8 interior vs. the C and 3 of the same era.

    Mercedes needs a new engine and fast if they want to seriously compete with the 328xi or A4 2.0T with this car. 220 horsepower from 3 litres and 18/25 fuel economy was acceptable 10 years ago. Not anymore.

    Too bad about the steering, although I suspect that Mercedes shoppers will be a lot less upset about this than BMW shoppers. Remember the ’01 3-series when everybody freaked out that BMW lightened the steering to make the car “easier to park”? They learned their lesson and fixed it. Why isn’t that happening now? BMW must know about the complaints of poor throttle and steering response in their new cars. Why do they still have their heads in the sand?

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      There’s not a thing wrong with the engine, Consumer Reports measured the same overall mileage out of the 18/25 rated C300 as the 19/29 rated V6 Accord.

      The only thing the EPA treadmill score shows is that Benz programs their cars to be driven instead of to cheat the EPA treadmill.

      • 0 avatar
        kokomokid

        Yeah, the C300 did well relative to its EPA numbers in CR’s mpg test, but on premium gas.

        If you really want that 3 pointed star and AWD, the C300 is ok, but compared to the Accord, it’s less roomy, and costs a whole lot more.

        If they sold the C180 CDI wagon here, with a manual transmission, I’d consider splurging and getting a Benz, but I guess gas is still way too cheap in America for MBUSA to consider offering such a car.

  • avatar
    Bushwack

    This car doesn’t tickle me. Either save up for an E class or get a Lexus ES or Infiniti G. Or go domestic and get the new Caddy ATS. MB & BMW are carrying themselves on their names. The value of their cars isn’t what it was ten years ago.

  • avatar
    danwat1234

    18MPG city, 25MPG hwy, no thanks, should have made it a hybrid!

  • avatar
    klossfam

    Michael – Do you really think this interior is an improvement over the last gen (or befitting of a $40K+ vehicle PERIOD)? I’d definitely say it isn’t and is far below the class standard. The climate control knobs are a joke and for $40K I want the plastic flashing trimmed from my door lock pulls…I don’t think that is asking too much.

    When you go to an auto show and jump luxury brand to luxury brand, it truly is amazing the differences in real world quality…i.e. a C-Series interior is light years behind a VW CC in interior quality (and the VW isn’t technically a luxury brand).

    M-B is resting on it’s laurels when it comes to the interior. I will admit the drive is as stated by MK – at least based on a C350 Sport I drove. I like it as much as most anything in it’s class, but why not pay less and get an A4 with one of the best interiors ever? Or an Infiniti G25/G37? (high quality with good ergonomics – imagine that!) Just two lower priced competitors that more than surpass the C-Series.

    • 0 avatar
      genuineleather

      People buy C’s over the G37 because Infiniti is stuck in the same quasi-luxury morass as Acura and Volvo. One good sedan, two poor-selling SUVs and a strangely-styled midsizer do not a luxury brand make.

      Detroit-style rebates don’t help, either.

  • avatar
    SuperCarEnthusiast

    2012 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic priced around the low $40K is quite pricey for a compact size car. For those who like Mercedes brand; I recommend go to the next size up. It an additional $15K but what the heck; you spending it for prestige so what is another couple of cents and you get more room and it better looking too.

  • avatar
    Alwaysinthecar

    Michael, I believe the difference between the E and S modes is that while in E the car starts out in second gear and in S it uses first gear (‘economy’ versus ‘sport.’)

    At least that’s the way it is with my AMG (E-class) which also has a 7-speed (with the two settings plus an additional full manual setting.)

    It’s funny to read all these responses that are based on perception and stereotyping about Mercedes and Mercedes owners. If you choose a car based on trying to avoid the negative stereotypes (although every brand has them), then you risk not really shopping for yourself and what you might actually desire. It’s sort of a form of dishonesty. You also risk becoming part of the same kind of crowd you are disdaining. Because that disdain can be equally snobby and arrogant in itself.

    I never thought I’d ever buy a Mercedes. I had also fallen into that stereotyping game. But I decided to buy based on my gut feelings at the time and what I really wanted, and ignoring the badge (and I admit it sort of embarrassed me to buy one.) But it was exactly what I wanted in performance, comfort, size, and safety. After three years of ownership, it’s become the best car I’ve ever bought (and I’ve had dozens.) It’s been extremely reliable and with no issues (I bought it new and I now have 40k miles on it.) No rattles, no problems whatsoever; it’s very close to ideal. I’ll be keeping it for the long haul (I have the factory extended warranty, too.)

    Had I engaged myself in only perception and all the stereotyping of these cars, I would have missed out on what has been a great car ownership experience.

    btw, the person who mentioned that BMW comes with leather as standard is incorrect. All BMWs (unless you start at the 550i and up, or buy the M3 version) come standard with leatherette (vinyl) while the Dakota leather is optional. And on the 550i and above models, you have to pay extra for Napa leather (Napa was standard on my AMG.)

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, this would explain E vs. S, as I was looking for a difference once already moving similar to that with sport mode in an Audi or BMW (where the shift points change dramatically).

      • 0 avatar
        Alwaysinthecar

        Michael, with the 7G-Tronic transmission you can ‘make’ it sportier. The transmission is adaptive and if you drive in S aggressively and try to keep the rpms up high, then the transmission will remember this and shift accordingly. You can then switch back and forth between E and S depending on your driving needs. Of course once you hit heavy traffic and you’re in S, it adapts back to the slower pace and will shift again at lower rpms. Otherwise you’re quite right, there is no real discernible difference while driving in E or S.

  • avatar

    A perfect car for an old, rich, out-of-touch snob. Sounds like my Real Estate Agent

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    As a shameless Mercedes-Benz fanboy, I am conflicted with Mr. Karesh’s review:

    -Reviewing the only carryover engine seems a waste; the new four and revised 3.5L would be better indicators of current product development. But to this, I understand the importance of AWD for people in snowy climes.

    -Autojournos carping about the turn signal location is getting old. It’s been there for decades, and given that Mercedes has far and away the the largest percentage of repeat buyers in the luxury segment, moving it is more likely to inconvenience existing customers than attract new ones. On this, though, I am wasting my breath; starting with models redesigned for 2012, it’s been moved.

    -Despite what their marketing department says, Mercedes aren’t sporty. At all. Though capable, MB’s are definitely the least playful of the German makes.

    -I will say, without hesitation, that the C-Class is MB’s least convincing product. Whether it’s hubris or mere lack of interest, Mercedes’ smallest offering seems the red-headed stepchild. The C still manages nearly twice the volume of Audi’s A4, though.

    My final churlish thought: MB’s 2011 sales were up 17% over 2010, so the aforementioned “consumer resistance” to the brand seems overstated.

  • avatar
    jeffsnavely

    The C250 is the one to get…
    (this is a review I posted on Edmunds recently)

    I owned a 2008 manual C300 and just drove the new C250 sport for two days as a service loaner. I kept looking for excuses to drive it more…

    Wonderful powertrain – the turbo engine feels much more powerful than its specs suggest. Very torquey in all rev ranges. Fun to shift manually and great in auto mode too. Very smooth & quiet at higher rpm’s for a 4-cyl — most people would not think it’s a 4-cylinder.
    I have never been a big fan of the BMW 335 turbo engine (very fast but somehow not engaging & never sure how it would react), but just loved this new MB 1.8 turbo. (I did enjoy the Audi A4 2.0T as well, but drove it a year ago so can’t compare easily, just remember loving it).
    Likes:
    Amazing ride & handling balance – so quiet & composed over very rough roads and yet handles great too.
    Great feeling of quality throughout – from the way it drives to the feel of the doors open/shut to the controls.
    The interior is nicely upgraded in some small ways (although the old one was fine I thought too). Seats feel very similar, maybe a bit cushier.
    The base car represents the best value by far-it comes pretty well loaded and the expensive packages aren’t really worth it, especially the nav which I had on my ’08 and didn’t like it at all (maybe the new nav is improved?). Base stereo is excellent & USB & bluetooth audio std.
    I just find this car more compelling than the E90 3-series
    Suggested Improvements:
    MB ruined the steering vs. the 2008 sport. On the old car I loved the steering – very smooth, nicely weighted (not too light), and very easy to hold a line in turns.

    The new steering is way too light, has a huge dead spot on center, is too quick & twitchy at highway speed, and not fluid in turns.

  • avatar
    jjf

    I recently bought an off lease W203, the predecessor to this car. The W203 steering has that distinct Mercedes quality feel that is hard to describe. I agree completely with your assessment of the steering on the W204. Compared with the W203 the C300 I drove the steering felt plasticky and numb. My car has the same drive train in 2WD form and I average around MPG depending in driving style with around 28-29 MPG on the highway.

    Also I love MBTex, and consider it far superior to leather.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I’m not sure I can explain the reasoning for it, but the C-class is incredibly common in certain parts of the Toronto area. I assume it’s something to do with attractive lease rates, but they sometimes seem to outnumber Camcordimas (actually, not far from the truth – MB moved ~9500 Cs in Canada in 2011, while the Camry and Altima were around 12000 units each, and the Accord sold less than 9000, even with the Crosstour included).

    But, they are sort of charming. I get to spend enough time around them for work (and MB’s yearly test drive at our auto show), and they do feel special, solid, a little different. I doubt I’d spend the premium on one (either buying, or in ownership costs), but there’s a certain amount of appeal.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    “But people are prone to assumptions, and the MB-Tex vinyl is hard to distinguish from the standard grade, heavily processed leather.”

    Right…sit on MBTex on a hot day, and then tell me about it.

    MBTex is crap that is worthy of public buses, and should have no room in a luxury car.

  • avatar
    slance66

    I like the look of the C-class, in sport trim anyway, better than the look of my E90 3 series. But before I bought my CPO 328xi, I looked at the ’08 C300 4matic (W203). It had less standard equipment, was more expensive, slower and got worse gas mileage. The steering and handling were better in the 3-series, but the C-class was capable, and had a better ride. It was a nice car. The G35 was faster and bigger, but also very thirsty. I found that the MB and Infiniti had opposite throttle response. I couldn’t ease away from a stop in the G if I wanted, and I had to put the pedal 3/4 to the floor to get the MB to do anything but creep away from a light.

    Both the MB and BMW feel more solid. Michael didn’t note it, but the E90 BMW did even better in the intrusion test than the MB. I feel it every day. It’s a tank. Far more substantial than my old S60, which is saying something. A Sonata or Optima gives you more for your money, but cannot give you that substantial feel. In the end, I think that’s a big part of what you’re paying for.

    • 0 avatar

      We might be looking at different columns–there are a lot of them on the linked pages. The side impact numbers are counterintuitive. The -20cm score of the MB is actually far better than any of the others–it means that the intrusion stopped 20 cm from the center line of the driver seat. A score of 0 would mean that the intrusion reached the center line. The BMW was -10 on this one, so the impact intruded four more inches. How much does this matter, as the drivers seat likely moved to the right in the crash? I probably shouldn’t venture a guess, as I’m hardly an expert in the area.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The C-class makes a great argument for the Infiniti G.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Drove an A6 for years. Recently traded in for a W203 C240.

    There is something indescribable that an M-B has which an Audi wants….

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I drove a W221 S550 4-matic. It didn’t have that indescribable thing that made Mercedes-Benz cars special either. It felt more like the E38 740i Sport that I drove for a while in terms of being just a little loose and sloppy in its damping, steering, and interior fittings compared to the syrupy controls and granite-like solidity of every aspect of a W126.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    As for the Audi: I don’t quite see how you can get an A4 as high as $43k. Maybe an S4? Personally, I don’t want most of the electronic stuff and have “built” an A4 and 335i for myself at about $34k and $41k. A $44k C300 is a joke all by itself, but lack of stick shift makes it an immediate no-go.

    As for the cruise control on Mercedes (assuming they haven’t ruined it from where it was in the 80s and 90s): best cruise control ever. First, you don’t have to turn it on and off like on many cars. Second, it doesn’t light up annoying lights on the dash. Third, it has always seemed intuitive. Fourth and finally, it’s very easy to reach.

    Is the C300′s steering some sort of new electric power assist?

  • avatar

    Great review, again.

    What’s the point of minimizing its chance for a favorable review?

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    How exactly does the car sense you are nodding off and wake you up? Something tied to a lane departure system?

    And what is a “low quality noise”?

    • 0 avatar

      When I drove the CLS, the car SHAKES THE WHEEL if it detects you straying into the left lane. Cameras in the front end scan lines on the road.

      Some of these systems scan for eye movement to detect whether or not your eyes are spending more time closed than open – but, I doubt that’s the system in use here.

  • avatar
    Arik

    What matters most is customer satisfaction, and most are satisfied.
    Bought one for my daughter – definitely not a S550, but still a good car.

    MSRP is total BS. We paid $36650.

    Thanks for the review, though, always good to read different points of view.

  • avatar
    kokomokid

    About three years ago, I drove a C-Class rental that was great, a wagon with a 4 cylinder diesel and manual transmission. It was quiet on the highway, had adequate power, and got great fuel economy. Unfortunately, MBUSA doesn’t sell such cars here. Instead, they sell the gas hog C300, and no wagon, to people who just have to have a three pointed star.

  • avatar
    svenmeier

    My daughter is a 35 year-old computer programmer working in Basel. She is married with two little kids and she has a current Mercedes C220 CDI T-Modell (estate).

    I’ve driven the car and I liked it.

    The numb steering issue might be limited to the US market. I’ve read that Mercedes does this on purpose only for the North American market to give the car a more luxurious feel. Here in Europe all modern Mercedes have a responsive and tight steering feel, including the C220 CDI of my daughter. Either the reviewer just got out of a Porsche Boxster before reviewing this car or he is being overtly critical of a car that’s not designed to be thrown around corners. In fact this unhealthy obsession with steering feel and handling is getting a bit out of control. This site is more or less free of the 20 year-old “car enthusiasts” who on the internet complain about anything from the lack of a 500-hp V8 in a Fiat Abarth to the dismal track-handling-abilities of a minivan or the fact you can’t RWD in small economy cars these days (since we all know that 99% of people buying small economy cars will drive these cars on the track on weekends, especially in drift competitions!).

    If you want to know what numb steering feel is, drive a W201 Mercedes 190. I had one for a week back in the early ’90s (a 190D) and the steering was lifeless. So the car couldn’t be driven in a sporty fashion, but it could be driven like a limousine. The vague steering enabled me to drive and steer the car in such a manor that occupants wouldn’t know if I entered a curb.

    MB Tex is well-known for durability and its easiness of being cleaned. I had MB Tex on my W123 230E and I had that car for nearly five years. It never broke or showed signs of wear and tear.

    Leather on the other hand is overrated. Personally I avoid leather and I am happy that Mercedes is one of the few luxury companies that provides MB Tex (or vinyl or fake leather as it is called today) as standard. I would never want leather. Leather is far to prone to failure. I once checked out a mid 1990s Lexus LS400 here at a used car lot back in about 2001 or 2002. The car had barely 40,000 km on it and the leather on the driver and passenger seats were cracked and in terrible condition. The leather in the Audi V8 next to it didn’t fare much better.

    The C class in Europe has a lot of efficient engine options, many of which are capable of a fuel consumption of about 4.5 L / 100 km (C180 CDI Blue Efficiency). In terms of performance they’re spirited and far from slow capable of hitting 100 km/h in 10 seconds or less. That’s more than realistic for everyday driving. But in the 0-60 obsessed US market there is obviously no place for these efficient luxury cars. My daughter regularly averages between 5.5 and 6.1 L / 100 km in her daily driving with her C220 CDI.

  • avatar
    asiafish

    I had a 2012 C250 for the last year, and due to electrical problems Mercedes bought it back. I loved driving the car, but with the insane mileage I put on cars (45,000 per year) I decided to go certified used.

    So what did I get? A 2011 C300 of course. This is my fifth C Class Mercedes, and I doubt it will be my last.

    Steering is vague compared to BMW and Audi, but not bad. Sport models are better, and RWD handle better than 4Matic.

    The cars, since 2008, have also been extremely reliable. Even my 2012 had no significant issues, just lots of electrical problems that could not be diagnosed. What kept my confidence is the way the dealer handled the issues, and the fact that even at 28,000 miles the car still looked and felt new (as my previous 2009 C300 did at 104,000).


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States