The new engine found in the Mercedes C-Class is proof that when the German automaker has a good thing, it's smart enough to spread it around. The 3.5-liter V6 is steadily making its way through the luxury brand's model lineup.
After debuting in the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK two-seater, the lightweight engine, which features an aluminum block and cylinder heads, displaced the E-Class sedan's 3.2-liter engine earlier this year. And now it's part of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class family, available in the smaller C350.
Dueling German Horsepower
For 2006, the 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter C320 sedan becomes the latest casualty in the escalating horsepower war the manufacturer is waging with its Bavarian rival, BMW. After years of the BMW 330i eating its lunch with its healthier 225 hp, Mercedes has had enough. Just as BMW is about to pull the wraps off its revamped 255-hp 330i sedan, Mercedes is moving in for the kill with the 268-hp, 3.5-liter C350. Sounds like BMW 3 Series drivers better start checking their rearview mirrors.
If the horsepower jump isn't enough to grab you by the short hairs, the increase in torque will. With 258 pound-feet of torque, the Mercedes' V6 destroys BMW's new 3.0-liter inline six, which will be rated at 220 lb-ft, and gives the C350 some serious thrust.
With its smooth revs and throaty new exhaust note, the C350 Mercedes drives much sportier than the C320. There's plenty of torque to be found throughout the wide power band, making the charge off the line as fun the 50th time as it was the first. As in the C320, it continues to be rear-wheel drive with a 4Matic all-wheel-drive option.
Seven Speeds, No Waiting
Like the pint-sized SLK roadster, the C350 Mercedes comes standard with a six-speed manual, which is a major upgrade over the old six-speed gearbox. The C350's reworked linkage inspires confidence through the shift pattern with buttery-smooth action and a solid feel. The clutch is nicely weighted, not overly heavy or annoying while sitting in traffic.
Aiding hard-driving pursuits while helping take the heat off your gas pump credit card is an optional seven-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually using steering wheel-mounted buttons. Serious sport sedan enthusiasts may claim that a manual transmission is necessary to extract maximum entertainment from the driving experience, but Mercedes has made this automatic shift so quickly and efficiently, it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to exercise their clutch foot unnecessarily. In fact, Mercedes states the same 0-62-mph time of 6.4 seconds with both transmissions. The C350 4Matic version retains the old five-speed automatic.
Despite the notable increase in performance, Mercedes also says fuel economy is improved by 12 percent over the C320's old V6, largely due to the efficiency of continuously variable valve timing and a two-stage intake manifold.
Familiar Style and Safety
Outside the cabin, the only visible clue to the new power plant tucked under the hood is the simple rear deck badge. Like the C320, the C350 sedan will continue to divide itself into both Luxury and Sport trims; Luxury offering a more traditional leather and wood-trimmed cabin, and the Sport model includes aluminum trim, a three-spoke steering wheel with thumb rests and larger wheels and tires.
In addition to predictable safety features, such as four-wheel antilock disc brakes and three-point seatbelts with tension limiters for all occupants, every C-Class offers stability control and eight airbags that include head-protecting side curtain airbags.
More Bang, Same Buck
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Mercedes-Benz C350's specification sheet is the price. Although pricing hasn't been officially released, and won't be until just before the C350 goes on sale this summer, Mercedes officials report the cost should be comparable to the current C320, which starts at just over $38,000.
Although previously disregarded as a true sport sedan, this new, more powerful C350 Mercedes should earn a spot on any BMW shopper's short list.
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