Test Drive: Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Kennebunkport, Maine — My drive route from Kennebunkport to the infamous Mount Washington takes my driving partner and me through the scenic New England countryside populated with quaint towns and villages, sampling roads originally cut through ancient forests before cars were invented.

While the routes we drove may have dated back a couple hundred years, the cars we were driving were the latest Mercedes-Benz C-Class offerings including a redesigned version of the sedan and the awesome new C-Class AMG.? However, the big news is the very first C-Class coupe; Wow, it?s gorgeous!

The coupe?s extreme wedge-shaped silhouette ties the distinctive Mercedes-Benz radiator grille, long hood, steeply raked windshield and standard Panorama sunroof to a very short trunk lid covering an 11.7 cubic foot cargo space. ?Combined with large tires, which are pushed to the four corners of the car, the distinctive coupe looks both aggressive and elegant.

The coupe interior is furnished with four attractive bucket seats.? The front seats have deep side bolsters to support the driver and front seat passenger during hard cornering, but are still comfortable during long drives.? Like most coupes, the rear seats are a challenge to get in and out of, but once seated, they are surprisingly spacious for average size adults.

The business-like interior is designed to enhance the driving experience with precise and well-placed switchgear and a large three-ring instrument cluster with a new color digital display in the center of the speedometer.? The display is controlled by a steering wheel-mounted button that displays trip functions, phone, audio and the optional navigation system.? Many of the same functions are also controlled by a console-mounted electronic controller that replaces dozens of buttons and switches with a series of menus and sub-menus on the screen.? It?s sometimes difficult to remember where in the menu structure you wanted to go, but it?s better than many similar systems.

A 5.8-inch color screen, mounted just to the right of the instrument panel at the top of the center stack, displays Bluetooth, phone, wireless audio streaming and audio functions including an FM phase-diversity twin tuner, HD / AM / weather band radio, an MP3-compatible CD drive and a USB port.? Cars with the optional Multimedia package have a larger, seven-inch, screen and GPS navigation, rear-view camera and a 10 GB hard drive for music and photo storage.

Both the coupe and sedan come in several engine-defined trim levels: the C250 powered by a new 201-hp, direct injection, turbocharged 1.8-liter engine; ?the C350 Sport with its 302-hp direct injection 3.5-liter V-6 and the C63 AMG version with its 451-hp 6.3-liter naturally aspirated V-8. ?These engines produce impressive 0 to 60 acceleration times of 7.1 seconds, 5.9 seconds and 4.4 seconds respectively.? The new four-cylinder fuel economy is rated at 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.? The V-6 is 19/28 mpg and the AMG 13/19 mpg.

Obviously, the AMG is the most fun to drive with its jet-like acceleration and precise handling, but for normal day-to-day driving, I was most impressed with the new four-cylinder turbo.? It has good passing power, it?s very smooth and who can argue with better than 30 mpg in a luxury car.? If I were in the market for a car in this class, it would be a tough call between the four-cylinder and V-6 models.

A couple of other variations include a C300 sedan with standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive powered by a 228-hp 3.0-liter V-6 and theAMGDevelopment Package, which bumps the C63 horsepower to 481.? The C250 and C300 sedans are available in Sport or Luxury trims with accouterments matching the names.

All models have the latest version of the venerable seven-speed Mercedes automatic transmission, with the exception of the C63 AMG, which has the high-performance seven-speed double clutch automatic.

The C-Class has a noticeably stiff body structure and chassis thanks to the industry?s most intensive use of high-strength steel (70 percent) and innovative laser welding and bonding techniques.?? Combined with Mercedes-Benz?s unique four-wheel independent suspension, the C-Class displays precision handling with no noticeable body lean.

After a morning?s drive, we lunched at the foot of New Hampshire?s Mount Washington.?? Having grown up in Montana, the idea of a 6,288-foot mountain didn?t impress me, until I actually drove up the 8-mile route, which climbed 4,725 feet to the peak.? The road, which originally opened in 1861 snakes up the mountain to the top where the temperature has reached minus 47 degrees and the world record wind speed of 231 mph, was recorded there in 1934.? The top of Mt. Washington is like being on top of a 12 thousand foot peak in Montana.? ?When I reached the top, visibility was less than 50 feet and the wind was about 50 mph.? I thanked Mercedes-Benz that I was driving the C350 sedan instead of a team of horses like early adventurers.

Features new to the C-Class include an Adaptive Brake system that holds the vehicle from rolling back when starting on the hill and the Lane Keeping Assist that warned me when the car was drifting out of the lane.? It also has a function that warns the driver when they get drowsy and another that indicates when there is a vehicle in the blind spot.

You can actually buy a Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport Sedan for $35,675 including the destination charge.? Equip it with all the cool bells and whistles and that same model can go as high as $50,000.? The C250 coupe is priced at $38,095, the all-wheel drive C300 4MATIC sedan is $39,304, the C350 Coupe goes for $43,245 and for shoppers demanding the best, and the C63 AMG coupe is $62,305 and can top out at $84,000 with all the options.

The new C-Class family offers a broad range of sedans and coupe that should please almost any driver and at a wide variety of budgets.

By Bill Schaffer

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