2008 Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport: Big Wheels, No Thanks
December 18, 2008
There's no good reason for this car to have 18-inch wheels. You can paint it up like a DTM racing car if you want, but it's still never going to be sports sedan.
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.
And then Americans take our Mercs and put the biggest wheels we can find on them and spoil the whole thing.
Americans are dope fiends for big wheels. It all started with the impulse to get more cornering grip and crisper steering response from wider, short-sidewall tires, but over time things have devolved into enthusiasm for wheels, not tires. Wheels are all sparkly, and they seem to send us into the same trance you see in people standing in front of the accessories rack at Pep Boys.
Our 2008 Mercedes-Benz C300 suffers the curse of big wheels. We've got $1,010 of 18-inch AMG wheels carrying 225/40ZR18 tires in front and 255/35ZR18 tirs in the back. What we're supposed to get is quicker steering response and improved lateral stability, the kind of thing that's great on a curving freeway ramp. At the same time, we find ourselves skipping from crest to crest on the worn-out concrete slabs of the San Diego Freeway as if we were riding in a cheap fiberglass skiff. That's because the short tire sidewalls effectively increase the spring rates of the suspension, as there's less bump-absorbing compliance available from the tire.
The trade-off just doesn't work for me in this car. Mercedes might still be trying to persuade us that the C-class sedan is secretly a hot rod from the DTM racing series in Germany, but instead this car just seems like a taxi (although a real nice one) that's acting out. At least with the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, you get lots of horsepower in compensation.
There's always a trade-off in ordering big wheels and tires for any car, and the trade-off just doesn't work here. The big wheels and sporty tires enhance the C300's sporting personality too little and degrade its comfort quotient too much. There are times when big wheels are just a look, not a performance option, and this is one of them.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 19,520 miles