We know the flashy side of Mercedes-Benz. We know the technological whiz-bangery with which it infuses the S-Class; the segment-creating swoopiness of the coupe-style CLS; the insane twin-turbo V12s that transform simple cars into interplanetary starships; transmissions with more gears than fingers on a high-school shop teacher. And then there's the Maybach subdivision — electro-transparent panorama roof, anyone?
But what's there for the rest of us? The folks who can't — or won't — spend $200K for the latest and greatest über sport sedan, yet still want a piece of the techno-glitz? Well, there's hope in the form of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The new Mercedes C300 draws on years of Mercedes-Benz research and innovation to deliver the goods without the high cost and reliability issues of unproven technologies. Triple distilled, condensed and aged, the C300 Sport could be the finest Mercedes-Benz you've never daydreamed about.
What We Bought
Mercedes offers the 2008 C300 in two flavors: Luxury and Sport. Guess which one we chose? While the Luxury variant's well-appointed, leather-upholstered interior had a certain allure, we couldn't tear our eyes away from the AMG-inspired detailing of the Sport. Both cars pack a 228-horsepower 24-valve, 3.0-liter V6. Both models have an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and dual-zone climate control. Both the C300 Sport and Luxury can even run on E85.
Only the C300 Sport, however, has cool aluminum trim on the doors, shift knob and dash. The Sport also offers an active suspension and an optional six-speed manual transmission. Yet as much as we would have loved to add another stick-shift sport sedan to our garage, the overwhelming number of automatics sold in this genre sent us following the masses, so we purchased a car with the seven-speed automatic for an additional $1,440.
When our staff heard, there was an uproar. The decision makes perfect sense, but to quell a rebellion by clutch-craving hot-heads, we tried to buy them off with accessories. The iPod Integration Kit ($375) and Panorama Sunroof ($1,000) were a good start, but they were still rowdy. New wheels always help and the 18-inch AMG five-spokers fit the bill. Though they look stunning, mentioning AMG around these folks just brought them back to thinking fast and wanting to shift their own gears. The Multimedia Package ($2,950) calmed them, as it offers a 7-inch retractable screen, 30GB hard drive, satellite-based navigation, a CD/DVD changer, PCMCIA slot for SD or CF memory cards and a 12-speaker, 450-watt Harman Kardon Logic7 stereo upgrade. All of this is controlled by a knob on the center console.
Steel-gray metallic is one of four different exterior silvers that Mercedes makes available for drivers who never want to be able to find their cars in a large parking lot. Meanwhile, the interior upholstery features a black, animal-free substance known as "MB Tex" that feels as nice as leather but without the smell, and we're looking forward to seeing how it holds up to near-constant abuse.Mercedes-Benz of South Bay in Torrance, California, handled the deal, and we handed them a check for $39,450.
Why We Bought It
During a recent test of five sport sedans, the 2008 Mercedes C350 finished 5th, as in Dead Last. It's not often that we give a last-place finisher in a comparison a slot in our long-term fleet. It's less often we then choose the smaller, less powerful engine. But too much power may have been (for the first time in our lives), the problem. With 268 hp from its 3.5-liter V6, the C350 has some devilish competition in the form of the BMW 335i, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G35 and Lexus IS 350. It was simply overmatched by some of the best vehicles in the world today.
Nevertheless, the new C-Class represents some real progress by Mercedes in this market segment. As Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot said for our comparison test: "The C350 Sport's unique appeal depends on what appears to be good build quality (a reaction to surprisingly poor quality ratings for this car in its previous iteration) and a stellar multimedia package (a $2,950 option) that combines a premium audio system with hard-drive music storage and a brilliant navigation system with an impressively easy-to-use interface."
Once we selected the 3.0-liter V6, the price dropped sufficiently to make this car a more practical choice than the competition. Yet the Sport configuration gave it the equipment and road manners that caught our attention in the first place. While it's not the first pick for canyon carving, it is a sublime choice for everyday commuting.
The larger question here will be the C-Class' long-term reliability, as Mercedes' reputation for quality has declined significantly in recent years, especially where the C-Class has been concerned. If Mercedes has picked up its game — and improved the function and reliability of its electronics in particular — the cost-conscious C-Class should be the car in the Mercedes line most likely to show the improvement first.
Stay tuned to the Edmunds.com long-term logbook as we see if the new, larger Mercedes star shines with the same brightness it once had.
Current Odometer: 3,015
Best Fuel Economy: 23.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 16.7 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 20.3 mpg
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.