Mercedes C320 Sport Review
OK, I'll admit it: I had it in for the Mercedes Benz C320 Sport even before it hit the drive. After my review of the C55 AMG, MB USA made it abundantly clear that they were unhappy with my opinion of the class from which it sprang. The suits viewed the C-Class as "prestige lite": a gateway drug to their bigger, better products. I saw the model line as a range of glorified German taxis for itinerant badge snobs. So when the C320 Sport Sedan arrived, I was ready to add fuel to my pyre.
The truth of the matter proved elusive. As soon as I found something to hate about the car, I'd discover something I liked. For example, the C320 Sport looks about as aggressive as a Dodge Caravan. The C's tiny mesh grill, petite rear spoiler and single chrome exhaust pipe are a pathetic attempt to inject sporting intent into a thoroughly banal shape. But the sedan is perfectly sized for spirited driving: low, small and relatively narrow.
By the same token, the C320 Sport's unremmittingly dour cabin design and instrumentation make it the ideal pace car for a German state funeral. But the overall build quality represents a stunning return to form for the Württemberg Wirbelwinds. Thunk the door or snick the glove box and you know Mercedes has finally realized that brand values are born on the assembly line, not in the marketing department.
The C320 Sport's driving dynamics are equally schizophrenic. Pressing the go pedal feels like kicking a dead body. But once you roust the 3.2-liter V6, the powerplant gives its all. In automatic guise, the C320 Sport surges from zero to 60 in 6.9 seconds and holds the road with genuine poise. Yet the multi-link suspension is overly harsh (in a rubbery sort of way), and the engine groans like a small-block Ford Duratec.
I decided to concentrate my efforts on the performance side of the equation. At the very least I could determine if the mini-Merc had earned the right to call itself "Sport", and thereby justify its heftier-than-a-Hemi price tag ($38k before tax and toys). I called my man Anthony Ricci, local instructor of extreme limo driving, and headed for his private playground.
The journey to the decommissioned Navy base was almost as revealing as our thrash Olympics.
As I guided the C320 Sport down I-95 in driving sleet, the car provided rock steady handling, effortless lane changing, perfect comfort and superb visibility. I reckon it's this quartet of characteristics that defines the Mercedes brand, and makes Mercs the logical choice for customers who view driving as a means to an end. Still, even with a reasonably powerful, sweet-spinning V6 engine in the engine bay, these attributes don't add up to "sporty".
Tony and I joined forces and had a play in the rain. It was my final chance to see if the C320 Sport's other virtues somehow masked the soul of a sports car. We caned the car across the length and breadth of Quonset Point's abandoned runways. We cranked-it-up, forwards, backwards and sideways; with opposite lock and panic stop. We slalomed, fish-tailed, donuted and burned rubber. We maxed out at 130 and mucked-about with the tip shifter. Nothing broke, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
The ritual abuse finally revealed the best that the C320 Sport has to offer: safety. The C320 Sport's computerized brain simply won't allow the car to get out of shape. Apply full anchors at 80mph, and she slows to zero in a straight line, through massive puddles, with no hands. Throw the wheel hard over at any speed and she'll understeer, then oversteer, then quickly return you to normal programming. Switch off the ESP and Nanny's still there, lurking in the background, ending even the most lurid drifts with a brutal snap.
Tony proclaimed the C320 Sport the ideal sports sedan for novice drivers– especially those who view tail out power slides as an open invitation to the emergency room. In fact, you'd have to do something seriously stupid to lose control of the C320 Sport for more than a few seconds. Even if you managed to hit a solid object, the sedan's robust construction would– probably– save your bacon.
Heading off base, my cell vibrated with news of a domestic crisis requiring immediate shopping. Sparing no horses, I hustled the C320 Sport homewards. The Merc proved a willing, capable chariot, granting me maximum speed with minimum stress. How great is that? Not so great if you're an enthusiast. Sure, the C320 Sport is a car you can drive fast when you have to, but it doesn't do anything to make you want to. In that sense, the C320 Sport is as 'authentic' a Mercedes as anything else the company makes.
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