2010 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
2010 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Expert Review:Autoblog
What a difference 20 inches and 1,000 lbs makes. The latest occupant of the Autoblog Garage is the Mercedes Benz C63 AMG. You might recall that a few months ago we tried out one of the big dogs from the Benz lineup, the S63 AMG and came away somewhat awed by the technology but distressed by the driving experience. This time around we got the baby brother of the family and found what may well be the best driver's car in the current Daimler lineup. Ever since the C-class was born as the 190E back in the '80s, Mercedes and BMW have had a back and forth rivalry in the high performance compact sport sedan/coupe segment. As the M3 has grown and evolved over the past two decades, so to has the Stuttgart challenger.
Just like the original M3, the lineage started with the four-cylinder 16-valve 190E-2.3-16 and has grown through a succession of V6 and V8 engines. Despite the nomenclature, this latest edition is stuffed full of 6.2L of AMG V8 dripping with power and torque. Can the latest C63 finally topple the M3 from its throne? Find out after the jump.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Over the years, BMW has grown its M3 lineup to include sedan and convertible body styles in addition to the original coupe, and has offered manual, automatic and automated-manual gearboxes. Mercedes Benz on the other hand has seemingly kept things comparatively simple. From the original 190 through its eventual name change to the C-Class, the line has always had four-door sedans (along with wagons in Europe and occasionally here in the U.S.). Technically, that original 190 was not an AMG model, but it makes the parallel to the M3 more obvious. Over in Europe, buyers can also opt for the C63 Estate for those who want their speed fix with a bit more utility.
The latest generation of the C-Class debuted in early 2007 wearing a sharper set of clothes than its predecessor. The W204 generation inherited some styling cues of the big S-Class but in a slightly more toned down form. The character line that begins behind the front wheel arch and sweeps back over the rear wheels is borrowed from its big brother, while the prominent wheel arches are scaled down in proportion with the smaller overall size of the car. The vents at the outboard ends of the front fascia are also shared with all other AMG branded cars. The C63 even picks up a design element from the latest SL that hearkens back to the 1953 original: the two longitudinal ridges along the hood.
The C63's sporting pretensions are visually enhanced by some of the usual elements like rocker panel extensions, a rear lip spoiler and four oval shaped exhaust pipes. The corners of the car sit on 18-inch wheels and tires, the fronts 8-inches wide with an extra half inch in the back. Fittingly, those wheels are filled with serious braking hardware: 14.2-inch drilled-and-vented rotors in the front and 13-inchers in the rear with 6- and 4-pot calipers, respectively.
When you open the door, it's immediately apparent that the C63 is built for business. The seats have huge side bolsters that are adjustable for width. Slip in between those lateral supports, snug them to your torso width and you will remain firmly planted directly in front of the thick-rimmed steering wheel. The only issue with the seats comes for those with a broader torso. While the bolsters are adjustable, the maximum width is limited so some will be unable to fit properly. Speaking of the steering wheel, that rim shows its racing heritage with a flat bottom, presumably making it easier to slide under it and into that seat. The gauges are clear and easy to read and like other modern Mercs, the central speedo has the needle attached to the outer perimeter leaving the central portion free for the information display.
The back side of wheel has those de rigueur shift paddles. In recent years, Mercedes has had an aversion to manual gearboxes in its high performance cars and this example is no exception. The seven-speed automatic in the C63 AMG is dubbed AMG SPEEDSHIFT PLUS. It has the usual Comfort, Sport and Manual modes, but AMG engineers have added something new to the control strategy: double declutching. In the old days before synchronized gearboxes, double declutching was something every driver learned and is still taught at racing schools (at least it was at Bondurant in the mid-90s when I went there). During a down shift, the driver would press the clutch pedal, shift from the gear to neutral, release the clutch, blip the throttle, press the clutch again and then shift to the lower gear.
This was necessary to ensure that everything was spinning at the same speed to prevent crashing gears and jerky shifts. Synchro gearboxes have largely eliminated the need to do this, but double declutching can still lead to smoother down shifts and less wear on the gears. The lack of jerkiness also helps prevent upsetting the car if shifting while cornering. AMG claims the automatic in the C63 is doing this now too for better balance. Frankly, we've never really experienced an issue with other automatic cars during a down shift while cornering, but we'll take Merc's word for it until we experience a C63 on the track. On the road, the transmission responds quickly to taps on the shift paddles whether going up or down through the gears. Switching from Comfort to Sport mode causes the transmission to downshift during deceleration, which enhances engine braking.
The C-Class has always been the smallest Benz available in the U.S. market, but the AMG crew has learned over the years how to stuff it full of the same big bore V8s that normally go into its bigger brothers. The 6.2L AMG V8 was designed and built specifically for these high performance applications and isn't based on any other existing Mercedes engine. In the C63 it cranks out 451 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, which is down from the 518 hp / 465 lb-ft it produces in the S63. This is likely due at least in part to less space available for the intake and exhaust systems in this smaller car. Not that you'll really notice, because this is one seriously fast car.
Unlike the S63 where it felt like the car was being operated by remote control, the C63 feels much more direct. When driving hard, the exhaust note is loud and raucous and never lets you forget what you have at your disposal. Around town it's more subdued but still more aggressive and deep sounding than the screaming M3 under similar conditions. The S63 offers very similar performance capabilities to the smaller C, but oddly doesn't feel as fast. The active body control of the bigger car keeps everything on such an even keel that you lose much of that feedback on which you normally rely to judge speed.
The steering in the C63 has decent if not exceptional feedback about what's going on at the front corners. The 18-inch Pirellis provide tremendous grip and the chassis feels nicely balanced. The traction control and stability control also don't intrude as aggressively as on most other Mercedes. Punching the gas through a corner kicks the back end out and let's it hang there without jerking the car around. The C63 is a genuinely fun car to drive on a twisty road, though ride is a bit on the harsh side as we discovered cruising on some of the nastier roads around these parts.
The C63 is equipped with all the usual amenities that one would expect in a $67,000 (as tested) car, such as heated leather seats, dual zone climate control, rain sensing wipers and more. In the glove box you'll find an iPod connector that goes straight to the audio system. Normally this is a good thing that allows the iPod to be controlled from the head unit. Unfortunately, Mercedes engineers seem to have overlooked one major detail. Nowhere in the clumsy menu structure of the Mercedes COMAND system is there any interface to actually control the iPod. You have to unplug it, select a play-list and then plug it in to play.
Overall the C63 is probably the best drivers car in the current U.S. Mercedes lineup. If only it were available with a good manual gearbox, we would be completely sold. As is, the C63 is a reasonably sized sports sedan with an outstanding engine. Europeans also have that aforementioned station wagon body style, which would make this a great high speed road trip machine. Acceleration to 60 mph goes by in the mid-four-second range and a C63 won't find itself outclassed by many other machines, especially those with four doors and room for four (five in a pinch). Anyone considering an M3 who doesn't really want a manual gearbox should take a look at the Mercedes Benz C63 AMG. This one truly is a viable alternative.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
A true Mercedes in a smaller size.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is the most compact and least expensive of the brand's sedan offerings. Yet it's no less a Mercedes-Benz. You'll find everything you expect from Mercedes-Benz in a C-Class from safety features to predictable driving dynamics.
The C-Class Luxury grade does indeed feel like a small version of a traditional Mercedes four-door luxury sedan. For drivers who want something sportier, the Sport models provide that. Those want a street-legal racecar can order an AMG version.
The C-Class is a terrific driving experience; great driver feedback through the steering, rock-solid, and so stable it's very difficult to get into trouble, and delivering to the driver a superb grasp, both literally and figuratively, on what the car is doing. And it does this without taking away any of the refinement or comfort that makes driving one a fatigue-free process.
C-Class models are available with rear-wheel drive or 4MATIC four-wheel drive, the latter for improved active safety and winter weather capability.
The Mercedes-Benz C300 comes with a 228-hp 3.0-liter V6. The C350 comes with a 268-hp 3.5-liter V6. The racy C63 AMG features a 451-hp 6.2-liter V8.
Compared with Luxury models, Sport versions use wider rear tires and wheels, sit more than half an inch lower, use firmer suspension settings, and get a three-spoke steering wheel. Sport sedans use a different grille with the Mercedes-Benz ringed star in it as opposed to the Luxury with the star on the hood, and Sport models use AMG-style deeper front air dams, side skirts and rear aprons. AMG version are distinguished by unique styling cues.
The C-Class is not a big car, so tall drivers and business-people who routinely transport clients may find they need something bigger, such as an E-Class. But among its primary competition the C-Class is more than merely in the game; it's a real player.
For 2010, the C-Class offers a few new features. Standard equipment includes a new monitoring system that shows individual tire pressures. The outside mirrors are more aerodynamic and the steering wheel is wrapped in premium leather. The C300 Sport trim level also has new 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. A new option is a Dynamic Handling Package for Sport models that includes active damping suspension, faster, speed-sensitive steering, and 18-inch five-twin-spoke AMG alloy wheels; on those with the automatic transmission, this package includes steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. In addition, for the first time on the C-Class, the Keyless-Go system is now available, which gives push-button starting. Other new options include a rear-view camera, four-way power lumbar adjustment, a tilting side mirror for parking, and a universal media interface.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz C300 comes as a Sport sedan ($33,600), Luxury sedan ($35,300), 4MATIC Sport ($37,100), and 4MATIC Luxury ($37,300). All come with a 228-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. The C300 Sport comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, the others with a seven-speed automatic, which is also available on the Sport ($1,490).
The C300 Sport comes with dual-zone climate control, synthetic upholstery, tilt/telescoping multifunction wheel, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, moonroof, eight-way power sport seats, front and rear fog lamps, cruise control, trip computer/maintenance minder, AM/FM/Weather/CD audio system with aux input, Bluetooth, leather-wrapped wheel and shifter, alarm, central controller, five-inch flip-up color display, aluminum trim, 17-inch aluminum wheels.
The Luxury C300 replaces the sport seats and aluminum trim with cushier seats and burl walnut trim. Automatic transmission comes standard on Luxury, along with a heated washer reservoir.
The C300 Sport 4MATIC adds all-wheel drive, automatic transmission and a heated washer reservoir.
Options on the C300 include leather upholstery ($1,590), burl walnut trim ($320), metallic paint ($720), TeleAid ($650), iPod integration ($375), and Panorama roof ($1,070). The Premium Package I ($2,300) includes Sirius, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, UGDO, rain-sensing wipers, power tilt/telescope and driver memory system. The Premium Package II ($3,700) includes Premium I plus bi-Xenon headlamps with heated washers and cornering lights, split-fold 60/40 rear seat, and power rear shade. The Multimedia package ($2,650) includes COMAND navigation and seven-inch screen, 450-watt harman/kardon Surround Sound audio system, voice control, and 6CD/MP3 changer.
The C350 ($39,750) adds a 268-horsepower higher-revving 3.5-liter V6, seven-speed automatic and rear-drive only, plus agility control variable shock damping, sport suspension, bigger brakes, AMG-style wheels, everything in the Premium I package, heated front sport seats, and black Birdseye Maple wood trim (walnut at no charge if you prefer). Options include the Premium II package ($1,400), metallic paint, leather upholstery, TeleAid, six-CD changer, iPod integration, Panorama roof, Multimedia package and 18-inch wheels with wider rear tires than C300 Sports.
The C63 AMG ($57,350) comes with a 6.2-liter 451-horsepower V8, AMG Speedshift seven-speed transmission, 18-inch wheels and high-performance tires, and unique brakes, suspension, steering, sport seats with adjustable side bolsters, AMG instrumentation and aluminum shift paddles behind the sport steering wheel. Cosmetically and mechanically it is a different car from the windshield forward. The C63 standard feature list is close to the C350 Sport sedan. Options include metallic paint ($720), Leather Package ($3,030), Premium II ($1,400), Multimedia ($2,650), iPod ($375), carbon fiber trim ($2,550) and the Performance P30 package ($4,050), with locking differential, composite brakes, leather/Alcantara steering wheel, and 186-mph limiter.
Safety equipment includes dual adaptive frontal airbags, front side thorax airbags, front side pelvic airbags (except on C63), side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, PreSafe system, electronic stability control and full traction and brake electronic assists. There are no optional safety systems.
The C-Class dimensions reflect its market segment; very similar to BMW's 3-Series. Like most vehicles in this class the size gives good urban utility with the ability to carry four passengers and some luggage.
The C-Class has round headlamps within rectangular housings, eyebrow lights above the main beams, and a wide grille reminiscent of the big CLS and CL-Class Benz coupes. This is more evident on Sport C models with the star in the grille than it is on the Luxury models with more chrome and the traditional hood ornament. At the rear the C has a typical Mercedes light layout and comes across as a scaled-down version of the S-Class sedan, with rounder edges and lots of taper.
Character lines on the sides of the car present a forward-leaning profile, more of a wedge that certainly aids in making this iteration the sportiest-appearing of any C-Class; the hood seam carries from headlight corner to the window bases, and the lower character line starts behind the front wheels and gets heavier as it rises to the rear, squeezing the window line ever tauter, and ending at the top of the tail lamp opening. Wheels play a big part too, the Sport cars using twin-spoke wheels with some attitude while the Luxury versions use finer, more elegant wheels.
Closing the door brings a different sound than the old bank-vault Benzes did, perhaps because the outer skin of the doors, hood, front fenders and trunk is aluminum. However, the basic structure is very rigid and has lots of high-strength steel in it, providing three benefits: First, it keeps squeaks and rattles away, as both of our examples made no noise at all when subjected to opening the doors and trunk while parked on just three wheels; second, it makes a good handling and comfort compromise easier to reach; and third, it brings peace-of-mind from knowing you're in a vehicle that will do its best to protect you and yours if a traffic calamity should occur.
The hot-rod C63 by Mercedes-owned AMG is the most aggressive C-Class, the Sport-style front end appearing even more imposing because of the C63's extra front track width and bigger coolers lurking behind the grille. The wheels are similar in design and size to the Sport option 18s but the brakes behind them are substantially larger, and at the rear are a lip spoiler, mild diffuser, and four large tailpipes. Look carefully and you'll see at least 15 AMG markers outside (minimum of nine inside), though anyone who hears it will know this is no plain C-Class.
Regardless of model the C-Class interior is familiar Mercedes-Benz function not trumped by form; the miniature seats on the doors used for adjustment, floor-mounted gas pedal, the sophisticated light switch to driver's left, all the control stalks on the left side of the steering wheel (to keep the right hand free for shifting), glovebox latch where the driver can reach it, and no sharp edges even on switches or vent adjusters; all staples of Stuttgart.
The upholstery is called M-B Tex and it looks more like leather than the real thing on some cars, wears well and is PETA approved; leather is available on any C. Some cars have aluminum trim, others walnut or maple, and you can pop for carbon fiber on the C63 but whichever you choose it is the real thing. Most of the trim, all the way down to the Mercedes-Benz badges in the front floor mats, is low-glare so errant reflections don't distract or dazzle the driver, and assembly quality is first-rate.
Front seats are electrically adjusted with heaters available and with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel (powered, with driver memory as standard on C350 and C63) provide good support and driving position; those of larger sizes may find the Sport seats a tad confining while others will appreciate the lateral support. Luxury model seats are less aggressively bolstered but maintain the hours-long support and comfort.
Relative to some other ultra-performance sedan seats those in the C63 don't look overly racy and hard to extricate yourself from but the deep side bolsters and range of adjustments offer superb lateral support. The C63 has aluminum shift paddles behind the steering wheel (upshift right, downshift left); a leather and Alcantara flat-bottom wheel is available.
Cabin styling follows the same forward-sloping theme as the outside, with armrests that gently fall away forward and end in window switch plates angled parallel to the dash and center stack of controls. The center console also slopes downward forward, adding control space to the vertical surfaces, and the dashboard arches downward away from the windshield adding a degree of spaciousness.
Instruments comprise analog coolant temperature and fuel left, speed/display center, and tachometer to the right. The speedometer needle rides around the outer periphery of the gauge, the center is a digital display used for the extensive information available though the steering wheel controls, and everything from oil temperature to directional instructions can be called up here. In events that require immediate attention, such as a manual upshift or loss of oil pressure, the entire display switches to red.
Above the center vents is the screen, which varies in size based on options, and hides below the dash when the car is off or you turn it off. Direct sunlight may wash it out and polarized sunglasses may make some info difficult to read (problems not exclusive to Mercedes) but the screen is very close to the line of sight without interfering with it; some of the vision issues are overcome by using the speedometer display for route following.
Audio controls are below the vents, along with the 10-key pad for the COMAND system. COMAND is the Mercedes system for controlling the telephone, navigation system, and audio system. Below that are switches for the rear window shade, seat heaters and other ancillary systems. At the bottom of the panel is the standard dual-zone climate control, so you needn't fumble through COMAND menus to warm or cool the cabin. The COMAND system includes an auxiliary input for iPods, and the Multimedia package plays CD, DVD, and memory-card source material. The harman/kardon 5.1 Surround Sound system features 450 watts to drive 12 speakers, and makes the best of all of them with good sound and plenty of impact. We like the large round controller that moves a needle across the radio tuning display screen just as an old radio dial with vertical pointer gliding left and right.
The auto shifter solves the dilemma about whether the up/down shift direction should be forward/backward respectively or vice-versa by making downshifts to the left and upshifts to the right. Automatics offer multiple modes requiring nothing more than a button push or holding the lever left or right for one second; it's a simple setup many could do well to emulate.
Under the driver's right arm are clamshell-opening armrests and the controller that's become the de facto computer mouse in modern premium cars. With just a few buttons and a click/rotate wheel it can execute a wide variety of commands, and while the system may not be as intuitive as the benchmarks it's far better than employing 200 buttons to do the same thing. When pressed we'd label it better than BMW's 2008-or-older iDrive and not quite up to Audi's MMI but these are akin to Mac vs. PC decisions best left to individual owners. Do, however, have someone else do a test drive so you can see which commands can be done, and how easily, while the vehicle is in motion.
As in most compact sedans rear-seat legroom is likely the defining measurement because it's fine for kids and smaller adults but perhaps not the best for need-impressing clients or big golf buddies. Size aside, those riders do get a nicely shaped and proportioned seat, reading lights, door pockets, comfy center armrest and AC vents; available on most C-Class models are a folding 60/40 rear seat and rear window shade.
Driver visibility is very good, especially on cars with the bi-Xenon headlamps, although by compact sedan standards the side mirrors are relatively large and shorter drivers may find themselves having to peer around sometimes. There are three rear headrests but they don't obscure rear vision.
Trunk space amounts to about 12 cubic feet, adequate but not class-leading. Load height is reasonable and the well isn't too deep so you won't need a crane to unload overstuffed suitcases.
The C-Class offers an interesting performance bang-for-the-buck scenario at each end of the model lineup. The entry-level C300 Sport is the lightest model and has the interaction of a manual gearbox. At the other end, the C63 rocket is very competitively priced within its market of uber hot rods.
The C300's 3.0-liter V6 makes 228 horsepower and is quite flexible, with maximum torque for 90 percent of your driving needs available from 2700 to 5000 rpm. The standard six-speed manual is easy to operate with light clutch and shifter efforts; there was a hint of notchy-ness in the shifter we haven't found in cars with some miles on them. Ratios are well-spaced to take advantage of the power and deliver good highway fuel economy; we have bettered the EPA's highway value by 20 percent in some cases.
The seven-speed automatic transmission, whether in the C300 or C350, shifts quickly and cleanly, seamlessly transparent in comfort mode, with intelligent feedback in sport mode, and manually within parameters allowed by road speed, engine speed, gear selected.
4MATIC all-wheel drive is fully automatic: It's always on, the driver need do nothing to engage all-wheel drive. 4MATIC is a great feature for traction and directional control in inclement weather. An all-wheel-drive C300 4MATIC with snow tires will likely embarrass most of your neighbor's SUVs, it works so well in the slippery stuff.
The C350 packs 268 horsepower, roughly the power of the very first C-Class AMG car, the C36. Plant your right foot and 60 mph comes up in a shade more than six seconds (one second quicker than the 300), and there isn't much to it. We found the C350 responds to the steering wheel crisply, allows minimal body roll to keep you more aware, and changes direction quickly, all while retaining a compliant ride that moves only the tires around impacts, not the whole car.
Luxury and Sport versions both have great road feel and steering, to the point that BMW's perceived advantage is no longer as distinct, and a rear-drive C-Class competes with anything in the segment.
Luxury models prioritize ride comfort, so the shocks are designed to allow free suspension movement over smoother surfaces while firming up on rougher roads so the car doesn't bounce and wallow about. Mercedes-Benz cars have always been extremely competent, inspiring driver confidence, but now they inspire the driver as well without losing any of the confidence factor.
Sport models prioritize quicker reactions and higher cornering ability, without losing the compliance that maintains ride quality and automobile integrity. You can upgrade sporting ability with the 18-inch wheel package that adds a half-inch to front wheel width, a half-inch to rear tire width, and employs lower profile, stickier tires. However, the 17-inch tires with their taller sidewalls are better for rough roads, both in terms of ride quality and wheel damage.
Brakes are sized by model to get the job done. Initially you may feel there is a lot of pedal travel, but this allows easy modulation.
The C63 is in another performance dimension. At 6.2 liters its engine makes it considerably more than just a very quick compact sedan. Mellowed somewhat to 451 horsepower, the C63 engine has 443 pound-feet of torque, with 90 percent of it available from 2000 rpm, and with the traction control turned off it can simply obliterate the C63's rear tires.
The C63 can reach 100 mph in about the same amount of time the average car can reach 60. The C63 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just more than four seconds. The Speedshift AMG automatic can be shifted manually and full-bore acceleration feels like you're driving a car with five first gears. Alas, at 12/19 mpg, there is no way to get good fuel mileage with well over 400 horsepower. This also results in a Gas Guzzler Tax for the C63 AMG.
Unlike any previous AMG C-Class model, the C63 AMG has a unique front-end, including fenders, air dam, chassis, suspension, brakes and wheels. Steering resistance adds up nicely the harder you push, limits are a long way off but three-stage electronic stability control makes them relatively easy to find when you have a racetrack for exploring, and the big engine's compression braking lets you just lift the throttle to load up the front tires for crisper turn-in, with no braking needed to upset the balance.
The C63 is arguably the best-steering, best-handling, best driving car Mercedes builds in the sub-$125,000 range. And it does so without active suspension or other techno-wizardry that often uses electronics to fix a chassis that wasn't ideal in the first place. BMW and Audi loyalists will stick to their marques as each has advantages, but there is no denying that the C63 moves the C-Class AMG model beyond mere straight-line supremacy.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class represents a broad range of cars models designed for different priorities. It adds an element of driving enjoyment to known Mercedes characteristics of safety, stability and luxury defined by driving performance. And if you don't need the larger rear seat, it does so for about $18,000 less than an E-Class.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report from Los Angeles.
Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport ($33,600); C300 Sport 4MATIC ($37,100); C300 Luxury ($35,300); C300 Luxury 4MATIC ($37,300); C350 Sport ($39,750); C63AMG ($57,350).
Options As Tested
leather upholstery ($1,590), Premium II package ($1,400), Multimedia package ($2,650), iPod integration ($375), Panorama roof ($1,070), 18-inch wheels ($1,020), metallic paint ($720).
Mercedes-Benz C350 Sport ($39,750).
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