- Choice of two distinct looks
- Smooth, responsive V-6 engines
- Sport model takes on the BMW 3-Series
- Lacks backseat legroom
- Base instrument panel plastics look drab
- Steering isn’t very communicative
More sport, more luxury, and more features for the money make the new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class a more attractive possibility.
The compact C-Class is the least-expensive model--and the smallest sedan--in Mercedes-Benz's U.S. lineup, and it's been completely redesigned for the 2008 model year. Most notably, the new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sets two distinct styles, with separate Luxury and Sport models that cater to different types of C-Class buyers.
The two models can be distinguished from afar, from the front especially, due to their very different front-end treatments. The Luxury follows tradition with the familiar chrome grille and three-pointed-star hood ornament; the Sport takes a new tack, with no hood ornament but rather a body-color, straked grille, and a large emblem in the middle of the grille. Inside, the two models have different trim (chrome and burl walnut wood for the Luxury, matte-aluminum or maple wood on the Sport), although the plastics used in the base Sport look somewhat drab. The Sport also gets a lowered, sport-tuned suspension, larger wheels, a sport braking system, and dual exhaust.
Two different V-6 engines are offered on the C-Class line--with model designations made accordingly. The C300 comes with a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6, while the C350 gets a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The C300 has a standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed automatic, but the C350 can only be had with the automatic. The C300 models are available with 4Matic all-wheel drive, a full-time system that reverts to sending 55 percent of power to the rear wheels when more isn't needed at a particular wheel.
At the top of the range is the exclusive C63 AMG (covered separately by TheCarConnection.com), which adds a 451-horsepower, 6.3-liter V-8 engine along with loads of performance equipment, including a sport suspension, Z-rated performance tires, bigger brakes, a sport exhaust, special AMG heated sport seats, a race timer, and plenty of additional appearance upgrades.
The two V-6 engines aren't that different from each other in normal driving, but the additional performance of the C350 is only noticeably during full-throttle acceleration or the most demanding mountain roads. The seven-speed automatic shifts smoothly, whether using the manual mode or not, and it downshifts quickly and decisively when needed.
The C-Class has a very well-controlled ride and stays flat in corners, with much crisper steering response than the former C-Class sedans--thanks in part to a quicker steering ratio. The steering isn't quite as direct in feel, though. A new so-called Agility Control suspension helps by mechanically adjusting damper settings to reduce body motion during spirited driving and sudden maneuvers, without a sacrifice in ride comfort.
Of the two models, the Sport allows better handling without any significant decrease in ride quality. In both models, the C-Class cabin stays quiet, with good isolation from the road, although you hear the engine when accelerating.
The C-Class's backseat is its single most significant weakness. Headroom is just adequate for average adults, but legroom is very tight, and unless the front seats are pulled far forward, most will not find it comfortable.
A twin-panel Panorama sunroof, dual-zone climate control, and Bluetooth are now standard on all models, including the base Luxury. Options have been streamlined into major packages and include heated seats, a rear sunshade, bi-xenon headlamps, and a lighting system with corner-illuminating fog lamps. An available entertainment system bring 4GB of music storage and accepts music on memory cards; there's also a DVD entertainment system and a voice-activated navigation system with a convenient pop-up display screen.
All C-Class models include dual front-side airbags and side-curtain bags, plus electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. Crash-test performance in the federal government's program is somewhat disappointing for a vehicle from a brand that's known for such high safety standards, with four-star results in frontal protection but five-star ratings in side impact. The IIHS rated the C-Class "good" in frontal impact but didn't test it in other areas.