The 2010 C-Class is aimed at two audiences, but in Sport form it approaches the BMW 3-Series for that elusive perfect blend of handling and ride.
Two V-6 engines provide the C-Class' power. The 2010 C300 offers up a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine, while the C350 Sport antes up a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The two V-6 engines are fairly similar in performance-ConsumerGuide comments that the "C300 models provide good acceleration" in all driving conditions-but the C350's added power is noticeable under full-throttle acceleration and in more sporting driving. Mercedes-Benz quotes a 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds for the C300, and 6.1 seconds for the C350; both are rated at a 130-mph top speed. Edmunds thinks the new C-Class models "are no quicker than the cars they replace" and calls performance estimates "somewhat optimistic." ConsumerGuide says they're "credible," though, and reports the performance "is stronger at all speeds, particularly in highway passing." Car and Driver adds the C350 is "powerful enough to make short work of tight passing situations as well as sorting out everyday traffic."
The C300 has a standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed automatic, but the C350 can only be had with the automatic. TheCarConnection.com's editors haven't experienced the manual-transmission C-Class; Kelley Blue Book muses that it "brings out the C300's playful side." The far more common seven-speed automatic shifts cleanly and offers a manual-shift mode for more engaged drivers, but it can feel slow to respond. Car and Driver says it's "milkshake smooth in full auto mode, with ratios well matched to the engine's broad torque band." Kelley Blue Book thinks the manual mode's a waste: "slow-to-come shift points make it more enjoyable to just leave the lever in the 'D' position." ConsumerGuide observes the "automatic transmission operates smoothly but can be slow to downshift for more power" and "slow to respond to manual shift inputs."
Fuel economy checks in at 18/26 mpg for the C300 Luxury and the C300 Sport with the manual transmission; it's 18/25 mpg for the Luxury AWD and for the Sport automatic. The C350 is rated at 17/25 mpg. The C-Class range is primarily rear-wheel drive, but the C300 can be ordered with 4Matic all-wheel drive, which is set with a 45:55 rear torque bias and shifts more torque to the front wheels as the rears begin to slip.
Handling in this generation of C-Class has improved greatly, and Sport models are ever closer to the standard set by BMW. Edmunds offers high praise: "this C-Class comes closer to the vaunted BMW 3 Series than ever before," thanks to its "substantially revised chassis." ConsumerGuide mentions the "surefooted aplomb and little body lean" the C-Class exhibits when cornering. All C-Class sedans have an Agility Control suspension, which uses mechanical switches to change suspension tautness and reduce body motion, while still giving the C-Class a well-controlled ride. "Despite its sportier character," Edmunds observes, "the C-Class is never harsh on the road." The same Sport/Comfort button that speeds up gearchanges and throttle response feeds more feel into the steering and stiffens the suspension. Even so, steering response is quicker in this new C-Class than in former versions, but it's not quite as direct as BMW's 3-Series. Cars.com agrees, claiming the "new C-Class offers a nice blend of ride comfort and handling performance," though "brake pedal feel is average."
The Sport versions are highly recommended by TheCarConnection.com, because the ride quality doesn't suffer much at all for its more aggressive tuning. The Sport sedan also gets bigger wheels and brakes, as well as a dual exhaust to go with its lower, more tightly sprung suspension. And for 2010, Mercedes-Benz is adding a "Dynamic Handling Package" to the rear-drive Sport sedans; it fits the suspension with electronically controlled shocks, even faster steering, and AMG 18-inch wheels.