I’m very fortunate to have driven a lot of different cars in the process of reviewing for Autosavant. When I causally ponder my dream car would be, for some reason I’ve always thought of a two-door coupe – not like Mustang or Camaro, but more like Prelude, MX-6, BMW 3 Series, Audi A5, and this Mercedes-Benz C-Class. That being said, my first two responses (and the fact that they haven’t been manufactured for a long time) is somewhat telling. I’m out of touch with modern two-doors. Last year I reviewed Audi’s A5 coupe and didn’t fall in love; this time, I’ve had a go with the Mercedes-Benz C350 coupe.
Mars Red is Mercedes’ name for the arrest-me-red color of cars they sell in the US market. Last year, I tested a GLK in that color, and I’ve now tested a C-class coupe in the same hue. While Mars Red compliments the curves of the C350 Coupe it a way that it didn’t flatter the GLK, it was a little too much- it shouted “MIDLIFE CRISIS!”, “LOOK AT ME!”, or maybe even “I’M COMPENSATING FOR DEFICIENCIES ELSEWHERE!” I was hesitant to speed in the C350 Coupe because it it also seemed to be screaming “GIMME A TICKET!” It’s worth noting that the A5 I reviewed last year was painted a very similar bright red hue.
Climbing in to the C350 Coupe through the long doors was easy thanks to the Keyless Go smartkey, which is a $650 option installed on the C-class coupe I tested. Unlocking the car just requires putting a hand on the handle and opening it, then sliding down into the low bucket seat. Starting the car requires just a push of the start button.
When the C350 Coupe arrived on a rainy Seattle afternoon, my first task was to install a forward-facing convertible carseat and a booster seat in back to pick up my three- and six-year-old daughters. Accessing the back seat is made relatively easy by large door openings and the fact that the front seats motor forward automatically at the touch of a button, even retracting the head restraints electrically. The front seats return to their memorized starting positions after passengers are loaded. The back seat has seating for two people, with a small console between the seating positions. Rear seat cushions are aggressively bolstered, which made it difficult to properly position the car seats out back; the upper LATCH tether was difficult to use because it was so closely located behind the headrest. For adults, headroom in back is tight, and knee room is tight unless the front seat occupants grant mercy. The backs of the front seats are finished in hard plastic, which lends one of the few downscale features to the interior. That said, the trunk is reasonably spacious, and has hooks on each side for securing grocery bags. The rear seatback is split folding to expand cargo space to the interior.
After three weeks of driving small Japanese cars (Nissan Versa, Subaru Impreza, and Nissan Leaf), getting into the C350 required a mindset adjustment. The layout and operation of controls has a very different feel and mindset in the Mercedes; I had to think like a German engineer to adjust my seat (controls on the door), to operate the COMAND system, and even to operate the wipers.
For some reason, Mercedes mounts their cruise control stalk on the left side of the steering column, at about the 10:00 or 10:30 position. The turn-signal stalk (which also has a control for the windshield wipers) is located lower, about at the 7:30 or 8:00 position. I found myself consistently activating the cruise control when I wanted to use the turn signal – a real problem because our Ford Flex has its turn signal stalk in the same location as the Mercedes’ cruise control. Mercedes is the only automaker I’m familiar with that puts its cruise control in that location – and it’s dumb. I was happy to recently drive the automaker’s ML-series SUV and find that the cruise control and turn signal stalks have been relocated to more conventional locations.
The C350 Coupe I drove was equipped with Mercedes-Benz’s clunky, counter-intuitive-to-use COMAND system. The system featured a high-resolution color screen on the dashboard, and another screen in the instrument cluster. The COMAND infotainment system has only ten memory presets for each radio band (AM, FM, and XM Satellite); that number is too few for a modern system. My test car was equipped with a back-up camera which used the COMAND screen on the dash to display the image, but the stereo/COMAND system had to be turned on in order for the camera image to be displayed. If the stereo was off, the backup camera didn’t display an image. Fortunately, Mercedes has demonstrated the next generation of COMAND at recent auto shows. It cannot arrive too soon.
The car I tested was also fitted with Mercedes-Benz’ optional mbrace technology, an OnStar-like telematics program that connects to a live operator. During my week with the C350 Coupe, I decided to visit my local Mercedes-Benz dealer to check out a C-Class sedan to see whether it matched the Coupe’s low seating positon and resultingly poor steering wheel position/ergonomics. I used the COMAND-based navigation system to select the closest dealer, and set out to visit on my lunch break. The system guided me to a vacant building in a suburban-Seattle neighborhood surrounded by other dealerships. Peering through the windows, it looked like the Mercedes dealer had moved out during the mdidle of the night, leaving M-B showroom displays, but nowhere was the address of a new location noted.
Unable to find any indication of where the store had moved, I pushed the mbrace button in the ceiling console. The mbrace system sounds similar to OnStar, and has its own internal phone connection. Upon pressing the mbrace button, there was a very loud, shrill chirp from the speakers, followed by a prolonged silence before I was greeted by an automated electronic voice prompt menu. Following the voice prompts I was connected to a helpful operator who found the new address of the Mercedes dealer and uploaded it to the C350’s navigation system. The she said goodbye and hung up; which caused two shrill, loud, ear-piercing beeps again. The modem-like beeps literally were loud enough to hurt my ears, and I was left was a very non-premium impression of the mbrace system.
The C350 coupe is equipped with a standard panoramic sunroof, with opening front glass and fixed rear glass and a retractable interior sunshade. That sunroof impinges on headroom in the front seat, meaning that tall drivers like me need to fully lower the seat in order not to hit my head on the headliner.
The low seating position, high beltline, and thick A-pillars (especially where they widen at the bottom to house speaker grilles) conspire with large exterior mirror housings to make outward visibility poor.
The C350 has a 302 HP, 3.5 liter V6, driving the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission. The transmission had manual shifting gates on the console as well as paddles behind the steering wheel.
Each time the E350 is started, it begins in E (economy) mode, and it truly drives like nothing special. Sport mode (which is what should be normal for this car) certainly wakes the C350 up. For my first few drives in the C350 Coupe, I couldn’t understand why this 302 HP German coupe was so lackluster to drive; it defaults to Efficiency mode which upshifts quickly and dulls throttle response. Only when I pushed the SPORT button on the instrument panel (not behind the gear selector like the manual said) did the bright red coupe behave the way I thought it should have from the start. I really think SPORT should be the default mode, with ECON being the user-selectable option.
In SPORT mode, the C350 coupe is happy to support tail-out antics, with a nicely balanced chassis letting me know exactly what’s going on with the tires. That being said, the steering does feel heavy, requiring more than just minimal effort. Too, in Sport mode the transmission will automatically rev-match downshift under heavy braking. Whether manually or automatically commanded, shifts are quick and are often nearly imperceptible. The powertrain is almost too quiet, and it is almost always transparent in operation. Only when coasting at very low speeds and then giving moderate throttle was there a noticeable clunk from the drivetrain.
The C350 reveals its German heritage by the fact that it is a very solid feeling car. Doors (and interior fittings) close with a solid thud; there are no interior rattles. It does, however, have a rough/unsettled ride on its harsh suspension over poor pavement; clearly, German infrastructure is kept in better repair than what we have in the Pacific Northwest. Among the engineering details I loved were the 90-degree hood opening, articulation of the RH windshield wiper to wipe all the way up into the corner of the windshield, and the meticulous underhood layout and construction; by comparison our Ford Flex looks like everything was just thoughtlessly thrown in place. Even the underbody panels are precisely fitted to precisely manage airflow.
The C350 Coupe is rated 19/28 MPG. During the course of my week with the car I covered 260 miles, at an average speed of 26 mph and fuel consumption of 19 MPG (according to the trip computer). That included plenty of around-town and stop-and-go traffic driving, as well as a run through my favorite back roads.
The C350 coupe has a starting price of $42,370. The one I tested had a Rear Camera ($460), mbrace in-vehicle services ($660), Keyless Go ($650), Special Order fee ($250), Advanced Agility package ($1400), COMAND system with single disc player ($930), Leather Package ($1750), Lighting Package ($1290), Lane Tracking ($850), and destination charge of $825, for an MSRP of $51,845.
The C350 seems to have a difficult time deciding whether it is a luxury coupe or a sport coupe. During my week with the C350 Coupe, I found it to be well engineered, but lacking in passion. While it has plenty of luxurious features, it also has hard seats and a hard ride, and really doesn’t cosset the occupants the way I think a $51k car should. As far as my dream ride: I’m thinking it might not actually be a two-door coupe; I might be a more stereotypical wagon-loving autowriter. Guess I need to ask whether Mercedes has an E63 AMG wagon available to test…
Mercedes-Benz provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.