With single-car garage reviews, it’s perhaps fair and reasonable to assess any new, or newly revised, model on singular merit. To this point, the knowledge bank is bolstered with some colleague’s broad-view impression from an international launch, and closer, more forensic insight from the car’s local release.
Then, finally, you’re privy to an exact form, for an exact price, with which you can pass judgment on familiar home turf – if before any of its rivals get a chance to rob its daisy-fresh glow in the nasty business of a comparison. It’s a system that works a treat.
It doesn’t always work that way. Case in point is the updated-for-2019 Mercedes-Benz C300 sedan. We’ve already published our comparison test of this exact car pitched against BMW’s all-new 3 Series and the evergreen Audi A4 and – spoiler alert – the result didn’t fall the way of the tri-star mid-sizer…
Here’s the problem. Logic dictates that the verdict here will absolutely mirror how this car – this same car – fared in that three-way stoush that, not so incidentally, I happened to judge on. I can’t unknow what I already know. But in spending some additional one-on-one time with the Benz that played third fiddle to its German compatriots in certain must-do comparison criteria, perhaps there are other virtues yet to unearth in the extended-play experience.
Like what, you ask? Like appeal. The C-Class is, by impressively dominant measures, the most popular mid-sized sedan in the over-$60K premium space. In 2018, one-in-three cars in the entire segment were C-Class variants and it’s only on the rise, with some 43 per cent market share year-to-date according to VFACTS. The Benz has been outselling its BMW 3 Series rival – albeit a BMW recently updated with an impressive new generation – two-to-one and a walloping five-to-one against Audi’s A4.
Whatever car reviewers make of the C-Class, the punters are fond of them. And parking that oversized tri-star grille badge in your car space alone is most certainly a large part of it. In its fetching and ever-popular AMG Line appearance package, it makes the right kind of statement for the right kind of price ($71,800 list) for a great many buyers, even if the sporty makeover wants for an extra $2461 outlay.
But why wouldn’t you? Two-and-a-half grand looks the bargain given how much it brings in the ‘50-metre test'. It replaces the sedate and standard Premium Package aesthetics with five twin-spoke AMG 19-inch alloys, bodykit and diamond-patterned grille outside for an exceedingly handsome ‘dignified sports’ look, with firmer sports suspension, specific brake discs and steering tweaks hidden underneath.
Inside, there’s a flat-bottom AMG-look wheel, alloy pedal set, sport seats with ‘Black AMG leather’, black ash/aluminium trim, AMG mats, tyre pressure monitoring, an analogue clock in the dash fascia… Lots of window dressing, then, for the modest splurge.
Given the C300’s solid if not overly brimming standard equipment list, AMG Line alone should placate many an indulgent buyer's whims. As the high-spec mainline Benz-branded C-Class, the C300 is a measurable step up – on paper, at least – from the basic 1.5-litre C200 entry version ($63,700 list), and it’s still a big leap up the fiscal ladder to the AMG-branded, six-cylinder C43 ($108,600 list). And it’s a sizeable enough gap in between that some buyers might wish to plug with cost-optional addenda that, in many areas, is hardly essential.
Our tester clocks in at $90,781 before on-roads – yes, nigh on $19K of added goodies. Given AMG Line also adds sports seats and 'AMG leather', the further sting for the Luxury Seat Package ($1385) and Seat Comfort Package ($692) – adding multi-contour adjustment, heating/cooling and memory functionality – starts to look excessive.
Then there’s the Vision Package ($4846) that adds a glass roof, multi-beam LED lighting, 360-degree camera and head-up display; Energising Comfort ($769) brings the glovebox fragrance dispenser; Comand Package ($1769) brings online infotainment and Burmester sound; Wireless Charging ($308) for smartphones; Dynamic Body Control ($1077) adaptive damper system plus, of course, an extra sting ($2154) for the Designo Diamond White paintwork.
The ‘intelligent’ LED headlight upgrade works beautifully and the 360-degree camera (standard fitment on the rival 3 Series) is handy. There’s probably nothing you couldn’t live without in the daily driven experience apart from – just maybe – Dynamic Body Control, which really should be standard issue. The advice here is that being selective on what you want will save you serious money.
The cabin is a mixed affair. The pre-MY19 interior was begging for an update, and this conspicuously fresher redesign goes a long way in C-Class providence, if not all the way in the broader Benz portfolio. The new ‘blingy’ steering wheel and sharp, clear digital instrumentation are excellent, and the 10.25-inch floating tablet infotainment screen has crisper and more streamlined content. But given the updates come as a mid-lifecycle facelift, the core architecture behind the window dressing won’t support all the fancy MBUX functionality you’ll find in the, ahem, more ‘junior’ A-Class.
Still, the C-Class needed a lift in modernisation here, and its maker has obliged.
For all the optional seating extras, the front pews are good if not knock-your-pants-off great: reasonable pliancy and okay lateral support, decent if unremarkable leather, and acceptable shapeliness for long-haul comfort. They’re not especially luxurious, or as luxurious as a mid-sized four-cylinder sedan nudging six figures on the road ought to be. They look the biz, but just don’t quite feel the biz.
While there’s at least some effort in presentation in the first row, the same can’t be said of the rear accommodation. It’s quite dour and featureless bar rear air vents and a single on-off dial, with fairly flat contouring and cosy confines, including notably tight headroom impacted somewhat by the panoramic glass roof. As we discovered in our three-way test, it’s got the most confined rear seating amongst its logical Audi and BMW competitors. No issue for empty-nesters or young families, mind you, but if you’re in the habit of hauling around adults on long trips…
Further evidence that outright practicality isn’t a leading priority for C-Class fans, the 455L boot space is useable if hardly class-leading in outright volume. You do, though, get a flexible 40:20:40 split-fold rear seating for flexible loading, a handy electric bootlid, Euro-style safety addenda (fluoro safety wear, et al) and a collapsible oddment crate that stores neatly under the floor.
Powertrain-wise, the Benz adheres to popular convention for Euro-premium mid-sized executives: turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol motivation even in high C300 spec – sixes and eights are now AMG's domain – producing a segment-competitive 190kW and a solid 370Nm. The recent MY19 update ditched the old evergreen seven-speed conventional automatic design for a brand-spanking 9G-Tronic nine-speeder.
Unsurprisingly, performance is, at 5.9sec 0–100km/h, quite thrifty and on par with key nemeses, while its fuel-consumption fluctuation of between seven and high-nine litres is acceptable for its premium four-door kind. It is, however, a fairly unremarkable and workmanlike powertrain, neither offering up sportiness in character to match the conspicuous AMG Line flavour, nor the kind of highly polished refinement that Mercedes-Benz has long hung its badge cachet off of.
At idle, the four has almost a diesel-like clatter. Under load, it sounds thin and tinny, and seems to work hard for its keep. In its default Comfort drive mode, it’s slightly tardy in response to throttle inputs, and lazier still when called to arms to plug a gap in traffic or to overtake. And despite its new-toy status, the nine-speed auto isn’t quite as quick, smooth or intuitive in plucking the engine’s sweet spot as you ought to expect from, well, Mercedes-Benz.
When it comes to premium execution, the C300’s motivation is just a bit lacklustre. Good enough for many buyers’ tastes, perhaps, but should 'good enough' figure in the high-spec C-Class vernacular?
Sure, there’s Sport and even Sport+ programs you can select, but each is too unruly for general driving, progressively robbing refinement and polish from what really should be a notably smoother and more sophisticated delivery. Besides, when it comes to general driving response and flexibility, should you really need to go diving for some drive-mode switch to inject a touch of urgency to the proceedings?
The ride quality – again, fitted with cost-optional adaptive damping trickery – has a nice, pleasant pliancy during compression that softens otherwise sharp hits through the suspension, though at times it’s a little too soft. On one occasion, across a particularly harsh speed hump, the nose of the C300 seemed (and sounded) to bottom out. And the body takes some time to settle, too, making for a bit of a wallowy experience at times.
It’s no sports car, of course, though it should be able to do double duty with some sports sedan conviction, again partly because of its looks and also partly because the extra Dynamic Body Control spend should return its namesake. And yet, strangely, it doesn’t: there’s a slightly strange wobble in body roll, be it cornering or controlling the chassis over uneven surfaces in the straight ahead, and this C-Class chassis should really feel more confidently tied down (though not necessarily stiffer) than it is.
These aren’t symptoms of manhandling, but more of leaning into the car a little during normal urban and country driving. Its softly set suspension imbues an impressively dignified state dialling up 110km/h on a motorway or puttering around in traffic, but you’re left with the feeling that this chassis is a little too one-dimensional and deserves a bit more depth and resolve as an all-rounder.
Perhaps the addition of the optional air suspension might lift the C300’s game to a more impressive plateau?
Like many premium brands, Mercedes-Benz offers a fairly nominal three-year if unlimited-kilometre warranty. Meanwhile, servicing intervals are 12 months or 25,000km, whichever comes first, and charges a flat $2000 as an upfront fee for the first three services.
There’s an overarching theme to the recent C-Class range update and our week-long experience with the C300 variant. Its maker is focusing more intently on propping up the presentation and techno window dressing to swoon buyers, than it is on improving upon the equally tangible facets of depth in polish and resolve once you scratch through the surface.
And judging by how successful the tri-star sedan is in its segment in Australia, this approach has worked a charm for its importer and customers alike.