The automotive world is chock full of great and interesting cars, and it is also full of great and interesting people. In our travels over the years, we have been very fortunate to cross paths with some truly incredible humans and some of those acquaintances have turned into genuine, long-lasting friendships. One of our longest tenured pals that we still keep in touch with after all these years used to work for Mercedes Benz not so long ago, and they told us a seriously funny anecdote that inspired the title to this review.
At a Mercedes commissioned gathering around the holidays, all the best and brightest of the company were invited to celebrate that special time of the season together after COVID-19 had other plans for large scale parties over the previous last few years. Apparently, one of the executives- who’s daily driver is an S580- went out to the parking lot to fetch their briefcase. After having a few too many, they made the responsible decision to leave the car in the parking lot but wanted to fetch their laptop and miscellaneous personal effects before heading for home. Here’s the funny part: they were trying in vain to gain access to their car and were getting increasingly frustrated why their key fob was not unlocking the doors. One of the junior employees who happened to be walking by noticed the commotion. Biting their lip to keep from giggling, they tactfully pointed out that said executive was trying to unlock the newest C-Class and not their top shelf S-Class. Granted, it was nighttime and several cocktails were consumed, but the point is that an individual deeply familiar with the entire M-B lineup was fooled into thinking the most affordable sedan in the brand’s portfolio was instead the company flagship.
After spending a week behind the wheel of the freshest generation of C-Class, we can sympathize with the red faced Benz bigwig. These days, it matters not which automotive manufacturer you care to single out- they are all unified by their efforts to imbue their entire lineup with a shared design theme; something that’ll lend an air of distinction to their offerings and in turn makes them easily identifiable. Perhaps there is no company doing a better job of this than Mercedes. Their design language is so similar from one product to another that they could simply call their C-Class “Small”, the E-Class would be designated as “Medium” and the range topping S-Class could be known as “Large”. It’s the same story where their SUV’s are concerned, save for the G-Wagon- that one is pretty distinct all on its own. Honestly, park a contemporary C next to an S in the carpark and the similarities are indeed striking. That’s great news if you have a C-Class on order; maybe not such a cause for celebration if you’ve recently bought an S-Class.
And it’s not just the exterior styling that makes these two feel so alike. Inside, our C300 did a convincing job of impersonating its bigger and costlier stablemate when we climbed aboard and settled in. Oh sure, the level of build quality and materials isn’t quite as meticulous and luxury oriented as it is in the big S, but it’s pretty darn close. The C300 has an interior befitting its price tag made even more special when you consider that ours was a base model leaving lots of runway (and the corresponding dollars) to bling out our Benz to your hearts content. We didn’t miss all the active driving assists, and even the most basic audio system in the Benz lineup sounded plenty good to our ears. We especially grew fond of the seats, which have that elusive combination of comfort for long days in the saddle but that faithfully hold you in place when the going gets frisky. In essence, the C300 offers a very comfortable experience that its upmarket brethren are famous for, but there is one area where it falls short of its siblings- at highway speeds it seemed to be a little noisier than the other two. Not much, mind you, but noticeable nevertheless. If you have never driven or ridden in an S-Class and therefore have no frame of reference, you’ll find the C-Class just fine.
The driving experience also puts some daylight between C and S-Classes. Instead of a velvety inline-six or a V8 under the hood, instead you find a 2.0 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder. Remember about fifteen-ish years ago when that engine architecture was all the rage? It’s still popular these days for many reasons, the main ones being that each cylinder displaces a tidy 500 cubic centimetres- perfect if you’re building modular engines that can turn into six or even eight cylinders based off the fundamentals of that design. It also said to produce the same power as a 3.0 litre V6 but with much better efficiency. Sounds great until you drive something with a 2.0 turbo under the hood that gives you decent fuel mileage, but puts out a non-linear, lurchy powerband and feels tepid at high rpm when the turbo’s puff isn’t as strong. Car companies that were able to smooth out that power delivery and almost hide the fact that a turbo wasn’t part of the show excelled- the Volkswagen GTI engine is a perfect example of that engineering trickery and is an absolute sweetheart. The M254 in our tester as its known to Mercedes insiders must to be in the conversation of the best version of the 2.0 turbo design currently available. It’s an engine builders dream, combining excellent low end response, a midrange thick with torque and that power is available right to the redline. Lashed to a 9-speed gearbox that shifts smoothly and is always in the right gear for whatever situation you find yourself in, the two make for an outstanding powertrain. That power is sent to all four wheels via Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system so there’s never any drama on getting said power to the ground, especially in treacherous weather. The 300 might be the most modestly powered C-Class you can buy but it certainly gets up and goes. About the only thing we don’t admire about it is the diesel-like clatter it makes at idle- but get it spinning in the upper rpm range and that underwhelming noise turns into a fruity snarl, so the soundtrack sin is forgivable. We were able to coax 9.2L/100km of efficiency out of it during a week of mixed driving, yet another asset the M254 brings to the table. Part of that credit does to the 48V mild hybrid system which not only makes the start/stop feature almost imperceptible, but also has a positive effect on fuel consumption.
If you want a greater turn of speed, the upcoming C43 or even the mighty C63 (which sadly loses its charismatic 4.0 V8 in favor of a 4-cylinder/electrified drivetrain) exist to satiate. Those cars also promise better handling than the 300, although we came away mighty impressed by its handling pedigree despite wearing base model trim. It does without fancy adaptive dampers or any means of electronic manipulation and lends the baby Benz a litheness that we found to be a welcome surprise. There’s a subtle sense of athleticism at play here, and the C300 is actually pretty fun to drive; just don’t push it too hard or its void of feedback steering and tendency to understeer behaviours will rear their heads. We suspect that there will be an infinitesimally small sample of customers who will take issue with this.
About the only dynamic demerit that exists is in the braking department. Ask the C300 for strong deceleration and it will deliver. But ask it to come to a stop at a traffic light or stop sign gracefully, well, that’s another story. Perhaps the engineers overseeing brake feel have grown complacent dialing in pedal behaviour, but stepping on the C300’s brake pedal is quite underwhelming. You get used to its wonky feel, but it persisted throughout our road test. Our only other complaint with the C300 we drove is directed at the infotainment system. It is not that it’s a poorly designed bit of technology, or that it is a pain to use. Every time we’re sat in a Mercedes product there exists a learning curve that we need to remaster because it isn’t the most intuitive menu setup we’ve encountered. Folks who buy this car will master it and there’ll be no further issue, but it’s something we take notice mostly because we are driving so many different cars at any given time.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that we don’t have any overlap between a C-Class and an S-Class these days- in a dimly lit corner of the Carpages Garage, who knows? We might make the same mistake that the Benz executive committed. It’s an honest misstep given how similar they are. Considering the excellence our C300 brought to the table, it feels mighty similar to an S-Class, albeit one that shrunk in the dryer. Who knows- the C-Class just might fool you, too.
2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 300 4MATIC Sedan - Specifications
- Price as tested: $60,365
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.0L Inline-4 Turbo, DOHC, 16 Valves w/ 48V Mild Hybrid System
- Horsepower: 255 @ 5,800 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 295 @ 2,000 rpm
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,834 kg (4,044 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 9.2L/100km (26 mpg)