Mercedes-Benz C350 Sport Coupe — Getting into the game
By Al Vinikour
There’s a great line in the movie Patton where George C. Scott and his battle staff are being attacked by some enemy aircraft while they’re sitting in a meeting with their British counterparts. After a few minutes of this Patton said, “That’s about enough!” and proceeds to walk outside, take out his pistol and shoot at the aircraft as they made their next run.
This scenario must have occurred to Mercedes-Benz management as they have sat back for years watching sales for smaller luxury coupes going to BMW. Truth was, Mercedes didn’t have one. They do now and while late getting into the game they sure are making up for lost time.
At first glance it looks more like its bigger E-Class sibling due to the lower, squattier stance. The C350 Sport takes on AMG-like styling with its grill-mounted star, deeper front and rear aprons and under-door rocker panels. The all-new coupe is standard with a panorama sunroof. Although I’m one of those people who prefer either no sunroof or at the least a solid panel that covers it, the sheer netting of the one in the C-Class is not a bad compromise.
The 2012 C350 is all about sportiness and what’s sportiness without a powertrain to match its looks. Along comes a new 3.5L V6 that features direct fuel injection and multi-spark ignition and a whopping 12:1 compression ratio. It pumps out 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque while getting better fuel economy while producing more pulling power.
It’s mated to a new seven-speed automatic transmission with a more advanced torque converter lock-up clutch that further assists obtaining better fuel mileage. The transmission seamlessly does the guess work on the best gear selection while at the same time offering those who feel the need to give the impression they know how to drive a manual transmission, a pair of steering-wheel mounted paddles.
For a luxury sports car with all the expected sport-tuned suspension and handing it doesn’t jar you when going over rough roads, railroad tracks, et cetera. There’s no feeling of control-loss during slippery conditions. No matter what the weather and terrain the C350 seems to hold traction.
When I first picked up my 2012 C-Class C350 sport Coupe at the Portland (Maine) Airport I was driving slowly on my way out of the airport grounds. Consequently, I didn’t realize what a powerful steed I’d chosen to ride. One stomp on the gas pedal as I entered a high-speed highway convinced me I was driving a really high-powered V8. It even had that nice, deep V8 exhaust rumble. However, upon reflection, I realized I was actually driving a V6, albeit it one hell of a V6.
Mercedes had orchestrated a driving route that took full advantage of its turn-by-turn navigation system. The voice was the familiar “Nav Babe” heard in most, if not all factory-installed systems. The new C-Class system has everything you’d want in a unit like this. Furthermore, the babe gives all kinds of warnings and detailed information regarding street names, turns, confusing road curves, etc.
What used to constitute pages and pages of instructions in our journalist’s driver route books only requires programming in the address you want or clicking on to the prerecorded information. There’s a really neat “repeat” function that you can click on if you miss an instruction, want to see how far away you are from a major point or if you’re just plain lonely and want the soothing sound of a woman’s voice – one that’s not yelling at you.
To say the interior of a Mercedes-Benz is comfortable is like saying Yao Ming is tall. The front seats are contoured to take in a variety of physical sizes, from, let’s say, my Uncle Barney’s size down to that of Tattoo from Fantasy Island. Side bolsters hold individuals in when corning during aggressive driving – which seems to be the C350’s reason for existence. Power seat controls have been relocated to the upper portion of the door panel.
All new 2012 C-Class models are equipped with a new 5.8” color display located at the top of the console, which features a Bluetooth interface for wireless audio streaming, hands-free phone operation and phone book downloading. An optional Multimedia Package includes a larger 7” color display, GPS navigation, rear-view camera, an SD card slot, voice control and an in-dash CD/DVD player. Standard audio on the Coupe is a 450-watt harman/kardon system with LOGIC7 Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1 discrete multichannel surround sound that turns the interior of the vehicle into a concert hall.
A new instrument cluster features three metallic tubular rings that hold gauges for rpms, road speed, fuel and temperature. The lower console contains an electronic controller that works like a computer mouse. It used to get into a variety of sub-menus, like audio, nav, etc. There’s a definite learning curve – especially if one doesn’t want to read the manual. Though not initially intuitive it becomes more-so as one becomes familiar with it during practice walk-throughs. As mentioned during a recent 2012 M-Series review, the good engineers at Mercedes-Benz have (finally) relocated the cruise control stalk (that used to interfere with the turn signal arm) to a more traditional position. The same now applies to the C-Class.
The built-in safety of the 2012 C-Class vehicles would make a Volvo feel inadequate. Not that I’m conspiratorial but it’s almost as if Mercedes-Benz engineered all this safety equipment so people could survive a normally-horrific crash and live to buy another Mercedes vehicle. And that’s not a bad thing.
An innovative “Attention Assist” system couples a steering movement sensor with intelligent software than can identify the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy. It triggers an audible and a “time for a rest” message with a coffee cup icon that appears on the instrument cluster. The software receives signals from the steering sensor and monitors 70 different parameters that have proven to be strong contributors to fatigue and drowsiness. Also part of the “safety cocoon” is adaptive braking with a “hold” feature that prevents the car from creeping forward when waiting at a light; hill-start assist, brake proportioning, brake-drying, a plethora of airbags, active front head restraints and a host of “mundane” safety technology like ABS, brake assist, ASR Traction Control, ESP Stability Control and many others you’ll seldom be aware of.
Among the better options is Lane Keeping Assist (in the Lane Tracking Package). It has a special computer that analyzes images from a multi-purpose camera in the windshield and recognizes lane markings. This system alerts the driver by simulating rumble strip vibrations in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane without the turn signals on. Also part of this same package is my favorite safety device ever — Blind Spot Assist — that uses dedicated radar sensors to monitor both blind spots behind the vehicle. A warning triangle appears in the outside mirror whenever another car is in a blind spot, and if the driver activates a turn signal with a vehicle in the blind spot the triangle flashes and a warning beep sounds.
Considering its sportiness and speed (5.9 seconds – 0-60 mph) the new coupe is relatively fuel efficient. City economy is rated at 19 mpg; highway is 28 mpg; for a combined total of 22 mpg. Also in the ballpark – not the cheap seats as one wouldn’t expect of a luxury vehicle like the C350 – is the MSRP of $43,245 (including a destination charge of $875).
Mercedes-Benz has designed a clever ad where they show a four-door sedan braking loose from heavy-duty chains and in the process losing its two rear doors and emerging free as a coupe. The 2012 C350 Coupe is a real head-turner and for the gang in Munich it’ might become a considerable headache.