The compact luxury category has become one of the hottest in the United States this year, with many of these new vehicles winning over U.S. buyers who want luxury import status in a small, relatively affordable package.
The C-Class is the best selling Mercedes-Benz model, and was reborn in its current iteration with two target buyers in mind: those looking for luxury with comfort and those seeking sporty luxury. The latter was the vehicle we selected to explore in the megalopolis of New York City on both inner city aggressive stop-and-go chaotic roads and on surrounding gridlocked interstates and expressways.
We liked the stiffer ride, sharper handling, and slightly different twist on the classic Benz look that the C300 Sport offered.
While Luxury models wear the iconic three-pointed star perched on top of the front hood, the C-Class Sport can be identified by a bold star in the front grille, usually reserved for coupes and convertibles. Sport models also come with standard AMG styling, including deeper front and rear aprons as well as sculpted rocker panels.
The ground effects body kit features a new front and rear fascia, integrated fog lamps, and a large opening under the three-bar grille. Large feline-like headlights with eyebrows keep the contemporary appearance going, while side skirts run the length of the car. At the rear of the trunklid, a slight up-turn replaces the need for an add-on spoiler, while still adding a measure of downforce.
The 2011 models received daytime LED lights similar to the rest of the Benz lineup.
Our 2011 C300 Sport came equipped with a smooth 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual are standard, while the internationally renowned 4-Matic all-wheel drive system, which adds cost (and weight) to the C’s bottom line, was on our tester. Our C300 Sport offered a more taut suspension than is typical to the Mercedes-Benz demographic, as well as interior and exterior styling bits designed to look and feel more splashy.
The staggered-width, five-spoke 17-inch wheels on the Sport model are beautifully designed, and participate in a working orchestra of sport shocks, springs, and stabilizer bars, creating a crisper ride and a half-inch lower ride height than the Luxury model. The Sport model comes with a three-spoke steering wheel and aluminum trim surround, but several different woods are also available.
New to the C-Class is an “Eco/Sport” button, which in Sport mode, reduces understeer and body lean. Selecting Sport quickens throttle response, increases steering sensitivity, and raises shift points for maximum performance. In the Eco mode, shift points are lowered, and the vehicle starts off in second gear for optimized fuel economy. We tested both, and learned that Eco sedates everything a few notches and takes away much of the fun, while Sport inspires greater confidence for faster, aggressive driving, as well as rapidly accelerating from a stop, which was a must for us in Manhattan’s madness.
All C-Class models boast Agility Control, which provides the benefits of both soft and stiff shock absorbers. Each twin-tube shock absorber is fitted with a hydraulic by-pass piston that acts like a very soft shock absorber to dampen road noise and tire vibration. However, over NYC’s pothole ridden expressways, endlessly uneven due to steel construction plates at nearly every turn, the by-pass piston was out of the picture, preserving the outstanding steering and handling response of a stiffer shock absorber.
Parameter Steering, also known as speed-sensitive steering, helps the car feel like both the perfect city car and the highway cruiser, matching steering performance appropriately. Wearing AMG wheels does not make this a hot-rod but the C300 Sport still had enough pep to get us up to highway speeds pronto and able to fly freely in the left lane when released from gridlock.
After debuting on the current-gen S-Class sedan, the latest version of the Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system is optional on both the C300 Sport and the C300 Luxury models. The 4MATIC system features full-time all-wheel-drive that aids the driver during inclement weather and provides even better performance in dry conditions.
Braking performance was superb, with the pads rubbing against the monster rotors for quick, short-distance stops. They instilled a great deal of confidence in an area of driving that demands consistent, abrupt stops.
The C300 Sport weighs in at 3,527 lbs, and felt planted to the ground at all times. The EPA says the C300 achieves mileage ratings of 18-MPG city, 25-MPG highway.
Our C300 Sport model was equipped with the Premium II Package, which can be perceived as professionally conservative. With nearly a totally black interior, it featured chrome and aluminum accents on the climate control surrounds, center console, and the doors.
We loved the pop-out 7-inch screen of the COMAND (cockpit management and data system), which gave us a whimsical jack-in-the-box type thrill each time the engine was started and stopped. If you seek more style, we recommend you consider opting for the two-toned interior with wood, bringing added naturalistic warmth to the vehicle.
The COMAND system was lacking in several ways, the main one being that the navigation voice was grammatically awkward with its bizarre voice inflections and highly disjointed hesitations, incongruent with how the human mind processes information. For example, it says, “Turn Left” and then about five seconds later, “in 200 feet.” In an intensely urban environment, this was exceedingly annoying.
Factor in the many times its GPS or map database was incorrect, where at several points it commanded us directly into head-on traffic on a one-way street, and you’d understand our beef with the system. COMAND stores maps for all of North America on a 40-gigabyte hard drive, which can have music stored to it as well.
Fortunately, the COMAND system didn’t integrate all of the good stuff in the C300. Our car had all the extras including the new multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, a 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, auto-dimming mirrors and the optional iPod integration kit.
A display in the center of the speedometer is linked to the 12-button multi-function steering wheel, allowing the driver to scroll through very helpful information. The high-res display can show phone and audio system data including radio station ID, CD track or iPod playlist as well as range, fuel mileage and oil temperature. Since our car had the navigation system, the display showed helpful and simplified next-turn directions as well.
The Bluetooth system worked exceptionally well, which we hypothesized is due to the quieter interior and overall higher quality system integrated into the vehicle, rather than this being an afterthought.
An eight-speaker audio system includes an "aux" connector for iPod-type devices and Bluetooth streaming audio so that your phone can remain in your pocket or purse while operated through the system controls.
The 2011 C-Class comes with all the safety features expected from Mercedes-Benz – from four-wheel disc brakes and anti-lock brakes, to traction control and stability control. All C-Class models boast nine airbags, including front, front thorax, rear thorax, side curtain, and a knee air bag for the driver. All provide extra protection for front and rear outboard occupants in dangerous collisions.
Also standard is Mercedes-Benz’s lifesaving SOS/Emergency Call system, which in the event of an accident uses collision sensors to automatically send a signal with vehicle location information to an mbrace Emergency Specialist, who assesses the situation and sends appropriate help. An SOS button can voluntarily and manually be pushed in the event you or another vehicle is in need of help.
What you get with the C300 is a fun to drive personal sized sport sedan that can easily cart four adults around for a night on the town or a road trip between towns. The balance between luxury, fuel economy, power, and price, starting around $35k, is well worth it if you seek the presence, status, and solidity of a Mercedes-Benz.
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