Test Drive: 2018 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic Sedan

What can you say about the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C300? It’s about to be replaced by a refreshed 2019 model. It’s the entry-level no-thrills sedan that’s out-ranked on the style front by the coupe, convertible, and wagon models. It looks subtly elegant enough with a flash of detail here and there, but is largely anonymous.

A mighty fine dance partner in the twisties.

Which is just fine because a great many C-Class buyers (as well as 3 Series and A4 buyers) probably like it that way. We wouldn’t see so so many on the roads if it was mainly the flash-and-dash crowd that it was appealing to. Plus, there’s always the C63 AMG model for that.

At this point, it may seem like I’m selling the C300 a little short, but in fact, it’s quite the opposite. After all, it’s hard to sell (pun intended) those C-Class sales figures short – 10,848 last year in Canada, 1,595 so far this year. It’s about more than that, though.

Exterior and Interior Style

On the styling front, for example, the details are there if you look for them. The two-tone 18-inch five-spoke wheels provided by my tester’s Night Package are a nice start. Same goes for the blacked-out mesh grille (which matches three on the lower valance) trisected by two chrome bars, flanked by nicely shaped headlamp lenses adorned with LED daytime running lights. I’m not positive but I’ll bet that for many, you’d have to park it beside an S-Class flagship to know that, well, the C-Class wasn’t one.

Look closer still, and more pleasing details are revealed, such as the Mercedes-Benz scripting on the brake calipers, chrome door handles, and twin oblong tailpipes. Those help give the C300 (which has a somewhat tall greenhouse) a lower stance. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Inside, you’ll find a different story. All that “subtle elegance” we talked about? Well, it’s pretty much ditched. The funky red seats are an obvious eye-catcher (that will set you back $1,990), but here, as in so many Mercedes models, what does it for me is the aluminum detailing, namely on the upper door panels and the window controls. It’s on the door speakers, too, providing a nice cherry on top of the whole shebang. Same goes for the vent roundels.

On my tester the chrome and aluminum content has been kicked up a notch by the AMG Interior Styling Package, which adds chrome pedals and steering wheel trim. The C300 may be the entry-level of the last year of the pre-refresh C-Class, but darned if they haven’t made it shine nevertheless.

Comfort and Infotainment

Seating and space-wise, while it may feel a little snug around the shoulders to some broader folks, the additional side bolstering provided by my car’s seats (another benefit of the Interior Styling Package) keeps your hips in check without too much of a squeeze, while the deeper seat makes for a good driving position and a little more headroom. Rear-seat passengers will feel a bit of a squeeze in the legroom department – this is a compact sedan, after all – but what’s lost there is made up for in trunk space to the tune of 480 L, which is additionally bolstered by rear seats that fold completely flat. My car also had the foot-activated power trunk option, which is nice. Of course, if you want more storage, there’s always the wagon which starts at $1,300 more than the sedan.

While in-car infotainment systems aren’t typically celebrated for their tangibility as the rest of a car’s cabin, Mercedes has tried to add a little of the touchy-feely stuff here with the dual central control set-up. You’ve got a touchpad and a scroll-wheel at your disposal sitting where a gear lever normally would (it’s steering-column-mounted in the C300), which I suppose is nice, though I spent most of my time using the scroll-wheel. I guess you can call me a creature of habit, and for whatever reason my muscle memory just never told me to make use of that pad.

Looks elegant enough, though, and the haptic feedback it provides once pressed is hard to miss. I do wish the interface was just a little more intuitive, however. The “clickable” buttons aligned horizontally above and below the display are many, and require a lot of spinning, swiping, and pressing to access. It’s not especially intuitive, requiring more steps than it should to perform certain commands.

Unfortunately, my tester didn’t have the Intelligent Drive Package, which means I didn’t have Mercedes’ excellent active steering and Distronic active braking/cruise, which would’ve allowed me to semi-autonomously crawl through traffic with no feet on the pedals. The Package will run you $2,700, but after sampling it in other Mercedes previous, it’s an option box I’d definitely be ticking. May even be worth skipping that Night Package for, if you don’t mind losing those wheels. I did have active park assist and a super-crisp 360-degree camera, though, which is a nice dose of semi-autonomy for the most banal of car stuff – parking.

Performance

Toying with the drive modes is a simple task – mostly. You can choose from Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, or Individual with a toggle switch mounted left of the infotainment controller. Individual mode, however, asks that you use the scroll-wheel/touchpad to modify the powertrain and steering on the main display. It’s a nice feature, but remember that you must first be in individual mode before you feel any effects, which can be tricky as you can configure individual mode while in one of the other drive modes.

Once you do figure that all out, though, even less-seasoned drivers should be able to feel the differences, especially when it comes to the powertrain. In Comfort (read: “normal”), the throttle report is fine, but switch to Eco and it becomes noticeable spongy. That’s no surprise as a mushier pedal means fuel is burned more slowly. Switch to Sport, however, and you can really feel the full blow of 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque being unleashed by the 2.0L turbo four. It’s not neck-snapping by any means, but it’s quick enough that you’ll have no problems carrying out everyday tasks both on the freeway or in town.

Trouble is, most of the competition makes more power and torque for similar money from similar four-cylinder turbo engines, so while the C300 does come with an advanced, close-ratio nine-speed box as standard, Mercedes buyers are going to have to accept that they will be working with less power. Unless, of course, they choose to spring for the $56,600 C43 model and its 362 horses, a figure more in keeping with competition such as the BMW 340i or Infiniti Q50 3.0T.

Handling

While the power delivery is fine, I do wish it was a little smoother. The engine note is slightly on the harsh side, making me wish I had a little more sound-deadening in the front bulkhead, or perhaps even a little exhaust tuning to help neutralize the effect.

What I would never ask to have neutralized in any way, however, is the communicative chassis and steering. It may be electronically boosted – very little isn’t, these days – but Mercedes has done a good job of not completely robbing the driver of a little steering feel through the chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel with neat-o little dimples around the 3 and 9 o’clock positions for added grip. Especially in the sportier settings, it leads to some properly aggressive turn-in up front, while the 4Matic AWD helps the tail follow in lockstep. There are sportier versions of the C-Class, but the engineers have obviously done their homework to make sure the base model gives you a taste of what’s on offer from the C43 and C63 options.

The sport settings don’t change anything in the damper department, however. You’re left with a single damper setting, firmer in my car thanks to its sport suspension option. It’s not firm to the point of feeling it was cut from the same cloth as the engine note, but it leaves little to the imagination when it comes to bigger bumps such as railway crossings or the occasional recessed manhole cover. It is a mighty fine dance partner in the twisties, though.

It’s actually a mighty fine dance partner in general, the C300. It manages to separate itself from the crowd on the styling front without yelling at you, and it manages to acquit itself as both a luxury and sports sedan, without feeling like it's trying too hard to appease both camps. That’s a tough feat to master, and the 2018 C300 deserves kudos for bringing it.

2018 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic Sedan
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 241 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 1,300–4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 10.5/7.5/9.1 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 480 L
2018 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic Sedan
Base Price $44,700
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,495
Price as Tested $60,585
Optional Equipment $13,290 – Premium Package (Comand navigation, LED high performance lighting system, panoramic sunroof, keyless-go, DVD drive) $4,700; Premium Plus Package (Easy-Pack power trunk, integrated garage door opener, foot activated trunk release, active parking assist, 360-degree camera, illuminated door sill panels, ambient lighting) $2,300; Night Package (Sport brake system, 18” AMG five-spoke wheels, gloss black exterior elements, AMG styling package, Sport Suspension) $2,300; Cranberry Red AMG leather $1,990; Active LED lighting system $900; AMG interior package (sports seats, silver chrome steering wheel trim and shift paddles, black Artico leather upper dashboard with crystal grey stitching, silver air vent surrounds, stainless steel sports pedals, centre door panels finished in Artico leather, black floor mats with AMG lettering) $850; heated steering wheel $250
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.7
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
7 Value