2010 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic Road Test Review

John Birchard - CAP staff
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In the car business, "entry-level" is a relative term. One person's entry level sedan is a Kia Rio, while another's might well be my recent tester – the Mercedes-Benz C300 with all-wheel drive known as 4Matic. Each is intended to bring a customer aboard the brand, to woo that customer with satisfaction exceeding expectations, so the next purchase will be up the ladder in the same family. 

Each entry-level car has its own attractions. In the case of the Mercedes, they are many and varied. First, there is the silver three-pointed star known from Rangoon to Romania, calling up images of power, prestige and suave sophistication. Driving behind that logo automatically gives one a leg up. But if that is all there were to these cars, far fewer would buy them. Most folks spend their hard-earned cash on a Mercedes-Benz because the vehicles from Stuttgart have demonstrated leadership in technology innovation, safety, performance and reliability. They buy because their doors slam with a satisfying "thunk," not a tinny "clink," even on the tiny B-Class. Because they deliver driver and passengers from point A to point B in a minimum of time, no fuss, no muss, no bother.

Entry-level in the case of the C300, stripped of all options, means an MSRP of $41,200. Certainly Mercedes sells its C-Class for less, with an even more entry-level C250 starting things off at $35,800 and a C250 4Matic for $39,500. And let's not forget the B200 at $29,900. My test car, the C300 Sport with 4Matic, had a base price of $44,900. Several option packages and the destination charge hiked that up closer to $50k. Of course, if you really want performance, you can select the AMG version that will set you back $63,500. Hardly an entry-level price!

So what does one get with this "poor man's" Benz? You get a four-door, five-passenger sedan, powered by an aluminum V6 featuring double overhead camshafts and variable valve timing. The engine makes 228 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 221 pound-feet of torque between 2,700 and 5,000 rpm. The test car's transmission was a seven-speed automatic with Touch Shift manual controls. The suspension is four-wheel independent with coil springs, gas shocks and stabilizer bars, and anti-dive and anti-squat geometry. The brakes are four-wheel vented discs with ABS and Brake Assist. The car's curb weight, with 4Matic, is 1,695 kilos (3,737 pounds). The all-wheel drive only adds 65.7 kilograms (145 pounds) to the total. Due to a number of measures to minimize the energy needed to turn the extra hardware, fuel efficiency has been improved. EPA equivalent estimates (more conservative than the overly optimistic Canadian system) rate it at 13.0 L/100km in the city and 9.4 on the highway. Premium gas is required.

The exterior styling of the car is quintessentially Mercedes. From the bold, three-pointed star in the centre of the grille to the sculpted rising line along the sides, to the deeper rear apron with twin exhausts tipped in chrome, the C300 for 2010 is both new and familiar. The look is not entry-level. And it's also not a brick when it comes to aerodynamics. The drag is measured at a mere 0.29, which is pretty slippery.

The interior is businesslike in black -- sober, responsible. The gauges are clear and readable. Most switches, levers and buttons are appropriately placed and work well. But I do have a criticism: the placement of the cruise control stalk. It's above the turn signal stalk and frequently when driving this and other Mercedes, I have accidentally hit the cruise control when I intended to activate a turn signal. I question this placement as a safety matter.

Rob Moran of Mercedes-Benz explains that there is "logic to its design." He says, "Our safety experts feel that having two hands on the steering wheel – at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock is paramount to safety. Therefore, we place the stalk at the 11 o'clock position to allow a simple finger adjustment of the cruise control stalk, while maintaining both hands on the wheel at the proper position. While I understand that this may be a departure from other vehicles, it does work quite well with continued operation." All due respect to Rob and his engineers, but one shouldn't have to drive a car for a year to learn what lever is where, especially when the confusion is between cruise control and turn signals. And I'm not the only crotchety journalist who feels this way.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show? There's not much to criticize in the C300. While 227 horsepower doesn't sound like a big deal in this era when the bidding starts at 300 and rapidly escalates, the V6 moves the 1,700-kilo vehicle from a stoplight smartly (company says 7.3 sec from zero to 100 km/h -- top speed is 210 km/h or 130 mph). The seven-speed automatic is smooth as peach fuzz, but the shifter is a bit notchy. The big disc brakes are up to expectations. The ride and the seats are firm in the German manner, but comfortable all the same. The available four-way power lumbar adjustment on the driver's seat makes it just that much better. There's not a whole lot of legroom in the rear. But the wide-swinging doors provide easy access. At 351 litres (12.4 cubic feet) capacity, the trunk is quite large for the class. Handling is crisp and agile, reminiscent of a smaller car. The cabin is quiet. Under most circumstances, the 4Matic all-wheel drive unit is virtually undetectable.

If the C-Class is Mercedes' way of enticing prospective customers into trying one of the brand's sedans, in my estimation they have whipped up a winning recipe. The C300 gives one a sampling of the build quality, technology, comfort, power and, yes, the image to be found in its more elaborate and expensive four-door siblings. And while the C-Class owner might have misty visions of one day driving an E, S or AMG, he or she can feel satisfaction knowing one form of the Real Deal is already in the family garage.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Luxury Sedan, Mercedes, Mercedes-Benz, 2010, C Class, C-Class, C300 4Matic, $40,000 - $49,999,

Organizations: Mercedes-Benz

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