The Truth About Cars » C-Class The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » C-Class US Nissan Plant To Supply Engine For Euro-Special Infiniti Q50 Thu, 12 Jun 2014 11:00:33 +0000 2014 Infiniti Q50

In its fight against the big premium brands in Europe, Infiniti is calling upon some German-designed American firepower for its Japanese-made, Euro-market special Q50 sedan.

Automotive News reports the Q50 will receive a 2-liter turbo-four from an $319 million Infinti-only line inside Nissan’s engine plant in Decherd, Tenn.; total overall production is expected to reach 250,000 annually while employing 400. The same engine will be used by Mercedes in its next-generation C-Class launching this year from the German automaker’s factory in Vance, Ala.

The plan, set to begin in late June, is part of a product-sharing agreement between parent companies Renault-Nissan and Daimler, as well as a checkbox for Infiniti’s to-do global portfolio expansion list.

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Mercedes-Benz Expands Alabama Facilities, Deals With Labor Issues Ahead of C-Class Introduction Mon, 23 Dec 2013 12:00:29 +0000 Mercedes-Benz C250, AMG Line, Avantgarde, Diamantsilber metallic

Mercedes-Benz has been making improvements to its manufacturing facility near Tuscaloosa, Alabama in anticipation of the introduction of the all-new 2015 C-Class.  On December 18, Mercedes held a grand opening ceremony for a new 900,000 square foot parts logistics center at the plant.  Mercedes claims the $70 million dollar facility will employ 600 people.


Most of those new hires will be contract employees working for outside suppliers, but some will be directly employed by Mercedes as transfers from existing facilities. The facility will handle daily parts deliveries as part of the just-in-time production method. Governor Robert Bentley was in attendance, remarking that “Mercedes has been a great partner for Alabama” since the plant opened. Mercedes began production at the facility in 1997.

Mercedes says that the addition of C-Class production will add about 1,000 employees at the facility in total. That number may increase in 2015, when the company plans to add another SUV to the production line. Auto Evolution claims that new SUV will probably be the next-generation GLK. This is yet to be confirmed by Mercedes, but it seems likely given that the C-Class is built on the same platform. It would also make a logical replacement for the aged and slow-selling R-Class. Mercedes discontinued R-Class sales in the United States last year, but still produces the vehicle in Tuscaloosa for the world market.

The expansion of the Tuscaloosa facility, like the founding of VW’s Chattanooga plant, has created waves in labor relations around the globe. Building cars in Alabama is part of a global production strategy that has seen Mercedes parent company Daimler shift more capacity to America.  When Daimler announced plans to transfer C-Class production out of its Sindelfingen, Germany facility back in 2009, it led to mass protests by workers affiliated with the union IG Metall. IG Metall has since backed unionization efforts at both Daimler and VW’s American facilities by the United Auto Workers, out of fear of being undercut by cheaper American labor. The UAW has lobbied Tuscaloosa workers extensively with IG Metall’s assistance, but has had no success thus far. The continued expansion of the facility will undoubtedly focus ever-greater attention on labor relations and compensation at the plant.

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Mercedes Unveils Grown Up 2015 C-Class Tue, 17 Dec 2013 05:34:20 +0000 Mercedes-Benz C250, AMG Line, Avantgarde, Diamantsilber metallic

Though the CLA has enough fans to merit a warning about supply shortages until after June of 2014, Mercedes-Benz still knows the C-Class is its bread and butter. As such, the automaker has unveiled their latest and greatest generation of the former “baby Benz” to the world.

The new C-Class is larger than the outgoing generation — adding 3 inches to the wheelbase, 3.7 inches in overall length, 1.6 inches in overall width, and a total of 17 cubic feet of trunk space — but is also 220 pounds lighter thanks to its hybrid aluminium body and other weight-saving tech. The sedan’s new nature-inspired styling provides a lower drag co-efficient and quieter interior.

In the United States, the C-Class will arrive in two models: The C300 4MATIC — powered by a 2-liter directly injected turbo-four pushing 235 horses and 273 pounds of torque through all four wheels — and the C400 4MATIC — powered by a 3-liter turbo V6 churning out 329 ponies and 354 pounds of stump-pulling power. Directing the power will be the automaker’s 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed automatic transmission.

As far as technology is concerned, the CLA leesees will miss out on goodies such as the AIRMATIC air suspension — a first for the segment — which allows drivers to adjust their ride and handling through four presets and one personalized setting, adaptive braking, collision detection/prevention, lane-keeping, even attention assistance to keep you awake on long drives.

No price has been announced as of this time, though speculation states an announcement could occur as early as the upcoming Detroit Auto Show next month.

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Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Mon, 09 Sep 2013 13:05:56 +0000 IMG_3732 (Medium)

Here’s a little secret: ever since the folks at No Longer DaimlerChrysler decided to pervert their previously sensible nomenclature in order to better suit the lowest common denominator of California housewives, the replacement for the 190E has been known within Mercedes-Benz dealerships as the “Cheap-Class”. It’s a particularly common phrase in Service and Parts, but from time to time a salesperson will let it slip as well, although certainly not in front of the customer.

There’s something ungracious about calling a vehicle that sells for a minimum (and as-tested!) price of $36,725 the “Cheap” anything, but from the perspective of its manufacturer the sobriquet is legitimate. Set the Wayback Machine for 1975, and you can find a W115 240D selling for $9500. That’s $38,000 in today’s money, and it got you a German taxi with roll-up windows, no air conditioning, sixty-four horsepower, and M-B Tex seats. The new car offers more — a lot more — for less. So, Cheap-Class it is.

My recent trip to Napa for the VW Intramural League test offered me a chance to kill a couple birds with a single stone. By renting my own transportation, I’d be free to avoid the $100 dinners with various Heffalumps Of The Industry. And by paying an eye-watering $354 for three days including airport tax, I’d be able to review a Mercedes for the B&B. Done and done. To paraphrase Jerry Orbach in Dirty Dancing, let’s see what my money bought.

IMG_3733 (Medium)

Don’t look now, but this car’s a bit of a media darling. I couldn’t find a bad review of it anywhere I looked. Had it just been the American press giving it props, I’d have suspected that the gilded hand of recently-deposed superstar Mercedes PR person Geoff Day had been hard at work. The Brits like it just as much, however, and they’ve been singularly unkind to the Baby Benz in the past. Although this is fundamentally a facelift of the 2007 model, the accolades for interior quality, styling, and dynamics have come thick and fast from sources as different as Car and Driver and Top Gear.

My initial impression of it was slightly different, and it was this: small, and crappy. Somehow, the “W204″ has avoided the unsightly swelling that has afflicted its cousin from Munich. The 190E was 175 inches long; this is 180. The E30 and F30 are 175 and 182 inches, respectively, but the numbers don’t properly communicate how tidy the Benz feels compared to the Bimmer. This is still a compact car. I suppose that’s a brave thing, and Mercedes gets away with it because it’s not their core product the way the Three is for BMW.

What’s impressive about the interior: The evergreen M-B Tex seats, long may they wear. The LCD screen in the centrally-mounted speedometer is extremely high-resolution and contains many beautiful fonts and images. The steering wheel’s about as good as what you get in a VW GLI, and that’s not damning with faint praise. The shifter feels solid.

The rest of it’s pretty low-rent, and perhaps deliberately so, because this is, after all, the Cheapest of the Class. I had to keep telling myself, “This doesn’t cost any more than a Ford Fusion with the goodies,” to which my self responded, “That would be a bigger car with more power and more stuff and a nicer interior.” Fortunately for my mental health, I was interrupted by the infotainment system’s decision to pretend my iPod Classic didn’t exist. After some fussing, I paired my Galaxy S3 and cued up the Amazon Cloud Player. Gotta have the Player to hear that Mayer, dontcha know. There was a Hertz NeverLost (aka “NeverRight”) GPS goiter mounted on the center console, which seemed odd until I remembered that thirty-six grand doesn’t get you GPS. Oh, Mercedes! You so crazy! First it was optional air conditioning on your luxury car, and now it’s optional GPS.

In just moments, it was time to hop on the 101 and press the throttle pedal to the carpet. Hmm. Thus began my three-day experience with the World’s Most Charmless Engine. It’s a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged to a fairly stout 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. Or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe. On the move, however, it has no characteristics of an internal combustion powerplant whatsoever. When full-speed-ahead is requested, it hesitates for a moment while the 7G-TRONIC negotiates the proper gear. Then it emits an odd sort of drone and begins shoving the C250 forward. This shove does not vary as the tach needle climbs. It’s like an electric motor. When a gearchange is called for, there’s a brief pause and then the unchanging push continues. The electric Mercedes luxury sedan may be a thing of the future, but its indifferent, uninspiring power delivery is here today. Next to this thing, the Jetta 1.8TSI might as well be a Ferrari F355, character-wise.

IMG_3741 (Medium)

My schedule required multiple trips from San Francisco to Napa over the course of three days. During that time, I came to appreciate a few things about the C250. Thing one: the seats, driving position, and feedback from the controls are efficient and relaxing. I could dimly sense the vestigial tail of my 190E’s forged-steel approach to the open road in its great-grandchild, even though it was dulled by the modern requirement for a few hundred pounds of Dynamat. After driving the Passat and CC, neither of which was significantly less expensive than this car, I was relieved to find myself back in the Cheap’s black-vinyl-and-aluminum-trim confines.

Thing two: what features the car has do in fact work well. The Bluetooth integration is flawless and hands-free chatting is acceptably hi-fi. The climate control dealt with heat and cold to my satisfaction and without adding a lot of blower noise to the quiet cabin. The cruise control has an extremely intelligent feature: move it a little bit in either direction and it adjusts your speed by one mile per hour. Push it farther and it adjusts to the nearest multiple of five. Leaving a 50mph zone for a 65? Three quick pushes and you’re speeding by the same amount. A dyed-in-the-wool M-B fan (which I am not; I’ve only had two in my driveway out of the 25+ cars I’ve owned in my adult life, with a third likely to arrive in a few weeks) would likely have something to say about the company’s ability to intelligently engineer a vehicle for stress-free high-speed operation and blah blah blah and at that point I would grab that person by the shoulders and scream “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE S430? HUH? WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT PIECE OF CRAP?”

The C250 grows on you with time. It really does. If you sit in one at the auto show, you won’t be impressed. If you test-drive it for twenty minutes, it’s likely to convince you to buy something else. It takes time to respect the car. I’m not talking about the old hundred-mile rule here. This isn’t a case of becoming inured to its faults. Rather, you become fond of its virtues.

Over the course of nearly three hundred miles on the trot, much of it stop-and-go traffic punctuated by frequent calls for all 201 psuedo-electric ponies, the little Benzo was claiming 28.9 miles per gallon. This would not do. Plus, I had a mind to step into the ocean for a minute. I set a course that would take me from Napa to Stinson Beach and from there to the Golden Gate Bridge overlook. I borrowed a passenger for the trip whom I felt it might be amusing to frighten. Along the coast we flew, obtaining all available speed from the tiny four-cylinder, stomping the brakes into ABS with the approach of each hairpin. On corner exits I would let the tail run wide, kicking pebbles from the shoulder surface into a thousand-foot freefall down to the midnight blue of the turbulent waves below. I made each and every pass the moment it seemed likely that it might be possible to do so. As the miles rolled on, I found myself daring fate again and again; once, as the C250 was snagging fourth towards an uphill right-hander, with only the sea and the horizon visible ahead, I stamped the carpet twice, loud enough for it to be audible over the moaning from the engine compartment, and said, “NO BRAKES!” before calling upon the deus ex anti-blockier for real and staccato-squeaking our way around the blind face of the rock to the next open straight at the last possible minute. This was not well-received, I must say.

By the time we reached the overlook for the big orange bridge I’d formed my true opinion of the C250, and it is this: Other cars offer more features, more power, more space, more convenience for the same money. You should probably buy one of those. This is not a W126 and it’s not going to last a million miles. The purchase of a Mercedes-Benz can no longer be justified on longevity or durability. But what you get for the money, in exchange for giving up the nav and the leather and the usable rear seats, is a car that is properly engineered on an excuse-free chassis. It is tangibly more satisfying to operate than a Camry or a Passat or a Fusion. On a fast road the gap between it and the jumped-up front-drivers is considerable.

That stupid, charmless turbo four-cylinder rewarded my irresponsible operation by returning 22 miles per gallon during that last drive. In circumstances like that, I’ve seen my Boxster return half that. Ugh. How I disliked the 1.8 turbo. but the numbers are pretty good. I’d spring for the big-power V-6 in the C350, and certainly Mercedes wouldn’t be unhappy were I to do so. Still, the 1.8 is okay. Nobody’s ever going to look forward to hearing it rev, but the same was true for the diesel in the 240D.

So. Relatively cheap. Not too many features. The engine is blah but the chassis is sound and it works over the long haul. I don’t know about you, but that sounds about like what I expect from a Mercedes-Benz. If any modern car deserves to wear the star, then I suppose this one does.

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How Fast Was Michael Hastings Really Going? Wed, 14 Aug 2013 15:18:02 +0000

When this website reported on the death of Michael Hastings, your humble author’s comments regarding the odd nature of the crash wound up everywhere from the front page of the Fox News website to the Facebook pages of various relatives who didn’t notice that I was the author.

There’s now surveillance footage of the crash, which frankly looks more like the Castle Bravo test than a regular car crash. And at least one source has “calculated” an awfully low and suspicious-sounding speed of impact from that footage.

From the not-always-100%-conspiracy-theory-free Infowars comes a
report that Hastings might have been going just 35mph at the time of the crash:

Analysis of the recently released surveillance footage of Hastings’ vehicle in the moments before the crash, which was carried out by SDSU professor Morteza M. Mehrabadi, Professor and Interim Chair Areas of Specialization: Mechanics of Materials, also suggests that Hastings was not speeding before his Mercedes hit a tree… By measuring the distance traveled by the car on the surveillance clip and the time that elapsed before the explosion, Professor Mehrabadi was able to calculate that the car was only traveling at a speed of 35 MPH, and not speeding as some reports claimed.

“The pre-explosion and slower speed could also explain the minimal damage to the palm tree and the facts the rear tires rested against the curb. It also provides an explanation for the location of the engine and drive train at more than 100 feet from the tree impact area,”

So the theory works like so:

  • Michael Hastings was investigating something really scary.
  • Somebody set him up the bomb.
  • Explosion, and a hell of an explosion it was
  • Crash.

Again, I have to say that I’ve seen plenty of cars crash at 100mph. I’ve crashed a car myself at 100mph, at Mid-Ohio, with a standard fuel tank in it (which seemed like a good way to save a few bucks right until I ran into the Armco) and I didn’t explode. I’m not ready to say that this was the work of whatever Star Chamber exists in this country, but it continues to look awfully odd to me. ]]> 107 Famed Non-Automotive Journalist Michael Hastings Turns A C250 Into A “Bomb” Wed, 19 Jun 2013 14:32:24 +0000 Picture courtesy the author.

The writing-about-writing crowd is abuzz with discussion about the rather unusual death of Buzzfeed/RollingStone/Gawker writer Michael Hastings. Mr. Hastings, whose name is never mentioned in the press without the immediate mention that he was “the fearless journalist whose reporting brought down the career of General Stanley McChrystal”, died in a single-car accident in Los Angeles yesterday morning. This in and of itself is not unusual, but the circumstances of the crash and its aftermath won’t do anything to quiet the conspiracy theorists who are already claiming that the military-industrial complex found a way to cap the guy.

The definitive video of the incident can be found here. It features everything you’d want in a crash story, including:

  • The ejected motor and transmission (seen above)
  • Video of the car burning with the fury of a thousand suns
  • A man holding a goat in his arms and stroking it to keep calm as someone else discusses the incident
  • The mention of Mercedes-Benz

That last bit is the critical part. Mercedes-Benz USA is no doubt sweating bullets over this one. An eyewitness report says that Mr. Hastings was driving at an excessive rate of speed down a suburban street when his car “suddenly jackknifed” and hit a tree “with the force of a bomb”. The Benzo, which by the wheels and quarter-panel appears to be the relatively prosaic but cheerfully stylish C250 four-cylinder turbo coupe, proceeded to throw its powertrain out of the engine bay, immediately catch fire in a manner typically reserved for episodes of “Miami Vice”, and burn its driver until said driver was charred beyond recognition.

This isn’t good. The official ad copy for the C-Coupe states

Like every Mercedes-Benz coupe, it wraps four sport seats and passion for the road in sleek style. And like every C-Class, it’s a paragon of engineering virtue and extraordinary value. Put it together, and it’s like nothing else.

Nowhere in there does it say anything about “then this sucker is going to jackknife out of control and char you like a steak ordered by a high-school dropout at Ponderosa”. No wonder the guy in the video is stroking his goat to keep it calm. If I owned a C250 I’d be outside staring at the thing wondering if it was safe to drive it at 100mph in a suburb.

Mr. Hastings has been eulogized by his editor at Buzzfeed in an article called Missing Michael Hastings, which unfortunately makes me think of Missing Missy. In the piece, Ben Smith tells us that Michael looked in clothes and that he was handsome and that he worked out. He also lauds Mr. Hastings for writing Valerie Jarett Versus The Haters, which opens with

Valerie Jarrett is one of the most influential women in America. Protective, fearless, dedicated: the controversial White House figure and Chicago titan is now yolo’ing on the homestretch to get her “little brother” re-elected.

Reading that article at one AM with a bottle glass of Ketel One in hand makes me think that a) I’ve been too hard on automotive journalists and b) half of the TTAC staff could make big money in political writing. That’s because only half of us say stuff like “yolo” and “swag”.

But I’m not here to speak ill of the dead. I’m here to state that I’ve seen dozens of cars hit walls and stuff at high speeds and the number of them that I have observed to eject their powertrains and immediately catch massive fire is, um, ah, zero. Modern cars are very good at not catching fire in accidents. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which is an evolutionary design from a company known for sweating the safety details over and above the Euro NCAP requirements, should be leading the pack in the not-catching-on-fire category.

Nor is the C-Class known for sudden veering out of control into trees and whatnot. My father’s been running a C350 of that generation around Hilton Head for a while and if anybody could make a C-Class veer into a palm tree without warning it would be him. If you happen to see my father on an airplane somewhere, please don’t tell him I said that, and also don’t tell him that I always call the C-Class the “Cheap-Class”. Thanks.

Mr. Hastings’ aggressively Democrat-friendly storytelling has the Internet already considering the idea that his death was engineered somehow. I can’t say it’s totally unlikely. As noted above, the reported (and videotaped) behavior of the C250 was not in line with what we’d expect. On the other hand, surely it’s expected that a respected, mature writer on non-automotive topics won’t be barreling through a suburb so fast that any tree he hits will cause his car to burst into flames, right? We’ll keep an eye on this to see what, if anything, develops.

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Bloomberg Buries The Lede: Cadillac Puff Piece Can’t Hide ATS Incentive Spending, Lagging Sales Tue, 09 Apr 2013 14:59:11 +0000

TTAC readers looking for a more pro-GM news source may want to check out Bloomberg for their next dose of pro-GM news. A story on Cadillac’s revived fortunes contains all kinds of enthusiastic copy and positive quotes, but still manages to bury the lede way down at the bottom of the story.

Take this quote for example

“Cadillac’s performance certainly exceeded expectations, and the ATS was the driving factor,” said Jeff Schuster, auto analyst with LMC Automotive in Troy, Michigan. “They have a lot happening with their lineup and the vehicles are hitting with consumers.”

Joel Ewanick himself couldn’t have come up with a better quote to feed to the industry price. The ATS is a nice car by all accounts. First drive impressions were positive, despite one of the buff books binning one into the red Georgia clay. But scroll a little further down past the ongoing textual fellatio and you’ll find the golden nugget.

Cadillac’s pricing problems show up in the incentives it offers. GM’s average incentive spending on the ATS in February was $3,700 per car, compared to $333 in September, when the new model went on sale, according to TrueCar Inc., a Santa Monica, California, researcher that tracks auto sales.

Uh oh. $3,700 just months after their crucial entry-level car was introduced? A nearly tenfold increase in incentive spending in just a few short months? Not good news at all. The incentives do explain why the ATS had a nice bump in sales right around February. It’s unfortunate that GM would have to spend so much per car to move a product as nice as the ATS.

Of course, Bloomberg handily explains away the unpleasant incentive information with this quote

Those discounts should decline as Cadillac’s redesigned models attract new buyers. GM said more than half the ATS buyers are coming from competitors such as BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. GM aims to increase sales of Cadillac in the U.S. by more than 30 percent this year, Bob Ferguson, global head of the brand, told reporters in New York last week. 

A look at incentive programs in the Miami/South Florida region (using ZIP Code 33180) as a sample shows that the ATS offering more aggressive incentive programs than its competitors. BMW is offering 3.1 percent APR financing for the new 3-Series (save for the Hybrid at 1.9 percent) versus 0 percent for the ATS. Audi offers no finance incentives for the A4 at all. While the ATS gets a $299/month lease for 36 months with $2,199 due at signing, a similarly equipped 328i would cost $349/month for 36 months with $3,824 due at signing. An A4 2.0T can be leased for $309/month for the same term with $3,719 due. Mercedes-Benz was not offering 36 month lease deals at the time of writing. Only Lexus came close to matching Cadillac’s offer, with a lease on an IS250 involving $309/month payment for 36 months, with $3,209 due at signing and a credit for the first month’s lease payment – on a model that is due to be replaced any day now, where dealers are desperate to get rid of the stock.

The incentive picture makes the Q1 2013 sales snapshot above even starker. The 3-Series and C-Class are way out in front. The C-Class is leading the segment with 22,912 units sold, with the 3-Series in second place with 20,662 units. Cadillac is in third place, but is beating the A4 by just 45 units as of the end of March (9795 units of the ATS sold versus 9750 A4s). The Lexus trails in fifth place with 5173.

The unfortunate thing here is that the ATS itself isn’t necessarily the reason for its lagging sales and heavy incentive spending. Rather it’s the result of the continued degradation of the Cadillac brand in the eyes of the consumer over the past few decades. I’m far from the only person that believes the ATS to be a superior product to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and there are plenty of knowledgeable  respected auto critics who feel that is is just as dynamically competent as the BMW 3-Series. But these two products are crushing the ATS in the sales race, undoubtedly on the strength of their respective brands. The unfortunate relaity is that most consumers don’t care about whether or not their car is The Ultimate Driving Machine; they just want a fancy badge to show off to other people. Until Cadillac’s brand is on par with the Roundel or the Three Pointed Star, this scenario of significant incentive spending and lagging sales will likely continue to play out, no matter how good the product is.


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Review: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic Sun, 26 Feb 2012 14:00:59 +0000

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, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail C300 front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 front quarter 2, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 instruments, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 view forward, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 trunk, photo courtesy Michael Karesh C300 engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 89
New or Used: Wants, Needs and Bathwater Tue, 30 Aug 2011 18:14:28 +0000

Steven writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

I have a 2001 Volvo XC wagon, that has about 175 k on it, the car is in pretty good shape, had the tranny replaced before I got it, I have put about 4k in since Jan, the real problem is it gets about 22 MPG with 90% highway, all wheel drive and Turbo=bad gas mileage, I drive about 40,000 miles a year and betwen the gas and the upkeep I am getting killed, hence time for a new car.

This is what I want, good to great on gas,auto, 4dr or wagon  safe and comfy on the road, no suv, no RWD,( drive from NY to Boston year round, I am in sales so it needs to be somewhat presentable.  No americian cars, sorry no faith that they will hold up in the long run, and need some soul (hence no Camry) since I live in the car, budget anywhere from 15k to 30 k, I would perfer used but with prices this high not sure if it makes sense, I like Saabs, Audi,Acura, had a bunch of Accords but not since 2006. Lately have been very tempted by a 2011 VW Jetta TDI, great MPG but VW does not have a great rep. It seems VW TDI hold their value very well so that is why I am considering a 2011, love Saabs bc they do not hold their value so a great used buy ( had 2 in the past) I need some quick help from you and the board, before the volvo needs another $1500 in repairs/ maintance. thanks

Sajeev answers:

I’d definitely gravitate to a new vehicle, given your budget, career and high prices of lightly used vehicles. Which pushes me (you) to the mainstream sedans that you might hate. You need to test drive a bunch of them to see what really speaks to you: important for someone in your line of work.

Okay, so no Camry, but you should at least drive the SE model. Ditto any Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu: I know, I know! The Accord is also worth a look, but I am gonna recommend two sweethearts in this class: the Hyundai Sonata (SE or Limited) and the Mazda 6. Both are rather cool for their class, and the Hyundai has a great warranty (with roadside assistance) for a road warrior.

Steve answers:

I wouldn’t throw out the Camry with the bathwater just yet. Last Tuesday I test drove all the new Camrys and found the Hybrid model to be the absolute embodiment of everything you likely want. Plenty of power and comfort. Exceptional fuel economy (43 city, 39 highway). Surprisingly tight handling and ‘healthy’ road feel in what is supposedly a traditional conservative car.

I would put that model near the top regardless of the bulbous marshmallow nature of the outgoing generation.

The rest of the results are pretty much in line with what Sajeev suggests. On the new side there is the Fusion, Sonata, 6, and Altima. On the used side it depends on whether you’re willing to consider any unpopular cars. Yes, SAABs are cheap now. So is the Infiniti G25 which is one of many near luxury sedans that fall through the cracks due mostly to ‘spec junkies’ wanting the more powerful model.

If you’re willing to consider a 1 to 2 year old CPO car that offers a fantastic warranty, I would opt for a step up. The C-Class, Audi A4, and Infiniti G25 would be on my list as well. Although to be frank, I would likely just go with the new Camry Hybrid if I had to drive all those miles in the pothole marred northeast. Good luck!


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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The Benzification Of China Thu, 18 Mar 2010 08:23:43 +0000

Mercedes-Benz continues its long march forward in China. In February, “Benz” (as the locals call the brand here) racked in a 160 percent growth. 7,200 additional Benzes graced China’s roads by end of February.

With more than 15,300 units sold in the first two months of the year, up 155 percent, Mercedes-Benz calls itself the fastest-growing luxury brand in China, Gasgoo reports.

Imports of the S-Class grew by 115 percent in February, cementing China as the world’s biggest S-Class market. The new generation S-Class is extremely popular amongst China’s well-to-do.

The all-new E-Class became Mercedes-Benz’s top-selling model in China last month, with total sales nearing 4,000 units for the first two months. The E-Class used to be locally made. Currently, it is imported until Daimler’s joint venture partner BAIC has updated their production. A long series, a favorite in China, where everybody who’s somebody leaves the driving to a driver, will be part of the E-Class lineup once production resumes in China.

The locally produced C-Class sold 1,400 sedans.

Daimler said its global sales were up 8.9 percent year on year in February to 78,700 cars, with China providing a good deal of the growth.

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