By on October 1, 2007

472327_814692_6000_6000_111422106a46764.jpgThe previous gen C-Class was not Mercedes’ finest hour.  Chief amongst its non-virtues: base engines that offered little in the way of functional power, refinement, fuel efficiency or brand faithful character (e.g. the 1.8-liter blown four). The fourth gen C300 (W204) put paid to that– and how. In fact, the new C may have finally have broken the bigger-is-always-better mold that the German carmaker has deployed to lure Benz buyers up the ownership ladder. Ah, but does that mean that the new, more highly-horsed C350 is so superior to the C300 as to steal stars– and sales– from its cheaper stablemate?

The C300 Sport and C350 Sport are sheetmetal doppelgangers. From their AMG-designed grill– whose oversized three-pointed star seems specifically designed for fans of Mr. T– to their tightly tailored tushes, there’s nothing save rim design between them. For C300 Sport buyers, that’s no bad thing. In all its iterations, the new C is a profoundly attractive car; it’s perfect in proportion and elegant in effect. For owners of the more expensive car, well, price confers no honors.

c350ii.jpgInside, same deal. Although we understand why Mercedes reserves its engine-size-related interior mods to their AMG variants (money), how much would it cost to give a C350 driver some indication that he’s got a hotter shoe than a C300 Sport driver? Anyway, the basics are [still] brilliant. The cabin is well assembled. The solid feel of the door and dash switchgear imparts the old-school Mercedes Benz attitude. It’s stoic, it’s stolid, it’s German, and it’s going to look the same when it’s thirty years old. 

In my test car, it was all about the black, with predictably monotonous results. The brushed aluminum trim adorning the gear lever provides the only aesthetic relief from the Goth gestalt. One detail from the C350’s interior merits special attention: the tilt and telescope steering wheel. While many people will consider its manual operation a bit cheap at this price point, it’s a hopeful sign that the C-Class may be built (however inadvertently) for longevity.

472358_814783_4800_3200_111456506a5083.jpgObviously, the engine underhood is the principal difference between the C300 and C350. Whereas the C300 has a 3.0-liter V6 making 228 horsepower, the C350’s [unchanged for ‘08] 3.5-liter six pot brings 268 horses and 258 ft.-lbs to the party. Accelerating from rest to sixty mph takes only a shade over six seconds; that’s a full second faster than the not-entirely-slow C300 Sport. As you’d hope.

Even better, C350 offers aural pleasures you’d never, ever expect in anything other than an AMG-fettled Merc. Once the V6 winds to the sweet spot, around 3000 rpm, the damn thing begins to growl. And it’s not the usual Mercedes “wall of sound” aggression, where you’d swear you were piloting an industrial strength vacuum cleaner. It’s a genuine gathering of sonic fury. And yet the C350’s engine’s smoother than the Pickup Artist and at least as refined as Nissan’s lauded VQ engines.

472355_814774_4800_3200_111451006a5039.jpgThe new C350’s suspension remains more or less unchanged. In this case, less is more. Riding on firmer bushings, new subframes, revised geometry and a slightly lowered chassis, the C350 is a capable corner carver. Body lean is perfectly controlled, and the chassis responds instantly (if excessively) to inputs from the new, more tactile power-assisted tiller.

While a determined C350 driver could give a BMW 328i pilot a genuine run for the money down a twisting road, the C ain’t no 3. Like the interior, the C350 goes about the business of changing direction in a dour, cheerless sort of way. It’s as safe as houses [used to be], with easy-to-find limits and completely predictable responses at all times. But it’s just not what I’d call fun.

472329_814698_6000_6000_111423206a4737.jpgCompared to its real competition– the C300– the C350 asks you to give up a great deal for those 40 extra ponies and suspension tweaks. For starters, there’s the small matter (to some) of $5300. You also have to surrender the possibility of all-wheel drive and “Luxury” trim. Worst of all, the six-speed manual transmission is only available on the lower-priced C300 and its Sport derivative. Even if you forgive this omission, the C350’s seven-speed autobox is dim-witted when you need it most: downshifting for power. For a sports-minded vehicle, that’s an unforgivable sin.

In sum, it’s hard to understand why a “real” enthusiast would choose the Mercedes C350 Sport over a more genuinely sporting alternative (or the monster C63 AMG version). It’s also hard to fathom the C350 Sport's advantages over a C300. The “entry level” C-Class is a back-to-basics car that does what you want a Mercedes to do– better than the C350 does what you wish it could do. In that sense, the C350 reverses the curse, and puts sensible Mercedes owners in a happier place than those who continue to believe that bigger is always better.

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35 Comments on “Mercedes C350 Sport Review...”


  • avatar
    ghillie

    In all its iterations, the new C is a profoundly attractive car; it’s perfect in proportion and elegant in effect.

    Styling must be an individual thing because I think the car just looks ugly, especially that snout.

  • avatar
    andyinsdca

    My ’02 C230 (2.3 supercharged) does 30MPG freeway. That’s bad mileage? The new Benz C’s get 25. So, this is an improvement?

    And yes, the new 7 speed tranny SUUUUUUUCKKKKSSS. I drove a C300 loaner a few months ago. I decelerated to take an on ramp and then mashed the gas to see what happened. Nothing. No thanks!

  • avatar
    JJ

    @ ghillie

    Yeah, I think it’s ugly too, but especially the rearlights and doors. Something about them just doesn’t look right.

    And if you buy the “elegance” model you get the classical grill with star on top but somehow that doesn’t look good either.

    how much would it cost to give a C350 driver some indication that he’s got a hotter shoe than a C300 Sport driver?

    The driver should know by the reacion of the car to the go-pedal. But I guess this is an American thing; having to be able to see where the money went. Maybe so that other people can see as well? Something like ‘let there be a good visual distinction between a 300 and a 350 so I can leave the badge away so I’m not a snob but everyone can still see I bought the nice model :)’

    The larger engine is just an option, like a sunroof…only better…except for the slushbox, which then of course, makes it worse again.

  • avatar
    carguy

    I have never quite understood the appeal of the entry level Benz – it’s not a sports sedan like the BMW 3 nor does it have anything that other (much cheaper) cars don’t. It’s simply expected to get by on the reflected glory of loftier models such as the S and SL class. Unless the three pointed badge is must have (in which case you deserve your financial punishment) there are a number of choices that deliver better value if you’re in the market for a solid and luxurious sedan.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    These photos don’t do the C-series justice. I’ve seen a couple around town that have really caught my attention – and I don’t ever remember a Mercedes turning my head before.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    You know, as a Honda owner and a BMW Car Club of America member, I’m bizarrely attracted to this car.

    Perhaps because I think it’s exterior and interior detailing is of a fine and well-defined german variety. It exudes Autobahn domination.

    The new S class, followed by this C class, has reinvigorated Mercedes design and now sets it apart. It’s attractive and LOOKS solid.

    Furthermore, the C300 Sport 6-speed is, on paper, a very attractive alternative to a BMW 328. Priced almost identically, and yet the Mercedes is better optioned stock. What a turnabout…

    Furthermore, the Merc’s option packaging is down to earth. A few things should be standard at this price point that aren’t, but we’re more or less there.

    Furthermore, for those of us in the snow belt, you can get your “Sport” model with a staggered setup and honest-to-god all-season tires. The ability to order this combination is a major attraction to those of us who can’t swap out winter wheels on their rides or choose not too (do to money, lack of a garage, or just plain laziness).

    Lastly, honest to god cupholders. I’m not sorry if this makes me an American, but by Golly I want a place to put a cell-phone, iPod, and mug-o-Joe when I hop in my ride in the morning.

    While the C350 may elicit 3 stars due to it’s price gap to it’s competitors, the C300 6-spd (on paper) looks a mighty fine companion.

    Then again, for the same price the G35 6-speed offers alot more…

    Maybe I’ll go drive a C300 6-speed and pop some comments in here. That is, if there was even one delivered to a dealership within 500 miles.

    Joe

  • avatar
    Joe O

    William Montgomery – I hope your head turned for the SLK55 AMG. That burble coming from that little car always makes me smile :)

    I can’t believe Mercedes launched a credible alternative to the Boxster S.

    Carguy – I’ve never understood the previous C-class….but this one is quite attractive in and out.

    The only thing I would say is that Mercedes engines are now lagging somewhat. It’s somewhat standard practice that a 3.0 liter should be putting out around 250 HP and that a 3.5 should be hitting the 300 mark. BMW has to detune their 3.0 liter N/A engine to hit 230.

    Joe

  • avatar
    altdude

    I actually really like the look of the new C-class. Haven’t driven one yet, but hopefully it’s more along the lines of the 190E than the previous-gen C. And no, I think Mercedes has something a little different than a 3-series competitor- more a small ‘personal luxury sedan’ rather then a true sport sedan- and they should focus on that.

    I’ve never really understood the ‘sport’ variants; why make a sports car out of a luxury sedan is beyond me. It’s an awkward combination of ‘lets put a sport suspension and flashy grille on a sedan with leather seats and an automatic transmission!’. It’s trying to please everyone, and it just can’t.

  • avatar

    I experienced the same sluggish responses from the seven-speed automatic. But after last driving the car I read that tapping the shifter (to the right? left? can’t remember) calls up a “sport” shifting program that brings with it quicker responses. Haven’t had a chance to check this out.

    The two paragraphs on the car’s handling seem to contradict each other. Are responses instantaneous and the steering tactile, or is the handling not very entertaining? Are both somehow true?

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Altdude-

    I think that it’s hard to make a car that wafts and hugs the road at the same time. So, for the wafters, we have the “luxury” theme. For those who want a little road feel, we have the “sport” theme.

    Could be wrong about that. Chances are it all comes down to leather dye, spring rates and damper settings, and a different steering wheel. But the placebo effect is unstoppable :)

    That being said, there is a huge difference between a sport and non-sport BMW 3-series. At least, among the RWD variant. Sport version of the 3-series AWD variants only modify the seating (sport seats) and steering wheel.

    Joe

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Styling must be an individual thing because I think the car just looks ugly, especially that snout.

    It is. I actually like the Bangle-designed BMW’s…

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Why do American automotive journalists wet themselves when they write about M-B vehicles? In most of the world, most M-B vehicles are trucks. The C cars are taxi cabs with plastic interiors, 1.8l diesels, 3 on the tree manual tranies, and no a/c. Sure El Presidentie rides around in an armored S mobile. But the locals think luxury is having clean running water and electricity 24/7, not spending a years wages on a tarted up taxi cab.

  • avatar
    partsisparts

    The big difference between this car and it’s competitors is: IT IS A MERCEDES-BENZ!
    This car feels like a Benz which the previous gen did not.
    Lexus is a gussied up Toyota and Infiniti is a gussied up Nissan. This car is MB through and through.
    The interior and switchgear in this car put BMW to shame. The last 328 I was in had the cheesiest cupholders and plastic interior bits, I have ever seen, and what was with the cut pipes (unfinished) for the exhaust tips?
    This car drives like a tank, if MB wanted the car to drive like a BMW (ie:way to darty) it surly would. Not everyone likes the feel of a BMW and definitely prefer a MB drive feel and superior fit and finishing.

  • avatar
    NickR

    It’s stoic, it’s stolid, it’s German, and it’s going to look the same when it’s thirty years old.

    That’s because by then the owner will have replaced everything from the cigarette lighter to the sunroof a couple of times, at least. A steady flow of new parts does wonders for a cars appearance.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    The new C-Class is a very attractive car IMO. Not what I’d buy since I prefer a perfomance car but it seems genuinely well designed.

    Mercedes cars are not sports cars, even their AMG versions for the most part. The lack of a manual tells you that in and of itself. They are luxury cars and are about pampering with a touch of performance.

    The C63 does look like a beast however.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Robert Schwartz: Why do American automotive journalists wet themselves when they write about M-B vehicles? In most of the world, most M-B vehicles are trucks. The C cars are taxi cabs with plastic interiors, 1.8l diesels, 3 on the tree manual tranies, and no a/c. Sure El Presidentie rides around in an armored S mobile. But the locals think luxury is having clean running water and electricity 24/7, not spending a years wages on a tarted up taxi cab.

    Because none of what you describe is true in America. Few trucks are M-Bs. I’ve never seen a Mercedes taxi cab on American boulevards. US spec Benz’ only get top tier interiors, engines, transmissions and the a/c is never omitted (that would be market suicide). As such, M-B is a premium brand untarnished by sweaty, gutless plastic taxi’s and trucks.

    Furthermore, I don’t know what this has to do with a pro-Mercedes bias, but our presidents commute from point a to point b via up-armored Caddy’s or Lincolns. And our masses don’t give a second thought about clean water or electricity (except southern Californian’s who have occasional electrical brown-outs – and then they get really bitchy).

    Condemn us if you want for our myopic view of the world. But it is, in fact, our view of the world.

    That said, although I appreciate some of their engineering I for one have never been drawn to M-B cars. They just seem so sterile and soulless (not to mention overpriced).

  • avatar
    Arkay

    I recently attended the C-class intro event and I came away impressed by the W204 C-class.

    The styling to me is a big step forward and takes some of its cues from the W221 S-class and I look forward to the next gen W212 E-class due out soon when the lease on my E63 ends.

    And after having driven both a C300 Sport and a C350 Sport, the 3.5 does offer more low end torque and certainly had a more pleasant acoustic appeal – but neither motor is a poor choice.

    And I must disagree about the 7G-tronic gearbox – it is a gem, especially in Sport mode which is my default mode, and is certainly very good in the E63, as well as in the S550 and the new C-class examples I’ve driven.

    As for comparison to BMW’s designs, the current E90/E92 3-series are the ONLY cars that I would even remotely consider based on styling alone – and the exterior and interior styling are two of the main reasons why I’d chosen an A8L and then an E63 ahead of the 745Li and M5 respectively when I leased my new cars – this coming from a loyal member of the BMA CCA and having owned 6 BMWs previous to these cars…

  • avatar
    26theone

    The C class way always kind of an oxymoron to me. Not much luxury or sport. If you wanted a sports sedan you bought a BMW. If you wanted luxury and comfort you bought a Lexus. If you wanted to impress the neighbors you bought an MB or Jag. I think MB is heading in the right direction with the C making it more sports oriented.

  • avatar
    Vega

    “Why do American automotive journalists wet themselves when they write about M-B vehicles? In most of the world, most M-B vehicles are trucks. The C cars are taxi cabs with plastic interiors, 1.8l diesels, 3 on the tree manual tranies, and no a/c. Sure El Presidentie rides around in an armored S mobile. But the locals think luxury is having clean running water and electricity 24/7, not spending a years wages on a tarted up taxi cab.”

    While certainly entertaining, your remarks couldn’t be further from the truth. The slowest Diesel C-class has a 2.2l common rail engine which turns out 270NM of torque through a standard 6 speed manual tranny. You can reach 134mph with it in supreme comfort, cooled by the also standard A/C, with a standard ESP ready to save your bacon should you overcook it. Oh, and the interior materials (apart from the upholstery and the odd stripe of wood or aluminium) are the same throughout the range.
    3 on the tree? You gotta be kidding.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    Styling must be an individual thing because I think the car just looks ugly, especially that snout.

    Out of curiosity, what did you think of the previous generation’s C-Class appearance? I thought the peanut-shaped headlights were a bit odd-looking, myself.

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    Re: carguy’s comment… The C series is slightly cheaper and much safer (in a collision) than a 3 series. I am leasing my wife a C230 Sport with no options other than 1. new 7-speed auto, 2. sunroof, and 3. CD changer (no C230 more base than this when I looked) because a C240 saved her life two years ago when some teenage idiot ran a stop sign and my wife hit the side of his dad’s old Mercedes at about 50mph. Both Mercedes were totaled, but both drivers just walked away with bruises.

    I guess an Audi A4 would have done the job too (I have an A3) but my wife would only drive a RWD car. She has driven my A3 and says that it is too fast and “feels wrong” (referring to the torque steer, I think).

    Yes the C230 is very slow, especially off the line, but it’s a great >100mph highway cruiser.

  • avatar
    Seth

    I love the front end design… Going back to its roots if you will. They should have done this way back. Alas, MB had to burn its hands several times with ovoid headlamps to finally figure out their true north. Square lamps it is then. Original Merc classic design… Big tristar on grille is icing on the cake… BTW, If only can someone square off the rear tail lamps as well.. hmmm I might just get one!

  • avatar
    Kman

    This is one handsome mo’fo’ vehicle. Check out that 3/4-rear view.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Mercedes holds two separate brand identities for me:

    1. Until the mid-1990s, they were the last manufacturer I felt were NOT designing cars for planned obsolescence. A Mercedes was a car that you could own and drive for 30 years, and if you kept up the (pricey) maintenance, it would reward you in spades.

    2. Mid-90s until now: Solidly built, quiet, and smooth…but leaky engines, very poor electricals, faulty window regulators, etc. Basically a VW for twice the price and half the reliability.

    I’m curious to see in 5-10 years if they’ve made their way back into the first category. With the weak dollar, I can’t help but think there’s some cost-cutting going on somewhere. I’m hopeful, but not terribly optimistic.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    Mmmm…return of the sexy Benz.

  • avatar
    fiestajunky

    I just got rid of the last generation of this car and it cured me of my 20 year love of Mercedes Benz…My C-230 was so bad it made early 80’s Jaguars look handbuilt.Everything fell off,broke,wore out or just sucked from the get-go. Despite religious maintenance,indoor storage and lots of TLC,it was all I could do to sell it (or even keep it on the road).It would be hard to believe that M-B has improved quality enough with this car that it would be worth taking a $34,000 chance on.A Lexus may be a gussied up Toyota, but the headliner doesn’t fall down around you… The Infiniti may be a tarted up Nissan,but the transmission isn’t rigged to fail after 70-80,000 miles.In other words,M-B is building cars that are as bad as anything coming off the line at GM,but at least GM doesn’t have the cheek to charge so damn much for theirs.

    One last snark here- Goodbye M-B dealers ! I won’t miss you one bit ! We used to be partners in our love for M-B cars…You helped me keep my object of affection on the road and running as good as new…You were there with fast,courteous service at a fair price and knowledgeable parts and service techs.Not now. You are headed down the same slope that M-B cars are heading.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    Why do American automotive journalists wet themselves when they write about M-B vehicles? In most of the world, most M-B vehicles are trucks. The C cars are taxi cabs with plastic interiors, 1.8l diesels, 3 on the tree manual tranies, and no a/c. Sure El Presidentie rides around in an armored S mobile. But the locals think luxury is having clean running water and electricity 24/7, not spending a years wages on a tarted up taxi cab.

    A few years back (1997-98)there was a taxi company in Manhattan NYC that decided to use E-class Benzs as cabs in NYC, yellow paint and light on top.
    My understanding is MB NA had a major hissy fit and refused any kind of support and actually discourged MB dealers in the tri-state area from providing service. It hurt the image on the MB brand in the USA. To think that us Americans would actually think less of MB if we all knew that an E-class is commonly used as Taxi in Germany!

  • avatar
    bodayguy

    The S-class is stunning and this new C-class is very attractive, to my eyes. Would they consider a two-door variant with the six-speed and bigger engine?

  • avatar
    speedlaw

    Was out shopping recently. Sat in the new C Classe, and went back to my e46 with a smile on my face.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    offered little in the way of functional power, refinement, fuel efficiency or brand faithful character (e.g. the 1.8-liter blown four)

    Eh, that engine wasn’t so bad compared to the 2.6L V6 found in the C240. Compared to the 1.8L K, the 2.6 had less power, worse mileage, more weight, and offered only a modicum of NVH improvement. Bring back the 3L straight six of 20 years ago or the 2.8L straight six of 35 years ago.

  • avatar

    I was able to drive a C300 when the Mercedes C-Drive event rolled through the Bayou City. The car’s exterior does present better visually in person, but I do not find it “look at me” attractive.

    Inside, yeah, the interior was well put together and seemed solid, but what is with the granitic seats? To my Acura conditioned keester, those M-B seats painfully lived up to their reputation more than any other Benz I have ever been in.

    Behind the wheel, I felt the ride and handling were a decent balance, but our course through the streets near the Juice Box was short. Demerits from me for very grabby brakes and the counterintuitive manumatic trans. Would it kill them to put a separate gate there when you want to go back to D?

    In sum, my Deutsch sedan $$ will not be stopping in Stuttgart. Those funds are earmarked for the boys in Munich

  • avatar
    moto

    This might be vastly improved from the prior generation C-class, but unfortunately Merc is well behind Audi and BMW in this class of car.

    Audi is the AWD, all weather champion whereas BMW is the balanced, nimble track star. Oh, sure, power is never a problem for the Merc. But all the other details seem one step behind, and who wants to pay AMG-premium prices for a car that is only slightly more attractive externally than a BMW, with an interior (and exterior, IMHO) that pales in comparison to the superb Audi?

  • avatar
    westcott

    I took my E class in for its first check up a few weeks ago and they gave me a C300 sport as a courtesy car. I drove it all of a mile back to the house, gave my wife the keys, and told her I would drive the company car (2008 Impala). She drove it to the park and ride and the grocery store and promptly turned to me and said, “This car gives MB a bad name. No power, bad ride, and poor steering input.” I agreed but I guess you get what you pay for (and sometimes less). It is a $30K car.

  • avatar
    fps_dean

    Honestly, it’s hard for me to look at the Mercedes C class as a Mercedes. Mercedes is known for making luxury cars, where the C class is just some upscale car with a Mercedes logo on it. Think Cadillac Cimmaron or Catera (two smaller models back in the 80s and 90s that were basically a rebranded Cavalier and rebranded Cutlass). The Catera did eventually turn into something nice, however (the CTS).

    I could not see myself looking at the C class when there are cars like the Cadillac CTS, BMW 3 series, Audi A4 and Infiniti G37 out there, all of which are much nicer cars for around the same price. Hell, for that matter, save some money and get a Buick, Camry, Avalon, Maxima or an Accord loaded out and be just as happy, if not more so.

  • avatar
    threeer

    fast forward to July 2010…test drove both a c300 (admittedly, not the C350 reviewed here) and the new 2010 Audi A4. The Benz was nice enough, but I didn’t come away from it with a “wow” sense of feeling. And given all of the options the tester had on it, $45k for the “kleine” was over the top. I was concerned about the 4 pot Audi (shades of testing an older Passat with the 2.0 turbo and AT), but dang…slap it in “S” and find a corner or two! Yeah, the Audi was quattro vs the C300 being RWD, but I actually really enjoyed the ride in the Audi, but felt a little numb after the C300. Not that I have anywhere near mid $30ks for a new car (won’t buy new ever again to begin with), but the MB let me down. Haven’t really loved a Benz since my 300TD…

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