The best $100k car on the market? We road test the Mercedes-Benz C 300 Coupé
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Casual golferists looking to one-up the carpark competition. Remuera empty-nesters at the apex of a dual mid-life crisis. Spoilt private-schoolers, ill-equipped for the realities of the world.
On the journey to any test vehicle pick-up, it’s natural to wonder aloud who the car in question is built for. At the best of times it’s a process of stereotype exploration. And, in regards to the newly refreshed Mercedes-Benz C 300 Coupé, I’ll concede that my mind wandered down a pretty cheap and nasty path.
Mercedes should be used to this kind of thing, of course. Being considered one of the world’s best car-makers means that you’re an eternal target. And, within half an hour of being handed the C 300’s keys, I was eating humble pie.
The C-Class Coupé is the most modestly sized and priced of the three-pointed star's two-door coupés. Its lowest point of entry is through the 1.5-litre, $79,300 C 200. But, this quicker, higher-spec C 300 is the one to get.
It comes with a more powerful turbocharged 2-litre four-cylinder engine making 190kW/370Nm, linked to a nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission.
Ordinarily it'd set buyers back $98,000, but this tester's assertive AMG Line body-kit and Vision Package option extras push the as-tested price to $104,300.
There's multiple ways to take that price. It could be seen as a bargain way to make the neighbours think you've splurged on a full-milk AMG C 43 or C 63 — or, as an expensive way to buy just 2 litres of performance.
This was where some of that initial apprehension had come from. Was this a genuine sports coupé, or a sheep-in-wolves-clothing designed to look nice on the driveway?
Before getting into that, it's worth affirming that it does indeed look good on the driveway.
While the nose is packed with design elements — including new headlamps and hungrier grill-work — the neatly pinched rear is subtle and tidy. Party up front and business down back, with a big, bold crease along the side from headlight to taillight that ties it all together.
It's the sort of car that looks like it's been designed from the ground up to be a suave sports coupé, instead of being part of a sedan/wagon triple threat.
The C-Class is set to be one of the last Mercs to get a version of Mercedes' new interior design language. But, aesthetically at least, I don't see this to be a huge problem.
There's very little wrong with the outgoing look, which should go down in history as being a high watermark for interior layout and design. Everything has been bolted together with care, and soft materials are in abundance.
Our tester with its metals, muted black wood, and optional AMG faux-leather trim, looked exceptional. Even in its old age.
New for 2019 is the option of a big 12.3in infotainment screen. But, that screen doesn't come with the latest 'Hey Mercedes' MBUX tech. You do, at least, now get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, as well as the gimmicky-but-surprisingly-useful twin touch-pad controls on the new steering wheel.
Other new toys include Traffic Sign Assist and standard Active Parking Assist. These join other requisite safety-suite goodies like active lane keeping and one of the very best adaptive cruise control systems in the business.
Mercedes claim a combined economy figure of 6L/100km. We couldn't get near that, clocking around 9.5L/100km, although that's still impressive for a jack-of-all-trades sports coupe.
An interesting mixed bag with the C-Class Coupé is space.
The second row is actually reasonably commodious, with enough room for some adults. Weirdly, it's the driver's seat that's compromised for room, thanks to a significant hump next to the transmission tunnel. Over my week with the car I found myself getting occasional leg cramps on longer drives, although results may vary for differing body shapes.
And, longer drives are likely to be frequent, given how much fun thing is to throw around.
For all the portions of the C 300's 'AMG cosplay' that look pretend (like the fake exhaust pipes) there are details that offer clues to its true performance strengths. Like the rather large front brake calipers, which have barely more than a few millimeters of tolerance to the spokes of each front wheel.
That 2-litre engine comes with a 10kW power bump over the previous C 300. The 0–100km/h sprint is unchanged at six seconds, but that's still a healthy 1.9-seconds quicker than the C 200. Top speed sits at a limited 250km/h.
It's not as techy as the EQ-boosted 1.5-litre in the C 200, but the C 300's unit does have a few tricks up its sleeve. The new twin-scroll turbocharger features improved airflow and efficiency by channeling the influx of air two cylinders at a time.
To put it simply, the power this little 2-litre makes is ample for the money. Paired with the quick-shifting nine-speed, it rarely feels strained or out of puff — happily revving to redline on command. It's still maybe not as soulful as a six, but it's nonetheless just as fast.
But, as good as the engine is, it plays second fiddle to how the C 300 corners.
I'm not talking about it having limitless grip, or anything like that. No, the C 300's best cornering attribute is that the limit of grip is something a driver can reach out and touch. Steering is well weighted and precise, while the Dynamic Body Control suspension supplies balance and feel.
In some ways it feels like a big, plush, more exclusive Mazda MX-5. When you're hustling it through a twisty road, you can ride the edge of adhesion without needing obscene speeds as a catalyst. It's confidence inspiring and fun. Dare I say it; on the right ribbon of road at legal speeds it's potentially more involving than an AMG.
There's a mild gripe here in that the suspension feels a little brittle for daily use.
The C-Class Coupé has stiffer suspension than its sedan cousin in part to help maintain appearances as the more supposedly serious machine of the two. On most roads it's not too bad, but on broken or uneven pavement it can seem quite crashy. I understand that this is meant to evoke sporty intentions, but the same can be said of the C 300's big brothers and sisters from AMG.
Personally, I'd happily accept the suspension's occasional harshness if it meant retaining the little coupe's handling capabilities. But, I can imagine potential buyers chasing a smooth, suave cruiser favouring the opposite.
Other than some minor complaints, the small-capacity-big-fun C 300 fills the hole between C 200 and AMG C43 very nicely indeed. It adds a suitable amount of enhancements to the former, while not really getting near the emotional peaks of the latter and its turbocharged V6 despite being a bit of a driver's gem.
And yes, if you absolutely must, a set of golf clubs will fit in the boot just fine.
2019 Mercedes-Benz C 300 Coupé
Price: $104,300 (as tested, plus ORC)
Pros: Handsome, very capable steer, 2nd-row space
Cons: A bit firm, no MBUX, driver’s foot-well