Mercedes C350 Sport Review

Justin Berkowitz
by Justin Berkowitz

The 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.

Inside, 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.

Obviously, 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.

The 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.

Compared 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.

Justin Berkowitz
Justin Berkowitz

Immensely bored law student. I've also got 3 dogs.

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  • Fps_dean Fps_dean on Jan 27, 2010

    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.

  • Threeer Threeer on Jul 08, 2010

    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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