After a period of indifference, Mercedes-Benz seems to be welcoming back the driver of late. Five years ago the Merc range had gone a bit wallowy, but of late they’ve been hitting balls out of the park with sharp, involving machines like the SLS AMG and the new CLS.
Now we have the refreshed C-Class. This C350 is the top of the range before you start adding AMG letters to the boot lid, and although it doesn’t look a world apart from previous versions, Mercedes says there are some 2000 new parts here. Most notably, many of the parts are now aluminium, including the bonnet and front wings, which removes weight.
Of most interest though is the new engine; an all-new 3.5-litre V6 with 302bhp (34 more than the outgoing model), that’s been designed to be far more frugal than the lump it replaces. More than 30 percent more frugal in fact, and accordingly the car sports a BlueEfficiency badge on its side; the designation for Mercs with a fuel economy they feel is worth boasting about.
So, more power from less fuel; sounds good to us. And feels good too; on the move the new engine’s effortless grunt means 0-100kph comes up in six seconds dead, which is firmly in the ‘brisk’ category. It’s not more than that; the delivery isn’t savage or jerky, it’s just quick, and the seven-speed auto gearbox has a similar character. It’s not a lightning bolt in its operation, but it’s fast and responsive enough to make pushing the M for Manual button a regular occurrence whenever the road opens up and traffic thins out.
The base cost for the C350 in these parts is $45,850, but our test car was fitted with pretty much all available options, taking the cost up to $67,150. Yeek. The chief culprits for this wallet bashing are the COMAND online facility ($2640), which will let you cruise the internet from the car’s computer system using your phone’s 3G package
The AMG Sports Package ($2140) gives this particular car its more aggressive looks, but also speed-sensitive power steering and a dynamic handling package, which lets the driver tighten up the suspension. We’ve not tried the car without this option, but we like the result: predictable sharp handling with steering that’s not exactly Caterham-like in its directness, but certainly a lot better than the systems fitted to the majority of cars on sale today.
Fiddle through the dash-board electronic menus and you can loosen the electronic reigns; there’s just about enough power to wag the C350’s tail, and there’s enough give in the stability control to let you have some fun without intervening prematurely. It’s a predictable machine when driving hard, which is a great quality for a car to have. It’s direct and tight enough at the front end to be engaging, but it’s planted, balanced and boasts plenty of lateral mechanical grip. It’s instantly accessible and never scary at pace.
Such performance often comes at the expense of comfort, which let’s face it is likely to be the primary concern of most buyers. But the suspension is supple and able to soak up everything modern motoring throws at it. The adaptive cruise control is the best we’ve sampled yet and the stereo system with iPod integration sounds great. The interior is beautifully made from quality materials, all of which means that longer trips are dispatched in style and comfort, just as they should be in a car of this type.
The C350 is still, in essence, an executive car, a four-door saloon built to be at home in the company car park, and it’s very good at that core task. But it’s more than that; it’s agile, engaging and capable of hustling very well indeed when the need arises. It’s very close to being the best of both worlds, and we really like it.