Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Mercedes-Benz C300 Wagon

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There are many reasons to enjoy living in Canada: our beautiful, sprawling landscape; the varied cultures that make up a patchwork-quilt mosaic; the fact that we can boast both an erudite, singing astronaut in the person of Commander Chris Hadfield, and also Ricky, Bubbles, and Julian from Trailer Park Boys.

A utilitarian machine for people who buy a Mercedes to whisper, not shout, and who also require a bit of haulage capacity. It’s class combined with a big, um, boot.

In short, life here is pretty sweet here eh, bud? Flip on the curling and crack a stubby. And, as you do so, raise a toast to the good people of Stuttgart, who have seen fit to acknowledge Canada’s unique place in the world by fixing us up a wagon.

The wagon variant of the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a common sight on European roads. In point of fact, a Mercedes is not necessarily a premium vehicle in Germany, what with so many of them being taxi-cabs and the like.

However, especially where its larger, E-Class cousin is concerned, having a wagon with a silver star up front is very much a fancy-pants proposition on this side of the water. If you’ve got a GLE crossover, then you’re probably doing quite well. If you’ve got an E400 wagon, demographics show you’ve got a net worth that’s near-twice the average E-class owner.

The key is exclusivity, something that’s harder than ever to find in this world of last-minute 1.9 percent lease deals; everything-must-go. Yes, you could replace this handsome dark-grey machine with a slightly-less-expensive GLC, and have basically the same amount of utility, but the C300 offers a bit of reverse snobbery. This is a utilitarian machine for people who buy a Mercedes to whisper, not shout, and who also require a bit of haulage capacity. It’s class combined with a big, um, boot.

In the name of all that’s holy, buy one of these in the wonderful Brilliant Blue Metallic. Even if you wish to fly below the radar, the usual sea of black/grey/white is a bit dull for a car that’s got a bit more personality than the ordinary. The Selenite Grey of my tester costs an extra $890, and is about as visually exciting as a slab of granite.

More delightful is the interior of the C-Class, which is less cluttered than that of the BMW 3 Series, a chief rival. BMW is the only other manufacturer to offer a wagon variant of their compact sedan (even if the 3 Series is now as big as a 5 Series used to be, it’s still the entry-level one), and a chance meeting in a parking lot provided the opportunity to give both a good looking-over.

I like the Merc’s optional open-pore wood, and swath of silvery accents. If you’d owned a Mercedes in the past, you’d get used to the seat controls being positioned high up on the doors, and if the central display screen has a tacked-on feel, then at least the rest of the cabin is fittingly upscale. Particularly nice are the air vents, which feel hefty and click satisfyingly into place.

Less good is the COMAND system, and yes, Mercedes-Benz really does love their all-caps acronyms. It’s like getting an email from your German aunt. Let it be noted that repeated use of Mercedes’ system lessens the contempt it first engenders; the more you use it, the more the occasionally odd menu choices seem to line up. However, it’s far from the most intuitive offering in this class.

Next to the Bimmer, the C300 is some 4 L smaller in seats-up trunk space, which is basically irrelevant. The Merc appears to have a slightly wider rear hatch opening, but from passenger space to cargo capacity, the two are basically a wash.

Traditionally, you’d have gone for the BMW offering if you wanted something a little more sporty, and as BMW does offer a greater array of options for their 3-wagon. Among other things, there’s an M Sport line that adds 19-inch alloys, some aero-look bits, and sport seats.

However, the C300 is no slouch. My tester left most of the boy racer stuff off, but added a set of handsome-yet-not-oversized 18-inch wheels, and upgraded LED lights. Further, while the C300 only comes with one engine and transmission offering, it’s quite good.

Nearly all the major premium players have moved to 2.0L, turbocharged four-cylinder engines, as it’s so much easier to jump through emissions and efficiency regulations. Here, the Mercedes four makes 241 hp at 5,500 rpm, and 273 lb-ft of torque from 1,300 to 4,000. More unusual is a nine-speed automatic transmission, now making its way through the Mercedes range.

It’s no small compliment to say that you won’t really notice the nine-speed. Much like the car’s dark-grey paint, the transmission is working hard to make sure you aren’t thinking about anything it’s doing. Combined with the low-rpm availability of torque, the C300 is effortlessly quick when it needs to be, producing GTI-level sprints to highway speeds without much fuss.

Still, there is not a lot of character on offer here. Those who fell in love with the buttery-smooth nature of a Mercedes six-cylinder will find little to love here. There’s nothing in particular about the C300’s powertrain that a buyer could point to and say, “This, this is why I went with the Mercedes.”

However, combining the C300’s unflappable drivetrain with the added traction of 4Matic all-wheel drive and a cargo-happy wagon body has created a vehicle of almost ruthless practicality. Better yet, as this test vehicle wasn’t subjected to the idiocy of a “sport-tuned” suspension, it offered excellent ride quality.

From an overall road-holding standpoint, I can’t imagine the fractional lateral acceleration advantage that the C300 might have over the taller GLC would make much of a difference. Crossovers now handle like cars and, for the most part, the reverse is true. The GLC is M-B’s second-most-popular vehicle, and its sales volume will only swell. If you wanted a bit more spunk out of one, you might consider an “AMG-Lite” GLC43.

The C300 is very much a Mercedes-Benz product and not an AMG one. It’s a little soft around the edges, from steering to chassis, but I’d like to emphasize that this is again a compliment. Everyone loves the image of a DTM racer bouncing off curbed banking on a suspension that’s got all the compliance of a leather-clad dominatrix named Helga, but we don’t want the whip-marks on our posterior. A little bit of cushiness is what we want in our Mercedes-Benz, and the C300 is still quick and competent when it needs to be.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Canadian, and while the country as a whole buys a greater percentage of AMG products than elsewhere, such is not the defining characteristic of the Canadian Mercedes buyer. What do we hosers usually go for? Just the amount of car we need, and not much more.

The C300 thus makes a great deal of sense above the 49th parallel. As a Canadian, we might want to be seen as slightly different than the herd, but not in a way that’s flashy or showing off. Perhaps we’d like to draw a clearer line to our European roots, or perhaps we just like the idea of a truly car-like driving experience with just a tad more capacity.

To that end, the C300 might just be the most Canadian Mercedes currently on the market. It’s politely demure. It’s surprisingly capable. It handles poor weather conditions with aplomb. And it’s something you know the Yanks wouldn’t quite get. Thus, Germany doesn’t send it to ’em, just to us. Danke schön, Stuttgart.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 241 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque 273 lb-ft @ 1,300–4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 10.7/8.7/9.5 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 490 / 1,510 L seats down
Model Tested 2018 Mercedes-Benz C300 Wagon
Base Price $46,000
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,595
Price as Tested $57,860
Optional Equipment
$9,165 – Metallic Paint $890; Open-pore wood $250; Premium pkg (power tailgate, navigation) $5,000; Premium Plus pkg (360-degree camera, parking assist) $2,300; heated steering wheel $250; Sirius XM $475