“Those look like some serious brakes,” the man in the parking lot at the local convenience store shouted as he eyeballed the C-Class from the comfort of his own driver’s seat.
I wasn’t about to correct him. The front rotors, cross-drilled and filling the 18-inch AMG wheels, sure look the business. But, the decidedly smaller solid rear discs stood in contrast to the front, looking like a mechanical afterthought.
“Yeah, they do the job,” I replied hurriedly, not looking to talk about the latest vehicle to spend time in my driveway. Not that I don’t like talking about cars. Today, I just wasn’t in the mood, only wanting to buy what I needed at the store and head back home.
I didn’t like it. That said, I didn’t not like it either.I opened the driver’s door.
“What year is it?”
Sigh, here we go.
Usually when I’m not in the mood to talk shop, I can walk away after the first question and answer, open the door of my latest set of borrowed wheels, and the inquirer gets the hint.
Not this guy.
“It’s a 2015,” I responded as hurriedly as I did before while trying to fold myself into the Mercedes.
“Nice car. How much power does it have? Horsepower?” he delivered his third inquiry as if I didn’t know what he meant by ‘power’.
At this point, I know I’m in for at least a five-minute conversation as we go over all the specs of the engine, guesstimate the size of the front rotors, talk about the Polar White paint, and everything else.
If the C400 was a bit more interesting, intriguing, and emotional, I probably would have stood there for 10 or 15 minutes extolling the car, how much I liked it, how it drives, and how it performs.
But, I didn’t like it. That said, I didn’t not like it either.
After driving the newly restyled W205 Mercedes-Benz C400 for a few days, I was completely indifferent about it.
I could take or leave the styling, the laid-back but somewhat potent 329 hp V6 engine, the usually-smooth 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission, the new interior featuring the mouse-over-knob COMAND controls, and everything else.
My mood toward the car was one no automotive journalist dares to have.
I didn’t care about the newest Mercedes sedan … not one bit.
The reviewer conundrum
The truth: we are a spoiled lot.
Any reviewer – a movie critic, restaurant columnist, or automotive journalist – is spoiled to a degree. We get to travel the world to exotic locales, enjoy the finest dining, and drive all the cars – good, bad, and otherwise.
When I drive a car I really enjoy, that I can connect with on an emotional, maybe even primal level, the amount of effort needed to weave words into enjoyable articles is fairly low. There’s a direct connection between the part of your brain that experiences pleasure and the other part producing the creative prose; a neural pathway of mental images and flowery language.
Even after driving a car I strongly dislike, or even down-right hate, the same part of the brain that experiences pleasure is stimulated in the opposite way. Displeasure can sometimes be the best fuel for writing (with the exceptions of caffeine and whisky).
But, when that pleasure center is not given a poke one way or the other, I sit here frustrated, barely able to remember the car after it’s gone. The glass is not half full or half empty. It’s just a glass with water in it.
The Benz has, unfortunately, fallen into the dreaded category of “otherwise”.
By all logical measures, the Mercedes-Benz C400 (available only as a 4Matic in Canada) is an excellent car.
Since switching from the 190 to the C-Class moniker, the premium sedan now enters its fourth generation. It’s no longer the entry-level sedan at Mercedes-Benz, a spot now taken by the front-wheel drive CLA, allowing the now-core model to move up the ladder ever to slightly.
Dubbed W205 in Mercedesese, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is available as the C 300 and C400 in Canada, both with 4 Matic as standard. A plucky 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque powers the C 300. My tester this week, the C400, gets its 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque from a 3.0L biturbo V6 engine. Those aren’t small numbers.
The new C-Class is also longer and wider, yet lighter, than the outgoing W204 thanks to a generous use of aluminum and other modern materials. With weight savings in place, the C400 tips the scales at a scant 1,695 kg, or 3,737 lbs.
Less weight (erm, mass) and more power gives the C400 a truly respectable 0-100 km sprint time of 5.2 seconds. Not so long ago, anything under the 5 second mark was supercar territory.
In practice, the engine is smooth, quick to respond, and delivers the goods in a quite civilized manner. The seven-speed 7G-TRONIC automatic is equally smooth … most of the time.
While in Eco and Comfort, you’re unlikely to encounter issues. However, once you get into Sport, shifts are a bit harsh when they don’t need to be. If you plan to drive around town in Sport+, prepare for people to look at you funny as your engine constantly revs north of 3,000 rpm while you hold a constant speed of 50 km/h. Unless you’re at a track, keep the “Activity” mode at Sport and below.
Underneath it all is a multi-link independent suspension, front and rear, that gives you confidence. The C400 carved my local, winding shoreside road with ease, even smoothing out the bumps mid-corner instead of getting upset.
But, when driving around town without being pushed, the suspension delivers a ride that’s just ever-so-slightly on the stiff side. Many would call this style of ride quality “European,” as if it’s a privilege to experience such a thing. I call it mildly unfortunate.
Love (or lack thereof)
My mother always taught me it’s what’s inside that counts. Mercedes seems to have been speaking to my mother as well.
Unlike the unfortunate cluster of controls residing in the CLA, the C-Class provides much better functionality, especially when it comes to interacting with the COMAND screen sitting atop the dash.
Sitting between driver and passenger is a new touchpad, which looks like a mashup between a mouse and a cell phone, hovering above the main control knob and bordered by other various controls for volume, agility and auto stop/start.
At first glance, the new control is a gorgeous piece of sculpture, but I thought it would ultimately fail in its pursuit of ease of use. However, I was absolutely dead wrong. The touchpad is much like using any iDevice that company in California trots out and the knob below it gives you something much more tangible to use for certain functions, like spinning through channels on satellite radio for instance. This kind of change is warmly welcomed.
But, it’s the rest of the controls – especially for the driver – that infuriate me about Mercedes as a whole.
The shifter for the seven-speed automatic is still a stalk attached to the steering column (where there is no less than three other sets of controls, in stalk or some other form). The seat controls are on the door where, while easy to see, is just not where I’d expect them in any car. The electronic parking brake switch, something you’d expect to be on the centre console or somewhere on the dash, is way below the steering column near your knee. Why? Isn’t one of the main positives of electronic switches the ability to put it virtually anywhere? And to cap it all off, the switch operates backwards (push in to engage, pull out to disengage). It’s a mess!
It’s due to this complete lack of control standardization that makes the C-Class, or almost any other Mercedes for that matter, a horrible getaway car. When you jump in the car, you start thinking, “Ok, so I need to turn this on. How do I do that? All right, that’s done. How do I get into drive? Right, the stalk on the steering column. How do disengage the parking brake?” It’s a constant game of Where’s Waldo? Mercedes Interior Controls Edition. And it’s not needed. It’s not needed at all.
I think this is one of the reasons why I don’t truly love this Mercedes, or almost any Mercedes for that matter. It doesn’t ‘fit like a glove’ or one of the many other idioms used to describe one’s perfect fitment to any particular thing. It wasn’t second nature to do all the actions that were asked – demanded – of me by the car so I can just…you know…drive.
Even with all these complaints about not falling in love with the car, there’s something special about it.
That guy at the store – the one who wanted to know everything about the car – you could tell he was genuinely interested and enthralled by its presence. A Mercedes-Benz, of any model, in Nova Scotia is something that sticks out. His eyes were wide with an aspirational stare as he looked over the ever-flowing lines and curves the C-Class wears in its metal.
To this man, a Mercedes-Benz means something beyond the mechanical wizardry and the touchpad controls. It stands for a life he wishes he had; that he strives to acquire.
If you’re one of those people, I won’t hold it against you. Pick the C-Class. Spoil yourself.
|Model Tested||2015 Mercedes-Benz C 400 4MATIC|
|Price as Tested||$58,075|
$4,500 (Premium Package – Integrated Garage Door Opener, COMAND Online Navigation w/ MB Apps, PARKTRONIC w/ Active Parking Assist, Burmester Surround Sound System, KEYLESS-GO, SIRIUS Satellite Radio)