The last 3 months I’ve had the privilege of driving a 2013 Mercedes-Benz C350 (3.5l V6 naturally aspirated engine putting out 225kW and 370Nm torque), and it’s been great. For the past 4 years I’ve been driving a ’96 Audi A4 1.8. It had power steering, aircon, leather seats and ample power to get by. It was comfortable on the long road and it’s treated me well. So what do I think of the C350?
It’s a fun car. It’s a ‘yes’ car. No longer do you ask yourself, can I make that gap, the answer is always yes. Can I go faster than I’m currently going? Yes. That is until the electronic limiter kicks in at 250kmph. But such opportunities don’t exactly happen. But quite often when overtaking on the free-ways one has to be careful else you can be going considerably over the speed limit without realising it.
Mercedes-Benz has never been top of my list of favourite car brands. I don’t know if it’s just a societal thing, but I’ve always felt they were cars for an older generation. I’ve always been a fan of the BMWs and Audis. Not necessarily thinking they were better, but from a subjective view of the brand and the cars’ stylings, Mercs weren’t my favourite. It has obviously grown on me in recent months, but I’d still choose an Audi or a Beemer over the Merc. It is a good looking car though, especially with the Avantgarde styling, big 18″ mags and other marks.
Inside the car is comfortable. Leather seats with some electronic adjustment controls. Sometimes the rear passenger could complain on space if I’m in front, but in most cases I could still sit comfortably and provide the person behind with enough space. I did several long trips in the car, both by myself and with passengers, and I rarely felt fatigued. The car is also much quieter. Even with that 3.5l V6 up front, inside the car remains quiet. Road noise is also noticeably less than my old ’96 Audi, and the new car obviously had less squeaks and rattles than my 17 year old sedan. 3 zone climate control means everyone can be kept happy, usually I left it set a nice 23deg and one rarely noticed any change due to outside weather conditions.
Also features, the Merc was full of them. Auto adjusting brights. Lights that shine to the sides as you go around corners. The media setup with bluetooth connection to your phone. Steering wheel controls to let you control your phone, the music, or view real time car data. Then there’s the tyre-pressure sensors (which I’ve made far more use of than in previous vehicles), parking distance sensors and many more that make life in the car more comfortable. While I liked the control of the headset using the ‘joystick’ near the gear lever, the amount of buttons around the radio frustrated me, as everything you could do with them you could do with the joystick too, and I felt all the buttons unnecessary. Hands free voice calls were crisp and clear, and one contact even commented on better quality than when I normally speak to them.
There’s also the automatic windscreen wipers, which always seem one speed to slow, or just behind how fast I want them to work. They also give petrol attendants a fright when you forget to turn the ignition off when they wash your windscreen :) I actually wasn’t fond of the auto-adjusting brights either, as when you drive around town, the brights never come on, and there’s no way to force them on, so that was one thing I did disable.
Then there’s the handling. First thing I noticed was the lack of body roll, compared to my old Audi. Even compared to my dad’s ’01 Alfa 156, which was markedly better than my Audi, the Merc had very little. And when driving through a tight corner, this helps leaps and bounds with confidence when the whole car is not leaning outwards; and a big part of driving well is confidence. Further to this, the large 215/40R18 tyres provide plenty of grip, and when the grip runs out the active Electronic Stability Program is always only split seconds away, and relatively easy to activate if one wants it. Floor the accelerator, traction control kicks in after a brief moment of wheel spin. Turn late in a corner, flashing light on the dashboard lets you know the car has better things to do with it’s time. Add a bit of rain and wet roads to the scenario and the light is sure to flash. I did a fair bit of distance on dirt roads too, and the car handled these with grace and poise. Even when the roads weren’t in the greatest condition the ride was comfortable at 60kmph and only the odd pothole resulting in a slight cringe. And to top it all off, nice big disc brakes let you slow down as fast as you sped up.
Another big change for me was the switch from a manual to an automatic. I’d never been particularly fond of automatics previously, and my opinion hasn’t changed that much, I still prefer a manual. Automatics certainly do have advantages, they are much easier to drive. In traffic, or even on the long road, it’s one less thing to think about. What I didn’t like is not being in the right gear at the right time. Both for overtaking, going through corners, and my least favourite, going over speed bumps. Even in sports mode I found the time delay between down shifts after I accelerate hard to be slower than I was comfortable with, once the car realised what I was intending to do then it got going, and got there fast, but the delay annoyed me. This can be alleviated by using the ‘manual’ gear selection option, but I didn’t find this as comfortable as I’d like. Going over speedbumps annoyed me, as in a manual I’m usually quite friendly with engine braking so that when I go over a speedbump the revs have climbed a bit and I can accelerate comfortably after the speedbump in the right gear and right speed. In the automatic I’d always brake arriving at the speedbump, but then never got the acceleration quite right after the speedbump and the car always felt like it was accelerating faster than necessary, I don’t know if this is specific to the automatic or if the engine power was maybe partly to blame as well.
Other things to note on the car… The stop-start feature where the engine turns off at robots and such is a bit offputting at first, but one gets used to it, and doesn’t really impact use of the vehicle. The front seatbelts try to ‘strangle’ you, as my girlfriend put it, whenever you get into the car, part of one of the safety features. The 18″ tyres in this car mean you don’t get a full-size spare, but a biscuit instead. This isn’t the end of the world, but in my 3 months I ended up with 5 punctures in the tyres. Only 1 of them resulted in a tyre change, the rest were all nice bolts (3 of which I picked up at work) which lodged themselves in the tyres. That was a bit frustrating. The foot activated hand brake was also a new experience, And I found it odd that no matter how hard I pushed it down, the car always had a slight roll before stopping.
One last thing I would like to mention is the fuel economy. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be great. But before I got the car I looked it up in CAR magazine, and it gave mixed figures from their testing of 8.2l/100km. I was pretty shocked, and it raised my expectations a bit. But wrongly so. I did a fair amount of long road driving where I wasn’t pushing it, and I managed a best of 8.7l/100km, averaging about 10l/100km on the open road. Round town however was really not great. Take note that I also do 10-20km at work everyday, where I drive 2km at 30kmph, stop for a bit and then drive back, not exactly helping consumption, but still I was averaging 14l/100km. In total I tracked 8884km of driving, of which 6000km of it was ‘open road’ driving. My average consumption 10.4l/100km, a far cry from the claimed 8.2. This is just part of the deal of driving a high performance car, and not a complaint per se, I just don’t like the claimed values.
It’s difficult for me to say how good the car is. The only real comparison I have is to the 17 year old Audi I’ve been driving for the past 4 years, and isn’t really a comparison of other currently available cars. The 3.5l engine definitely had an impact on my enjoyment level of the car, I don’t think it would have been the same had I been given the 1.8 but that shouldn’t detract from the well built, comfortable and beautiful car that the W204 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is.