Historically, the C-class was the entry-level model in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. But with the introduction of the front-wheel-drive CLA-class, the “Baby Benz” no longer has to fill that role. So how does this 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 fare now that it doesn’t have to be cheap?
2015 Mercedes-Benz C300
|2.0L turbocharged inline 4-cylinder||241 bhp @5,550 rpm||273 lb-ft @1,300-4,000 rpm||7-speed automatic||$38,400||Buy it!|
Outside, the C300 wears its corporate heritage proudly and doesn’t have the odd proportions of the front-drive CLA. It looks like a shrunken E-class sedan, with a long, low hood and muscular haunches. Like other Benzes, the C300 has a prominent corporate grill and large three-pointed-star logo to let onlookers know that this is nothing less than a Mercedes.
The car’s greenhouse looks a little small for its lower half and has pronounced tumblehome that makes it look pinched, especially when viewed from the front. It accentuates the C300’s muscular stance, but compromises interior space by limiting headroom. The test car didn’t have a sunroof and headroom was still tight, even for average-sized adults. The sunroof would take even more precious inches away from available headroom.
The cabin is also a little narrow, and elbow room is at a premium. The back seat, although equipped with three seat belts, is nowhere near wide enough for three full sized adults, especially with the pronounced hump in the middle of the floor. Mercedes-Benz may say the C300 is a five-passenger car, but in reality it’s only good for four adults.
The C300’s interior is beautifully designed, with one glaring fault – the seven-inch infotainment screen. It looks tacked on and not particularly stylish. The thick bezel makes the screen look smaller than it is, and although it looks like Mercedes was going for a pseudo-iPad look, they ended up with something that looks like it cost $50 at Walmart.
This oversight is a shame, because the rest of the interior is absolutely stunning, with brushed-aluminum accents on the dash and doors and a piano black center column. The leather is soft and supple and all the controls, buttons and compartment doors move with effortless grace. The focal point of the console are the infotainment controls, which feature a round knob and a curved touchpad that wouldn’t look out of place aboard the starship Enterprise.
No matter how elegant and futuristic those infotainment controls are, though, their operation is confounding at best and completely frustrating at worst. It’s as if BMW and Mercedes are fighting over who can make the most counter-intuitive control system.
What makes the C300’s system so confusing is that there are three ways to control it – the knob, the touchpad and the dash buttons. The knob and touchscreen are fully redundant – they both do the exact same things – and the dash buttons don’t do everything the other two can. There is no way that an owner can just sit down and figure out the system. Thorough studying of the manual is necessary to properly operating the system and much practice is required before doing anything more than adjusting the temperature while driving.
Of the three, the knob is the most intuitive interface. Mercedes says that the touchscreen can handle swipes, pinches and even handwriting, but these are not something that a driver should have to worry about. The knob is the easiest to learn and the easiest to use while driving. Mercedes’ designers should’ve stopped there.
The designers’ ergonomic choices also leave much to be desired. The buttons and stalks around and on the steering wheel don’t follow any normal automotive conventions.
On the right, where most cars have their windshield wiper stalk, is the shifter. And it’s not a normal column shifter, either. It moves up and down to scroll between reverse, neutral and drive and has a button on the end for park. For someone used to having the wiper control on the right, it takes a lot of muscle memory retraining to stop from putting the car in neutral instead of turning on the wipers.
On the left, there are three stalks – one for wipers, turn signals and high beams, one for the cruise control and one for the power tilt and telescoping wheel. All but the wiper/light stalk are completely blocked by the steering wheel.
The mist/washer control is a button on the end of the stalk, which is hard to find and not where anyone would expect it to be. The cruise control is completely out of sight and needs to be memorized to use while driving and the power tilt/telescope stalk is so hard to find that it wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of owners never even know it’s there.
One part of the C300’s interior that draws no complaints, though, is the front seat design. The seats are so comfortable, so well bolstered, that they could be used as orthopedic tools. They cradle the occupants in comfort on long highway drives, yet also keep them in place during spirited driving. Even the back seats have some of the front’s magic, although non-adjustable seatbelts take a little bit away from the comfort level.
Under the hood, the C300 has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. Even though it’s a small-displacement turbo engine, it doesn’t feel like it. Most of that is due to all of those torques being available at a scant 1,300 rpm. It feels like a bigger engine and delivers power and acceleration anytime, anywhere. The engine may not sound special, but it feels special.
The seven-speed automatic does a fine job of keeping the little engine in the right rev range, with nearly imperceptible shifts and intuitive downshifts, especially when the car is in Sport or Sport+ modes.
Along with the two Sport modes, the car also has a Comfort mode and an Eco mode. Comfort mode is ideal for everyday driving, with just enough chassis rigidity without sacrificing luxury. Eco mode feels slow compared to the other modes, with slower shifts and less power, but it really just makes the C300 feel more like a normal car.
No matter what mode the car is in, steering feel is always excellent. Sport and Sport+ modes just make it feel better. Turn-in is sharp and accurate, road feel is good if not perfect, and the steering is well weighted, even in Comfort mode. This not-so-baby Benz likes to be hustled around a twisty road. Paddle shifters further enhance the driving experience. For a car as comfortable as the C300, it can definitely hold its own against any so-called sports sedan.
Even with all the power and performance, the C300 is surprisingly efficient. It’s rated at 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, but the test car averaged 36 mpg on a nearly 1,000-mile road trip that included highways, two-lane roads and city streets. All modes were used – Eco on the highway, Comfort in the city and on less challenging two-lane roads, and both Sport modes in the twisties. This figure is remarkable considering the luxury, performance and fun this car provides.
The midsize luxury class is a crowded one, but a few of the C300’s competitors bubble to the surface. The BMW 3-Series is the proverbial Moriarty to the Benz’s Holmes and is still the benchmark for sports sedans, plus it’s still available with a six-speed manual transmission. Audi’s A4 also rides at the head of the field, but it’s an older design and is due for an upgrade. Cadillac’s ATS is a solid American alternative and its 2.0-liter turbo four is even more powerful than both the C300 and the BMW, plus it also can be had with a six-speed manual.
Despite being more expensive than its competitors – at $38,500, its base price is $1,000 more than the BMW, and about $3,000 more than the Audi or Cadillac – the C300 still represents an excellent value. It’s an attractive, solidly built, fun-to-drive sports sedan that gets stellar fuel economy. All of the C300’s ergonomic foibles melt away once the driver slips behind the wheel. It’s equally as happy carving corners as it is eating highway miles. Plus, it has that reassuring three-pointed-star on the steering wheel.
On the TFLcar scale of Buy It, Lease It, Rent It or Forget It, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 gets a Buy It, although smart buyers will comparison shop it with the BMW 328i. In this class, they are the cream of the crop.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 Specs:
- Engine: 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder
- Power: 241 hp @ 4,100 rpm
- Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 1,300 – 4,000 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed automatic
- EPA-estimated fuel economy (mpg): 25 city / 34 hwy
- Acceleration, 0-60 mph: 6.2 sec
- Length x width x height: 184.5 x 71.3 x 56.8 in.
- Wheelbase: 111.8 in.
- Drive configuration: rear-wheel drive or optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive
Check out this TFLcar video of everything you want to know about the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300: