2016 Mercedes-Benz C300 Review - The Best Benz You Can Buy Today

Steve Lynch
by Steve Lynch
Fast Facts

2016 Mercedes-Benz C300

2.0-liter turbo I4 with direct injection (241 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm, 273 lbs-ft torque @ 1,300-4,000 rpm)
Seven-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
25 city/34 highway/28 combined (EPA rating, MPG)
31.1 over 3,800 miles, 80% highway (Observed, MPG)
Base Price: $38,950
Price as Tested: $48,285
Prices include $925 transportation charge

In 1984, during my Honda-hawking days in Texas, our neighboring Mercedes-Benz dealership was all atwitter upon Daimler introducing the first “Baby Benz,” the 190E sedan. We knew our waiting-list-only Accord was a far superior automobile but that didn’t stop two of our salespeople from buying 190Es while the rest of us stuck with our Chevy trucks. The little Mercedes was a turd: terribly unreliable, cramped and slow. Much to our delight, the media said the 190E was not worth twice the price of an Accord.

Fast forward to 2016, your humble site’s readers and writers voted the latest entry-level Mercedes, the stylish front-wheel-drive CLA250, as one of the Ten Worst Automobiles Today. Like with the 190E, the CLA is flying off dealers’ lots, so what do we know?

Mercedes-Benz introduced the latest version of the C-Class two years ago and it’s now the brand’s best-selling model in America by a large margin — not to mention handily outselling its top competitor, the BMW 3 Series.

This is finally one small Benz that everyone loves and for good reason. The C300 is a miniature S-Class.

The new C-Class is internally coded W205. I had to look that up. In my 17 years working with Mercedes-Benz USA sales executives, I never once heard them call a vehicle by its internal name. Referring to cars as E39s and W116s is strictly snooty enthusiast slang. Get a group of them together and you would think they were talking about Bingo.

The new generation C is 220-pounds lighter, slightly longer and wider than its predecessor. This base C300 is powered by a new 2.o-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 241 horsepower. The Alabama-built C-Class is also available as a plug-in hybrid, “mini-AMG” C450 (soon to be correctly renamed the C43) with a 362-horse turbo V6, and two AMG bi-turbo V8 monsters with up to 503 horsepower.

My wife and I picked up our new Sport Package C300 last month and headed out on a 3,600-mile road trip, driving from Tucson to Seattle and then down the Oregon and California coasts, encountering literally all types of roads and weather.

Driving around Benz-crazy Seattle and San Francisco, it was fun to overtake a new-generation Mercedes sedan and try to guess if it was a C-Class or the flagship S-Class, as the similarity in styling between the two cars is striking. They will be joined in this corporate look by the all-new E-Class, due out in a few weeks.

Sadly lacking in most new Benz sedans is the historic three-pointed star hood ornament. The C-Class is available with a Luxury Package that includes this feature, but it is nearly impossible to find one. The largest Benz dealer in the country, in Southern California, has several hundred C300s in stock and none of them have the stand-up star. There are a few available on the East Coast and Midwest, but each one is a four-wheel-drive variant.

Interior

I would imagine most prospects cross-shopping the C300 against the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 would choose the Benz for its elegant interior alone. From the aluminum toggle switches to the sweeping center stack that blends into the console to the black ash wood on our tester in which you can actually feel the grain, the environs are simply beautiful.

I must award Mercedes-Benz the honor of having The Best Placed Control Button of 2016 for its placement of the defeat switch for the annoying engine Start/Stop feature. It sits on the center console exactly where your right hand rests upon entry, so you’ll never forget to turn it off.

Kudos also to the Benz cruise control system. It easily allows you to vary your speed by 1 and 5 mile per hour increments and smoothly brakes the car on downhills. Why do most cars make you turn on the cruise control and then set the cruise? In this car, setting your speed activates the cruise.

The 14-way adjustable power seats proved comfortable and supportive during our long vacation. Being long-legged, I appreciated the support of the seat extender feature. And, yes, the seats are covered in Mercedes’ fake leather, MB Tex, as are 90-percent of its vehicles. I swear MB Tex looks more like genuine leather with each new model.

Having a 36-inch inseam also means I have to slide the seat forward so adults can fit in the back seat. The C300 is rated as a five passenger vehicle, but I assume that means three children in the back. Two adults can ride there in comfort, albeit with limited headroom, particularly in models with the optional panorama sunroof.

The pano roof features a see-through sunshade, which means it may let in too many rays in the summer here in Arizona. Most other Benz vehicles have a solid sunshade.

The C300 features fold-down rear seats and a 12.6 cubic foot trunk, nearly identical in size to that in its big brother E-Class.

Infotainment

As I noted in my recent review of the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE350, the 8.4 inch infotainment screen propped up on the dash in newer Benz models is not so bad in person vs. the pics that caused a million internet commentators to howl “ugly!” Its graphics are much improved and it sits closer to driver’s eye level than before.

My single biggest complaint about the C300 is the needless complexity of the new generation Comand system. It seems a function that used to take one or two button clicks or twirls of the rotary controller now takes five or six.

Memo to Mercedes-Benz: this is a car, not a website. More clicks is bad!

Having to mix and mash the controls from the four function options — the old fashion buttons, the voice control, the rotary controller and the new touchpad — is frustrating.

The C-Class cars have yet to receive the cool Apple CarPlay app as we tested in the GLE350. This model does offer the use of the MB Companion app to control many functions from afar. My favorite is its ability to find destinations in your smartphone and instantly send them to the Comand navigation system. Ironically, the nav system will not allow you to drive and enter addresses at the same time, but you can drive and type in addresses on the app on your phone.

Driving

My concern about the performance of my first-ever four-cylinder Benz was quickly put to rest. Though a bit coarse at times, the responsive motor is generally smooth and has tons of torque to propel the C300 from 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds.

This car replaced my 2015 Volkswagen GTI, which I wrote had “minimal turbo lag.” I hereby retract that statement. The C300 truly has next-to-zero turbo lag. It can be felt for a microsecond at certain throttle position, but only if you are concentrating on finding it. The average consumer will never notice.

The seven-speed transmission shifts smoothly and responds instantly to the paddle shifters. The just-released C300 Coupe features a new nine-speed transmission, which will probably find its way into C sedans soon.

A run up California’s mountainous Highway 1 from the U.S. 101 to Mendocino was surprisingly entertaining, with the C300 cornering flat and staying neutral while motoring at perhaps 80 percent of its handling potential due to numerous blind corners. (But how many of us so-called “enthusiasts” really drive at more than 80%?) My only quibble was that the initial response to steering input was a bit lazy, even while in “Sport” mode.

This C300 comes equipped with the Sport Package group, which includes the choice of 18- or 19-inch wheels plus a “Sport Tuned Suspension.” (Geez, is there any automaker that does NOT use that description?) This car’s ride with the 18-inch wheels can be a bit harsh on rough roads, though typical Mercedes smooth on most other surfaces. Opting for the base or Luxury Package models with their 17 inch wheels will deliver a better ride.

The C300 is quiet and comfortable, quick enough for most folks, is loaded with advanced safety features and returns good fuel mileage. With transaction prices in the mid-$40,000s for a well-equipped C300, it is the best value in the Mercedes-Benz lineup and an excellent small luxury vehicle.

The new C-Class line has ventured into E-Class territory, but that will change shortly with the arrival of the redesigned E and its even more over-the-top interior. For the first time, the E-Class will come standard with a four-cylinder motor, the same engine featured here. Although it works well in the C300, it will be interesting to see the media’s reaction to this “C” change.

Disclosure: This C300 is one of the writer’s current Mercedes-Benz retiree lease vehicles, which are subsidized by Mercedes-Benz USA. He is the author of Arrogance and Accords: The Inside Story of the Honda Scandal.

[Images: © 2016 Steve Lynch/The Truth About Cars, cockpit photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz]

Steve Lynch
Steve Lynch

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  • Abqhudson Abqhudson on Jun 12, 2016

    Crappy tires, no spare, and very coarse engine. No thanks. IF you can find a 2014, go for it - wonderful cars.

  • Andrew Andrew on Jun 13, 2016

    I like the way these cars look but one thing about them bothers the snot out of me and it's something Audi and Porsche are now guilty of, too: flashing the brake lights for the turn signal like it's Topeka in 1957. But the thing that gets me most about these C-Class models is that if you look closely, they've got a nice amber bulb in a clear housing below the taillights. But throw that turn signal on and what does it do? Flash the brake light. *bangs head on desk in frustration*

    • Derekson Derekson on Jun 13, 2016

      This is an issue of the US DOT lighting regulations. The *actual* taillights are LED units with LED turn signals, but since they are LED turn signals they are really tiny. And the USDOT regs require a minimum *area* for turn signals, not brightness.

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.
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