The C-Class Coupe is something special – a sub-$100k car with a six-figure swagger.
For: Swanky enough to pass of as something from further up the pay scale, fulfilling drivetrain.
Against: Tight in the back, for the same money you can buy an E-Class sedan with more room and even more tech.
Surely the best type of expensive car is the one that doesn't actually cost as much as it looks?
In which case the test vehicle here has to be, well, bang on the money. All those who cared to guess how much the test car cost all got it wrong, every one of them aiming too high – some by as much as $40k.
Does that make the Mercedes Benz C300 coupe good value? One supposes that this only occurs if you already have a desire to place nice with a coupe and not everyone is of that mind; this body style is very much niche fare.
Perhaps this is why Benz has not been too greedy with the premium over the donor sedan; just $5500 extra is required to slide from a sedan with more space to a shape that halves the door count but undoubtedly ramps up the desirability. Well, that’s the theoretical premium: In this instance, there isn’t a comparable four-door because even though this C300 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol that spreads around the family, in our market at least, the powerplant is this specific tune provisions solely to this bodyshape.
With a special engine in a special body, it adds up to being … well, something of a special sight, but not a common one. Even so, when you gauge on looks alone, then it’s hard to think that a car such as this would not place anywhere less than a very fat point within a six-figure zone. All my colleagues, family and friends certainly imagined that would be the case.
Admittedly, the C300 is almost is in that position. The base car costs $97,900 and the options on this example – the paint, the Vision Package and heated front seats – tipped it over the edge, but only just. At $104,570 as you see it, it’s still cheaper than some obvious rivals and also, than what your senses scream.
This a new chapter to a story that is recently told; Benz has built plenty of two-door cars, but this particular formula was cooked up in 2000, initially being called a SportsCoupe. Eight years on this became the CLC-Class, a tag that also didn’t stick for long.
Then in 2012 the German luxury manufacturer launched its first 'real' C-Class Coupe, a stand-alone model that was developed very much as its own vehicle rather than as a truncated version of the sedan. The same recipe applies to this fourth-generation edition, here is three formats, two less powerful and cheaper than the version here, whose top dog status is already under threat.
Some cars look better from some angles than others. The C300 is such a natural beauty it’s hard to think of a way to view it that doesn’t leave impression of its being a stunner. I bet even the underside is quite tidy.
What about colour sensitivity? Admittedly, you’d probably be relieved to learn that Mercedes is a bit more conservative in its coupe colour palette than Ford is with the Mustang; so nothing so loud as a saffron yellow or an orange that’s far more orange that any orange has ever been.
At same token, you wouldn’t think white would be the best hue to view. At first sight, I didn’t.
But on closer inspection, it became apparent ‘designo Diamond White BRIGHT metallic’ – and no, I didn’t inadvertently capitalize that word, it’s how Benz does it (the first word is also their doing – I suppose ‘design’ sounds trendier in Italian than German) is far less fridge-like than it seems at a glance, or from a distance, because this finish contains billions of alloy-ish flecks, enough to leave the car virtually aglow after a wash. Something you’ll be doing regularly, not least during the winter months because this shade shows up every speck of the road grime that this shape seems a magnet for.
From the front, the diamond-radiator grille dominates, but the profile, tautly drawn yet graceful all the same, that wins you over; the frameless doors, low-slung silhouette and big, classy wheels filling the wheelarches combine to make an ab-fab statement.
You’ll wonder about whether it’s better being described as ‘pretty’ than ‘handsome’; perhaps the latter should be reserved for the more muscled AMG V8 that has just landed and the V6 model coming soon.
It’s certainly a car of some delicacy in respect to how its lines carry and interweave, but you wouldn’t call it delicate. What it definitely has is an air of absolute modernity that will hold it in good stead when in the company of a BMW 4-Series, Lexus RC and the outgoing (but perhaps not so much the incoming) Audi A5.
Equally importantly, it makes a more defined, more defiant and more dramatic break from the donor sedan. Obviously the major change comes with a raised beltline and a roofline that’s lower and more rakish, but there are other clever visual tweaks, too, like putting an extra 60mm between the front axle and the firewall. It doesn’t sound like much, but is enough to lend impression of the coupe being longer-nosed and more purposeful. A conspicuous lack of unnecessary adornment also does no harm, either; likewise the redesigned tail-light cluster. I imagine the AMG-ised cars will ultimately beat it for head-turning street presence, yet for now the C300 looks comfortable in the alpha role.
The interior design is the pretty much the same as that of the C-Class sedan and the dashboard is virtually identical, but why shouldn’t it be? Benz remains the class leader for classy cabins; it’s certainly true with the C300. The design thinking is brilliant and although you can easily option in more special finishes, the materials that come as standard are hardly a letdown and, as it comes from the factory, the cabin is enough of a visual and tactile delight to reinforce impression that it’s more expensive than is actually the case. I suspect the Cranberry Red leather – and yes, it’s just that, rather than the man-made Artico stuff, at C300 level – was a chief contributor to the car having an especially affluent ambience.
The sports seats have been specifically designed for the coupe and are supremely comfortable, with plenty of support when and where you need it. Always appreciated in Benz coupes is the neat touch of an automatic seat belt feeder that presents the seat belt to you when you take your seat, saving you the undignified experience of groping around behind yourself to locate it.
At C300 level the leather is real (rather than man-made Artico stuff) and you take the high-spec Comand Online infotainment, delivering a 13-speaker 560-watt Burmeister Surround Sound audio. This model also has rear privacy glass and a sports exhaust system.
At $3990, this Vision Package was easily the priciest option equipping this car. It adds the panoramic glass roof with roller blind, a head-up display and the whiz-bang LED Intelligent Light System. I’d personally be happy to do without the glass top, but appreciated the other extras.
Another consideration for Coupe buyers might be the Airmatic adaptive suspension, which has been praised for its comfort and bump-absorption.
Mercedes-Benz has always been at the forefront of safety. Standard safety equipment across the Coupe range includes nine airbags, collision prevention assist with semi-autonomous braking, blind spot assist, pre-safe, attention assist, an active bonnet and a 360-dgree camera.
Models above the C250d are equipped with the driver assistance package which includes Distronic Plus with steering assist, pre-safe plus, Braking Assistance Plus with cross traffic assist, active lane keeping assist and active blind spot assist. The active steering and lane-keeping will seem an unnecessary icing to those among us who hold that those who can’t steer should be driving, but at least the ‘off’ switches for both are easily found. Because the Coupe hasn’t the same level of semi-autonomous functionality now being availed to the E-Class, you can deactivate those functions without befuddling the adaptive cruise.
There is no spare tyre, the recess where it should reside is instead provisioned with cargo-carrying accessories including a divider/crate and luggage net. Being a German car, it provides a first-aid kit, a pair of hi-vi vests and a warning triangle.
The engine here is one that plays a key role within Mercedes-dom and is likely to remain as a powerbroker for years to come.
Economies of scale certainly drive the use of this 1991cc four-cylinder direct injection and turbocharged unit but so, too, does a brand realisation that the best path to meeting increasingly strict global regulations in respect to economy and emissions is by down-sizing.
A few years ago this model would assuredly have presented with a six-cylinder engine, probably in Vee-layout and very likely of at least 3.0-litres’ capacity. Doubtless some diehards will argue that this is what still deserves, but it’s a forlorn hope.
The idea, now, is to replicate all the big-hearted good that those past-life powertrains delivered while also side-stepping the less appealing aspects, starting obviously with an appetite for fuel that simply doesn’t wash in some key markets any more.
Does this new option offer the same level of sensory satisfaction as the old engines? We’ll get back to that. The on-paper approach certainly shows it is hugely promising, given that – as is increasingly common now – this engine is has been designed to provide a hugely flexible power and torque output, so as to be a jack-of-all-trades for a wide range of vehicles. Within Coupe-dom, it is the same mill found in the C200 but in a higher state of tune – 180kW and 370Nm, versus the base model’s 135kW and 300Nm. That makes it faster, of course, with 0-100kmh coming up in six seconds flat, a full 1.4s clear of the base car, but less so in fuel burn; the extra zest doesn’t reflect is a commensurate jump is guzzle, so you still see a very pleasing 6.6L/100km optimum, or just 0.6 off what the C200 can do (in a lab test, perhaps). Or could, if you lighter-footed than I was. Even so, the week’s average of 7.8L/100km was hardly showing this car to be a bank-breaker.
The enhanced outputs don’t result purely from a change of engine management chip. Another contributor is the sports exhaust system while the seven-speed auto also has calibration to allow for more responsiveness.
In case you’ve forgotten, the main reason coupes win attention is for their looks; everything else is a compromise. They’re far less practical than their four-door counterparts, rear-seat access generally requires the flexibility of a gymnast, and their long doors are a pain in tight parking zones. It’s no different for the C300 than for any other two-door car I’ve met (and owned).
One reason why the C300 doesn’t escape from being the target of the odd muttered curse is its size. Just like the C-Class sedan, the Coupe it is lighter than its predecessor thanks to greater use of alloy materials. The clever styling also makes it appear quite small.
However, in fact, this Coupe is larger than the last; 95mm longer and 40mm wider than the outgoing model, and its wheelbase has been extended by 80mm. That means there's more room for those in the front seats - headroom has increased by 8mm and elbow room by a quite substantial 28mm –and, in fact, results in a greater sensation of interior space (although the rear seats still feel a little claustrophobic, a standard problem with two-door coupes).
For all that, in typical coupe style it gives the driver – and whoever sits alongside – superior seats and space. I know some colleagues have been left wishing the front seat would sink a little lower; I’m 1.9 metres’ tall so should theoretically be joining that call. Yet it felt fine to me. Certainly, the range of adjustments is plentiful and good enough.
Would I want to ride in the back? Not even for a trip around the block. The roofline’s impact on headroom is pretty obvious, but it’s not brilliant for leg – or even foot – space, either. It’s probably more relevant that the back seats fold – with the central divider doubling as a ski hatch – for additional space if the boot’s generous 400-litre volume isn’t quite enough.
So it’s tight inside, in places. Yet it is not a small or compact car, and that needs to be taken into account, not least when operating in an urban environment. Because over-the-shoulder visbility is limited, you’re pleased it has a huge count of parking sensors, plus not only a reversing camera but a 360 display as well.
One perennial coupe problem that it is no less near to resolving than any other coupe is the length and weight of the front doors. You’ll look twice at tight parking spaces and think just as carefully about parking on even on an incline, especially when facing uphill. The effects of gravity mean the doors will either require a hefty shove on opening or close with some force.
So there’s that. Then there’s the other thing – an expectation that a change of body style is enough to create a total change of persona. And expectation. So let’s be clear: Yes, the engine at this level has strong enough outputs to be considered certifiably sporting. But even though the C300 has enough spirit to deliver on the visual promise of it being something of a involving and dynamic drive, it’s not a sports car. Not overtly, any way. If Benz wanted it to be of that ilk, they’d have no use for AMG, right?
That’s not to say the C300 is best enjoyed at a relaxed pace, but it is fair to point out that even though it has functions that allow you to tailor the characteristics of the steering, engine and suspension to your liking, and despite this being appointed with a sporty flat-bottomed leather multi-function steering wheel and an AMG-provided body kit, wheels, sports pedals and carpet mats, it’s not going to bite your hand off.
Although it feels more lively in Sport and Sport Plus modes than in the Eco and Comfort modes, when all knobs turned to maximum attack it’s not exactly feral, at least not to track-ready incisiveness. But it does certainly feel playful to a point and polished, too; it’s a stable and relatively well-balanced car, with a pronounced feeling of fluidity.
You will from time to time have to remind yourself that’s there’s ‘just’ a 2.0-litre under the bonnet. The evidence of its capacity and cylinder count evidences far more at start-up and idle than on the move; sure, you don’t get the big thrusty take-off that comes with a larger-lunged engine, at least not until the turbo is fully spooled, which takes a moment.
However, mid-range torque is impressive enough – there’s enough muscle on tap from 2000rpm to ensure that swift overtaking is never going to be a problem. It also evinces quite a nice note while doing it; otherwise you’re hard-pressed to tune into the engine at all, such is the refinement.
This isn’t a car that’s afraid of twisting secondary roads, either. The grip, the brakes, the steering return … all are sharp enough to make it fun; there’s an engaging exactness to its demeanour.
All the same, it strikes as being even capability as a cruiser; a car eager to eat up vast distances with great competence. The big roads also suit it better because they’re generally smoother. As is often the case, while the Benz is too solid to be rattled by being on coarse chip, being (A) German, (B) a coupe and (C) provisioned with 19-inch rims and low profile run-flat rubber, it is rather firm, and while you never feel as though your teeth are at risk of being detached you do have to put up with a degree of surface-generated resonance when the suspension is at its firmest setting. Which is where it has to be for the best dynamics. It’s a small burden that shouldn’t dissuade.
Easy conclusion: If you’re in mind to buy into a Euro coupe that’s right on top of things for specification, style and pseudo-sporty stonk, then this car has to be top of the shortlist. On introduction, we thought this car looked a lot more expensive than it really was. By the end of our test period, the conclusion was that it delivered that way in every other respect.