The redesigned, fourth-generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan is better able to compete with small luxury sedans from automakers such as BMW, Infiniti and Lexus.
And the new model will surely trump some rivals just because it has the Mercedes nameplate.
The 2008 C-Class has Mercedes' new corporate look, an edgy interplay of taut lines and wide, rounded surfaces. It's larger than the last generation model, being nearly 4 inches longer, about 2 inches wider, with a wheelbase lengthened nearly 2 inches.
The new car is heavier and thus a bit slower with its holdover engines, but is still fast. All versions were introduced with rear-wheel drive, but a new all-wheel-drive system soon becomes available for the C300 Sport and C300 Luxury automatic transmission trim levels.
New standard equipment includes a power sunroof, 8-way power front seats, 2-zone automatic climate controls, 17-inch wheels and a Bluetooth feature that allows a phone in a pocket or purse to be used through the audio system.
A central controller works with a 7-inch display screen that can be read quickly and stows out of sight in the upper dashboard when not used.
Revised steering and suspension make the car more agile, although the precise steering's general heaviness and the suspension's firmness give the impression that this is mainly a secure high-speed cruiser, although it's easy to maneuver in the city.
Handling is secure at all speeds, and the supple ride smoothes out roads. However the brake pedal in my early-production test car was touchy. Stopping distances were short in normal driving.
Three Trim Levels
No hot-rod AMG model was announced, but Mercedes rolled out three regular V6-powered C-Class versions with lots of comfort, convenience and advanced safety features: They were the $31,200 C300 Sport, $32,900 C300 Luxury and $36,500 C350 Sport. I drove the C300 Sport.
The rock-solid construction and impressive stance of the new C-Class reminds me of the big, vault-like Mercedes S-Class flagship models of the 1990s, which were a picture of extravagance and luxury.
Old Engineering Dominance
That S-Class was arguably the last Mercedes designed by the automaker's engineers without cost-cutting or interference from the marketing department, with items that even included double-glazed glass like that found in living rooms.
But that S-Class was criticized for being too large, heavy and "socially irresponsible" for the modern world. It was replaced for 2000 by a more efficient S-Class, and yet another redesigned-and more complicated-S-Class, which arrived for the 2007 model year.
Perhaps the new C-Class shows that Mercedes engineers have gotten more influence again. That would be a welcome development, as long as Mercedes doesn't go over-the-top with complicated gizmos that have led to lower customer satisfaction ratings.
Mercedes says the new C-Class interior is roomier, but there's still no surplus of rear legroom for a 6-footer behind a driver who has moved his seat only halfway back.
The revised cabin has supportive front seats, but some obvious faults: For instance, the analog gauges have markings too small to read at a glance. The notchy headlight control switch feels cheap, and turn signal and speed control stalks are too close and thus can be easily confused.
However, most controls are OK, although I missed Mercedes' traditional, handy door-mounted power seat controls, which have been replaced by controls at the bottom side of the seats.
An electronic controller on the console acts like a computer mouse to provide operation of functions that once required lots of buttons and switches. Cupholders are nicely placed on the console, and rear windows roll all the way down.
The large trunk is slightly roomier and has a low, wide opening. It has a padded interior lid to hold down cabin noise in this extremely quiet car.
Mercedes says the new C-Class puts more emphasis on agility, comfort, safety and sport, although it's not as sporty as the rival BMW 3-Series.
The two C300 versions have a smooth 3.0-liter 228-horsepower engine, while the C350 Sport's V6 generates 268 horsepower and more torque. The 3.0-liter versions do 0-60 in 7.1 seconds, while the 3.5-liter C-Class hits 60 in 6.3 seconds.
The automatic transmission has seven speeds and shifts smoothly, although it exhibits some indecisiveness under light throttle at lower speeds.
A 6-speed manual transmission is offered for the C300 Sport, but isn't offered for the higher-horsepower C350. That may seem curious until one realizes that most C350s will be bought by those who want the most luxurious new C-Class-and that an AMG version is surely coming.
Unique Sport Version Appearance
The C-Class Sport trim levels are identified by Mercedes' iconic three-pointed star emblem in the grille, a design cue usually reserved for the automaker's coupes and convertibles. These trim levels also look sportier, with body add-ons inspired by AMG models. These additions include deeper front and rear aprons, along with under-door rocker panels.
Moreover, the Sport versions sit a little lower and have twin-spoke 17-inch wheels of staggered width, sport shocks, springs and stabilizer bars that deliver crisper handling.
The Luxury trim level has a traditional thee-pointed-star emblem on the hood, four-spoke steering wheel and burl walnut trim. Sport versions have three-spoke wheels and either aluminum (C300) or black Birdseye maple (C350) trim. The Luxury trim level has a richer looking interior.
It's doubtful that Mercedes will ever bring back another mass-market car like that 1990s S-Class, but new models such as the 2008 C-Class make up for it in a much-changed world.