ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: I find myself liking the Mercedes C-class more and more. The C63 AMG with its thunderous 6.2-liter V8 has a special place in my heart and is definitely in the conversation with the likes of the BMW M3 and the Lexus IS-F.
Now Mercedes has ripped two doors from the body to morph the car into a sleek looking coupe. What’s the best part? The entry-level C250 packs a potent turbocharged four-cylinder, which is semiaffordable to mere mortals.
The new 1.8-liter four, with a maximum of 17.4 pounds of boost, packs a good wallop of power. Turbo lag isn’t an issue, and it pulls nicely from the low- to mid-rpm range before tapering off as you approach the 6, 450-rpm redline. Benz’s seven-speed automatic is bolted to the engine and, with paddle shifters, the gearbox’s manual mode offers respectable response to shift commands.
Another surprise came with the brakes that didn’t have the mushy pedal feel that I dread in many Mercedes products. Instead, the pedal is firm enough to control all of the brake muscle, enough to scrub off speed quickly when needed. Steering feel is tightened up as well, with satisfying feedback available through the thick-rimmed, flat-bottom steering wheel. It’s not BMW steering feel and feedback, but it’s in the same neighborhood now, which couldn’t be said about the C-class in the past when you compared it with the 3-series.
On the handling-dynamics front, the C250 coupe is a lot of fun. The 3, 528-pound curb weight is a little surprising and makes the Benz 166 pounds heavier than the BMW 328i coupe. Mercedes did a good job with the suspension, which offers good grip in corners when riding on the 18-inch rubber but is also a comfortable ride in all other situations. Again, it doesn’t quite match the BMW’s handling prowess, but it is close.
As for the C-class coupe’s lines, there’s a sporty elegance to them. Everything flows together nicely, and the car got plenty of attention over the weekend particularly in this bright red paint. A Chrysler 300 and a modified Mini Cooper tried to stare me down at stoplights over the weekend, but I just ignored them. So it certainly gets attention if that’s one of things you look for in a car.
And, yes, the interior is greatly improved over the inexpensive surroundings the old C-class sported. The front bucket seats are comfortable with good side support, and all of the materials are high quality. There’s not a chintzy looking surface in the cabin, and all of the controls for the radio/navigation are easy enough to work your way through.
Will this C-class coupe win over BMW 3-series coupe shoppers? Possibly some casual car guys, but the lack of an available manual transmission hurts it in the eyes of the more hard-core car enthusiasts. That and it is still a little behind the BMW in the driving-dynamics department, despite having closed that gap a lot. However, one thing we all need to keep in mind is that there is a new BMW 3-series coupe on the horizon, too. I’m sure Bimmer has been hard at work sharpening the new car.
Either way, I’m still a fan of this C250 coupe.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: OK, I’m not ready to declare this 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 coupe better than a BMW 3-series, but, damn, is this a great driver. It gives up two cylinders, 1.2 liters and weighs an extra 100 pounds versus the BMW 3-series coupe, so the Audi A5 (2.0-liter I4, 211 hp, 150 pounds heavier) is a much better comparison. Regardless, not too long ago, you couldn’t mention a C-class in the same breath as either competitor, and now it is right there. That’s saying a lot.
From moment one, when you unlock and open the door, there’s noticeable heft and solidity in the door and its closure. Settle in behind the flat-bottomed, performance-oriented steering wheel and everything feels buttoned up and upscale-far removed from the plasticky hard place that used to haunt the C. The supportive yet comfortable seats alone are worth a test drive.
I’m quite enamored with this 1.8-liter turbo four under the hood. It’s relatively high-revving and likes to run up in the 4, 000-to-5, 500-rpm range, which is easy to manage via the sporty steering-wheel paddle shifters. It’s not going to throw you back in the seat, but there’s enough poke there to get this coupe moving smartly.
The best part, surprisingly, is the car’s lithe handling. I feel none of the heavy Mercedes of old, whether in suspension control, steering response or brake action. Like the beloved BMW 3-series, this car seems almost “right there” when it comes to that hard-to-measure intuitive driving feel.
NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: The 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 coupe is a strong, well-executed entry in this segment that can now truly look the 3-series in the eye. The interior is impressive, with brushed trim and a classy layout. It’s quiet, the humungous panoramic roof is cool and it’s a relaxing yet sporty place to spend some time.
The 1.8-liter turbo offers a decent amount of punch, though the exhaust note sounded a bit flatulent to me. Passing is a breeze, and this small-displacement engine is a harbinger of things to come for luxury cars, I think.
The steering has a subtle feel, though there is a bit of weight and response. The paddle shifters are smart, fun and return quick gear changes, making the C250 feel downright athletic on the expressway.
The chassis is tight yet not abusive, the body is controlled and the two-door dynamics are well proportioned. I liked the lines, the bold grille and the elegant headlights and taillights. It’s a pleasing, slightly curvy package. Overall, I’m impressed with this classy coupe. Look out, Audi and BMW.