By Eric Peters
Conan told us what is best in life: Crush enemies, see them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.
It’s a good description of the Mercedes C coupe.
Which can be ordered with engines ranging from a turbo four to a turbo V8 – with a twin turbo V6 in the middle.
Horspower ranges from 241 in the turbo four C300 to 503 in the C63 AMG – the latter being just the ticket to elicit lamentations from pretty much anyone who tries to pass you.
There are of course others.
The BMW4 coupe. The Lexus RC. The Cadillac ATS and the Audi A5. Each have their virtues, too.
But none of them can match the luxurious audacity of the C.
Conan the Barbarian meets Hugo Boss.
The C is the two-door (four-seater) version of the Mercedes’ C-Class sedan.
You can go hardtop or (soon, this Fall) convertible – and take your pick of four cylinder or V8 (or twin turbo V6) power, rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive.
Rivals like the BMW 4 and Lexus RC and Cadillac ATS offer some of these permutations, but not all.
In particular, the Benz’s available enemies-crushing V8 engine.
It’s something John DeLorean (the guy who created the original Pontiac GTO back in the ’60s) might have come up with – and it’s a ray of sunshine that a similarly minded speed freak is currently employed by – of all places – Mercedes.
Base price for the C300 hardtop with the 2.0 turbo four (241 hp) and rear-drive is $42,650; with the optional 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, the price is $44,650.
The mid-range C43 gets the Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach (AMG) infusion.
Founded by Hans Werner Aufrecht (there’s the ‘“A”) and Erhard Melcher (the “M“) plus the “G” (for Grossaspach, which is Melcher’s hometown, it’s the “gym” where normal Mercedes models go to get Pumped Up.
The C43 gets uprated with a twin-turbo V6 and (cue El Guapo voice) a plethora of related upgrades to complement the 363 hp under the hood.
MSRP for the coupe is $55,500.
The AMG boys do not stop there, however.
For $67,000 you can ante up to the C63 AMG – or, for $75,000, the C63 AMG S. Both come with twin turbo V8s and power ranging from 469 (in the C63) to 503 (in the C63 S).
Convertible (cabriolet) versions will be available this fall, too.
The C coupe/cabriolet are redesigned for 2017.
Multiple engine options, drive types and roof types.
Six-figure interior; five figure MSRP.
Meticulous craftsmanship; gorgeous 8.4-inch LCD display.
Slick touches such as pop-out rearview camera (hidden behind the Benz badge on the trunk lid).
Superb Burmeister 13-speaker audio rig.
Automatic only, regardless of engine.
Ride may be too “Cimmerian” for some – even in the C300.
iPad-style interface (and mouse input) almost requires a co-pilot to operate safely when the car’s moving.
Obnoxious paint-shaker stop-start system (can be turned off).
Even though it hasn’t got a V8, the Caddy ATS-V is quicker, offers a manual transmission – and is $20k less than C63 AMG.
UNDER THE HOOD
The C300 starts out with a turbo 2.0 four – an engine size that’s becoming interestingly generic across makes and models (and price ranges). You may have noticed. Two-point-oh engines are in everything from Hyundais to – well, Benzes.
And Audis and Cadillacs and the new Lexus RC, too.
But why is two-point-oh so desirable a displacement?
Because it’s the maximum displacement before euro-taxes that penalize higher displacement kick in. And that affects us, too. Because the car business is international. Benz is, after all, primarily a European car company. They design cars for their home market first and us incidentally. Same goes for the others.
In the C300, two-point-oh equals 241 hp, 273 ft. lbs. of torque (on tap from 1,300 RPM through 4,000 RPM) 0-60 in 5.9 seconds and 23 MPG in city driving, 30 on the highway.
The only transmission is a seven speed automatic, but you can go rear-drive (C300) or all-wheel-drive (C300 4-Matic).
This puts the Benz well ahead of the Lexus RC200t – which has the same sized engine (two-point-oh) and exactly the same rated power (241) but takes just over 7 seconds to get to 60. The RC200t also does not offer AWD as an option. You have to move up to the more expensive (and V6-powered) RC350 to get it.
The Audi A5, which is going to be updated next year (2017), also slots in behind the Benz. Two-point-oh (again) but only 220 hp and 0-60 in about 6.3 seconds. However, Quattro all-wheel-drive comes standard and you can get a six-speed manual transmission – fairly rare in this class.
Benz’s main antagonist is, of course, BMW.
The 4 Series coupe (428i) comes with – drum roll – a two-point-oh four that makes 240 hp. You can get it with a manual or automatic and with RWD or AWD. It is capable of getting to 60 in 5.4 seconds, the quickest of the lot with the standard engine.
It also rates 23 city, 35 highway – the best mileage of the lot.
Crom is angered.
Enter the C43.
It is like Conan after a few years working out at the Wheel of Pain. You may remember the transformation. No more two-point-oh.
The A5 has nothing to counter this.
Nor the Lexus.
The BMW 4’s optional engine – also a 3 liter turbo six – only manages 300 hp and it’s not much quicker than the two-point-oh 428i:
Zero to 60 in the mid-fives.
The V6-powered RC350 F Sport (306) hp does about the same.
A Cadillac ATS with its step-up 3.6 liter V6 (335 hp) is also high fives.
For twice two-point-oh (and more than twice the horsepower) there’s the C63 AMG.
Or the even more powerful C63 AMG S.
Both come with 4 liter twin turbo V8s – 469 and 503 hp, respectively. And 479 ft.-lbs. of torque (at 1,750 RPM through 4,500 RPM) for the C63; 516 ft.-lbs (at the same RPM) for the C63 AMG S.
A 7,000 RPM redline.
Put all that in a 4,074 car and the result is 60 MPH in 3.8 seconds and 180 MPH on top.
Gas mileage? Seriously?
It’s actually not that bad: 17 city, 23 highway for the pair.
But there is the BMW M4.
It hasn’t got a V8 or 500-plus hp. But it is lighter and so almost exactly as quick (3.9 seconds to 60) and you can get it with a manual transmission and for about $800 less ($66,200).
And there is also the ATS-V iteration of the Caddy coupe. No V8, either. But its twin turbo V6 crescendoes at 464 hp and gets the car to 60 in the same 3.8 seconds.
A manual is available, too.
And, it’s a steal: $62,895 ($4,100 and change discounted vs. the C63; that’s enough to pay for at least two “reckless driving” tickets).
But, neither the Caddy’s nor the BMW’s powerplants are V8s – and neither produce 500-plus ft.-lbs. of torque.
The Benz stands alone atop a pile of enemy skulls, thoroughly crushed.
The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist and the wind in your hair.
It’s good in traffic, too.
But the “open steppe” is the natural territory of a car like this.
Especially this one.
Benzes are road cars. They love speed as much as they deliver quickness. But what is the Riddle of Speed? To grok it you must find a cop-free place and let the C reach its groove spot somewhere to the right of 100 on the Rolex-looking chronograph speedometer. Cue up your favorite playlist on the Burmester 13 speaker stereo, slide back the panorama sunroof (and it does slide back; some merely tilt a little) and revel in your fortune and the goodness of life.
It is tragic to waste machinery like this on artificially dumbed-down American roads, where much over 80 is asking for trouble and over 100 guarantees it.
Owning the C43 must be torture; the C63, S&M. The equivalent of having the hottest girl in the world as your wife… in a bedroom divided by a plate glass window. With thug guards ready to stomp you if you somehow manage to get through the glass.
On the other hand, there are moments when a car such as this can be used.
If you look at the C like a concealed carry .45 it begins to make sense. You don’t want to wave the thing around. But knowing you have it tucked under your shirt is comfort enough. Being able to use it if you need to, even more so.
The C300’s turbo four – like almost all of the new gen turbo fours – pulls like a strong V6 without a turbo. Much effort has gone into eliminating the once-characteristic On/Off peakiness of small displacement turbo engines . The turbos are small and spool up (build boost) with no noticeable lag, regardless of engine speed. You get a winning combination of peak torque output immediately (1,300 RPM) and plenty of horsepower, too. It’s like like having a diesel that revs.
Without the clatter.
Or much noise of any kind.
In fact, the four is so quiet, artificial noise had to be generated – and is piped into the cabin. It sounds authentic and even more important, it sounds good.
As you move up to the bi-turbo V6 and V8, the auditory enhancement isn’t necessary.
The C63’s V8 (and 516 ft.-lbs. of torque at 1,750 RPM) is simply sick – the equivalent of Thorgrim’s hammer.
Some reviewers – not me – fault the C’s ride for being too firm. I think it should be firm. This is a high-line performance coupe (and convertible).
It’s not a Solara.
Same goes for the shift action of the seven speed automatic. You’re supposed to feel them – gear changes – in a car like this. In Sport (and Sport+) you feel them more. The ECU also holds fifth, to keep the revs up. And provides rev-matched downshifts, too.
Amazingly, the mileage doesn’t suck. Even if you do (like I did) leave in in Sport+ most of the time. I averaged 24.6 MPG – better mileage than I got out of the Kia Sportage I test-drove a couple weeks ago. It also had a turbo two-point-oh engine, incidentally.
But Thorgrim’s Hammer, it wasn’t.
Visibility to the rear, on the other hand, is not good. A function of the sloped and small rear glass.
But then, it looks great. And besides, Enzo was probably right.
Years ago, when someone in the car press complained about the rearward sight lines of his Ferraris, Enzo cut the guy off with the observation, “What is behind me does not matter.”
Over at BMW, you’ve got the 2 Series coupe, which is smaller outside than the 4 Series coupe … but roomier inside. The 2 coupe’s performance also overlaps the 4 coupe’s, which makes it all very confusing as far as which one to buy.
Mercedes’ lineup is less confusing.
The C coupe/convertible are two-door/four-seater versions of the C-sedan, which is Mercedes’ entry level – and compact-sized – model.
The C coupe/convertible share length (184.5 inches) and wheelbase (111.8 inches) with the C sedan, which also makes both slightly longer (on both counts) than the BMW 4 (182.6 inches and 110.6 inches, respectively) and the Cadillac ATS (183.6 inches long; 109.3 inches wheelbase).
In fact, the Benz’s wheelbase is longer than all of its rivals (especially the Lexus RC, which has a much shorter 107.5inch wheelbase).
And not just look it.
The C has a feasible 35.2 inches of back seat legroom – as compared with a ridiculous 27.3 inches in the Lexus. The same’s true – though not as severely – vis-a-vis the Cadillac ATS, which has 33.5 inches of rear seat legroom.
And the BMW (which has 33.7 inches).
What you’re getting here is almost mid-sized sedan interior space (both rows) vs. compact coupe space in the BMW 4, Lexus RC and Caddy ATS.
In a car that is smaller overall than most of its rivals.
So, it is kind of practical.
And a lot beautiful.
Ditto the inside.
The cabin is Deco and ultra-modern at the same time. Ball vents – and a huge (8.4 inch) thin-line tablet that floats (or so it looks) above the center stack. This is gorgeous, especially at night. Especially with the configurable LED interior accent lighting.
But you may want a co-pilot to navigate the tablet and the many menus it displays – and which you access via a center console-mounted mouse (finger swipe sensitive) and a rotary knob. It’s a lot to grok and a lot to deal with while also trying to keep your eyes (and mind) on the road.
On the other hand, the wheel for adjusting the volume is brilliant design; both slick-looking and usable without looking at it. And many of the car’s most important systems can be accessed and operated via similarly tactile secondary switches, which are arrayed in a handsome row under the LCD tablet.
The C300 can be tricked out with AMG exterior body pieces and interior trim, aluminum pedals, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, upgraded brakes and your pick of 18 or 19 inch AMG wheels with high-performance tires. But if you want this stuff, you can’t order the Mr. Softie Airmatic suspension (it’s for people who prefer a less Cimmerian ride and might be better off in a Solara).
Convertibles offer an “air scarf” – basically, an additional heater built into the seats, near the headrests – that does what a heated riding suit does for motorcyclists: It lets you extend the riding (or top-down) season well into fall – and even into winter.
A “drowsy driver’ warning system does what your front seat passenger would do after six or eight hours behind the wheel, if he noticed you were beginning to nod off. Well, not exactly. Not a jab in the ribs. But a warning buzzer – triggered by the car sensing your eyes closing (really) and other signs of fatigue.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s cars like this that not only give me hope but make me regret not having listened to my parents and gone to law school instead of journalism school. Instead of writingabout the C300 (and the AMG versions of the C)I might actually be able to afford one.
Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at ericpetersautos.com.
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