From the flagship S-Class to the entry level C-Class, the Mercedes-Benz nameplate is synonymous with quality. But as the three-pointed star of Mercedes began to be stretched over more and more models during the last decade, the brand's reputation for quality began to slip. Recent generations of Mercedes, notably the lower-end models, have been plagued by quality issues in increasing frequency. For 2008 Mercedes turned its focus back to quality and it started by revamping the C-Class line.
Once we purchased an example of the all-new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C300, we had the opportunity to evaluate the improvements. Would this new generation return the C-Class to its glory days and quell the ailing quality reputation of Mercedes before things grew out of hand? We would find out. We would also encounter an unexpected factor in this test: the importance of good service at a trustworthy dealership.
There is more to driving a Mercedes-Benz C300 than the glamour of its badge. A reliable dealer experience can make or break the ownership experience. Unfortunately, we were nearly broken by our service center of choice.
Why We Bought It
Mercedes introduced an all-new C-Class for 2008, a real sign of progress for the brand in this segment. This new C300 is an attempt by Mercedes to polish the tarnished image of previous-generation C-Class models and the questions surrounding their reliability.
Our comparisons of the C350 with its competitors revealed that even this C-Class with a 3.5-liter V6 is generally underpowered among its peers. But the less expensive C300 offers the same finely finished interior, multimedia system and refinement as the C350. We were curious to see whether the faux leather would stand up to our kids. How easily could we sync our tunes with the dedicated iPod connector? Would the pop-up radio display break over time? The questions were already beginning.
A long-term Cadillac CTS was also days from entering the fleet. We looked forward to comparisons between the two entry-level luxury sedans. A check was cut, the C300 Sport purchased and our long-term test began.
Inside Line Executive Editor Michael Jordan wrote on the long-term blog pages, "Until you drive cross-country, you'll never understand just how good a Mercedes-Benz really is. It goes down the road with a purpose, but all the rough edges have been smoothed down from long experience with the whole vehicle engineering thing, so everything works with the sure, carefully damped action of the turn-signal stalk on a Mercedes S-Class sedan." This characteristic persona of the brand extends to all classes of Mercedes sedan, including our entry-level C300.
Inside the cabin we found the dark interior of the C300 nearly impervious to time. Its MB Tex cow-free leather was remarkably durable, and with the exception of a tear on the driver's door grab handle, there were no signs of excessive wear in the cabin after 22,000 miles of service. So far, we found the quality concerns of prior generations absent.
Senior Editor Erin Riches appreciated the Mercedes' down-to-business character. She noted, "It's not trying to coddle me or make me feel something about the C300 that I shouldn't really be feeling. All it does is put me in the right position to drive and manage the controls. And while this isn't a car that inspires me to take in any really interesting roads, I know wherever we go, it will be an orderly affair."
We did encounter some usability problems with the C300. One such complaint surfaced when Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig popped the glovebox to use the dedicated iPod connector. He explained, "Once connected, I got a three-pointed star on my iPod, but nothing on the car's main audio screen. I was expecting a full menu of my music rather than the 'auxiliary' message it gave me. Switching songs isn't done with dashboard controls either. You have to use the steering wheel buttons. And even then you don't have full control, merely the ability to scroll from one song to the next. I expected more functionality from a dedicated connector."
We were confounded by the iPod connector until Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds learned its secret. Edmunds posted, "Press the telephone icon button on the steering wheel and the Merc goes from 'this sucks' to 'wow, this is great' in 5.1 seconds." The lack of an operator's manual caused our initial frustration. But once we made sense of the iPod connection the Benz grew in popularity.
Road Test Editor Brian Moody spent a considerable amount of time with the Mercedes. He commented, "Sadly, there is a problem with the C300. The rear seats are sculpted too narrow, making it very difficult to install my kid's booster seat. It's near impossible to clip the seatbelt in. My 6-year-old usually does it himself, but not in the C-Class. Maybe my Graco booster is too wide? Regardless, it is a hassle. Buying a new $40 booster seat that fits isn't the end of the world, but I'd sure like to know this before I bought the car."
Long-term durability was our leading reason for purchasing a C300. Recalls and problem history were followed closely, and are really the story here. There were no recalls during our ownership, but we still had a fair number of problems with our Benz. Collectively they taught us a very important lesson. We learned how important locating a trustworthy and competent dealership is to the ownership experience.
With 3,500 miles on the Benz, we discovered that the rear sunshade portion of our panorama roof would not open. It also began to rattle. And just about this time the switch to operate the sunroof broke off. We headed to Mercedes-Benz of Long Beach. We chose this dealership for one reason. It is conveniently located. Past repairs had been performed to our satisfaction, but there was always a general air of disorganization. Some days we saw the A-game and others no game at all. We were curious to ride it out and see what came next.
Brian Moody received the call saying our C300 was ready for pick up. Moody recalls, "Our advisor looked at me and said, 'We did nothing to the rear sunroof shade. The tech thought I meant rear window shade. Since your car doesn't have one of those, he disregarded my comments completely.' Here's the best part. I brought my 18-month-old daughter with me. Hear her screaming in the background? A few hours after I left in a dealer-supplied Toyota Camry, our advisor called with the news they needed to order parts. On back order from Germany, it would take 2-3 weeks. Now I get to choose whether to drive a slightly busted C300 or this four-cylinder Camry LE rental. This isn't a choice any Benz owner should ever have to make."
Three weeks later we received the call. Parts had arrived from Germany. We delivered the C300 and our phone rang a few hours later. Our advisor skipped over cordial greetings and dove right in. "Sir, we lowered the headliner to install the part and realized that we need more parts to complete the repair. Sorry, we should have caught this the last time it was here." We appreciated the no-excuses apology, but it still meant another 7-10 business days for the additional parts to arrive. By the time parts were installed and the problem fixed, we were fed up with this dealership. Then the engine light came on.
We hadn't located a replacement dealership when the engine light first illuminated at 11,000 miles. By 11,005 miles it turned off. Then it was on again. We swallowed our pride and returned to Long Beach. There was an open service bulletin for our problem. A camshaft position sensor set off the light. Within hours the problem was solved by replacing the right-side cam solenoid. A missing door lock plunger was also replaced during this trip at no charge. Suddenly it seemed the dealership had its act together.
We gave the dealer another shot when it came due for the 13,000-mile Service A. The going rate was $230. Since the 5,000-mile service was free, we didn't bat an eye at this charge. In hindsight it looked even better. This was our only scheduled service charge through 22,000 miles of ownership.
At the 19,000-mile mark we brought the C300 back for a small list of items we wanted to remedy prior to selling the car. There was another roof rattle, an errant rock had busted the foglamp, the front-end alignment was off and a rubber molding popped off the parking brake pedal. Charges for the new foglamp and alignment ran the bill to $385, while rattle stuffing and the brake molding replacement fell under warranty. We waited one day for the foglamp to arrive. The following day we left with a hole in our wallets and a new respect for Mercedes-Benz of Long Beach.
Tires made up our only other major expenses with the C300. When the rear took a nail too near the sidewall it was replaced. A sidewall bubble in the front tire spurned its demise. We spent just over $575 to replace both tires.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 18 months): $231.91
Additional Maintenance Costs: $386.12 alignment and foglamp, $576.27 tires
Warranty Repairs: Broken sunroof switch, roof rattles, cam solenoid
Non-Warranty Repairs: Foglamp replacement
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 3
Days Out of Service: 2
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
From a stop the Benz reached 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. Its 3.0-liter V6 pulled the C300 through the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds at 91.5 mph. From 60 mph the Mercedes needed a mere 114 feet to reach a stop. That is very good in this class.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton commented following the C300's 0.89g run around the skid pad, "It is amazingly easy to maintain an arc all the way around with zero steering input, only throttle. It has gobs of grip and talkative steering."
Over time we recorded all ranges of fuel economy with the C300. A day at the test track delivered 8 mpg, while a mostly highway drive downhill on an empty stomach scored a best tank of 30 mpg. We averaged only 20 mpg overall, however.
Best Fuel Economy: 30.0 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 7.8 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 20.1 mpg
Our plan was to sell our 2008 Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport within one week. We searched for the best offer utilizing Carmax, an auto broker, Craigslist and Auto Trader. In the end we turned to Carmax, selling the Mercedes for $26,000. This reflected 34-percent depreciation from the $39,450 we paid for the C300 new, according to Edmunds' TMV® calculator.
True Market Value at service end: $28,199
What it sold for: $26,000
Depreciation: $13,450 or 34 percent of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 21,962
Quality control issues began taking a toll on Mercedes-Benz over recent years. These concerns were especially focused on lower-level models such as the C-Class. Mercedes hoped the introduction of an all-new C would quiet the cynics. But after 18 months with the 2008 C300 we found quality improvements are an ongoing process. Our C300 had its fair share of problems during this test. None that would strand us beside the road, to be sure. But little things add up.
In dealing with the problems we encountered, a lesson was learned. A trustworthy and competent dealer for service items makes a difference. We based our dealership decision on proximity to our homes and office, as most consumers do. But our reliance on this convenient location nearly backfired. On multiple occasions parts were ordered incorrectly or not at all. Customer service levels ranged from nonexistent at times to acceptable, with no rhyme or reason. Were our expectations too high just because we were driving a Mercedes?
Choose a dealer and service advisor carefully. Realize that sometimes the individuals who care aren't at the shop around the corner.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.