First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2008 Mercedes-Benz C300. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by James Bergeron

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Photo Gallery: 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Ottawa, Ontario – The so-called “entry” level luxury segment is a very large and competitive class: the likes of BMW, Audi, Lexus, Infiniti and Mercedes are all fighting to gain market share with their entry-level vehicles, such as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Just like owners of non-luxury vehicles, buyers of entry-level luxury vehicles are expected to move up in the food chain as their net-worth grows over the years. It is no secret in the industry that if an automaker can capture an entry-level buyer today there is a good chance the buyer will purchase a mid-range model tomorrow, and possibly a top-of-the-line model in the future.

Mercedes-Benz is looking to capture more market share in the entry segment and for the 2008 model year they are launching an all-new C-Class series of sedans aimed at a younger demographic (available at your local dealer September 12, 2007).

First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2008 Mercedes-Benz C300. Click image to enlarge

I won’t be shy: let’s face it, the typical Mercedes-Benz buyer is of an older demographic. I’m a young guy and when I think “Mercedes-Benz”, a few things come to mind: cushy, large, and uninspiring to drive – and to be honest a little stodgy. This image rings especially true with the three pointed star sitting atop the hood – and please do not get me started on that gold colour.

The young guns shopping for this category of vehicle tend to snap up the 3 Series BMW like it is going out of style. The average age of the typical Mercedes-Benz clientele is early to mid 50′s, but Mercedes is trying to change that – with the new C-Class sedan they are targeting 35 – 45 year olds and hope to steal some customers from the competition.

When designing the new C300, Mercedes engineers set out to design a car that handled more dynamically without losing the comfort, safety and prestige expected from the Mercedes brand.

First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2008 Mercedes-Benz C300. Click image to enlarge

Visually one of the biggest changes is the removal of the upright three pointed star from the hood. They placed a larger emblem in the grille to provide a more modern and edgy look without being overly aggressive – personally I love it. But have no fear pointy-star lovers, a standard grille with the logo on the hood is still available for those that prefer the more understated and traditional look.

Mercedes-Benz of Canada spent countless hours listening to customers, investigating competitor offerings and designing a C-Class option package that fits the needs and wants of Canadians. Here is what they came up with:

The C300 comes standard with the traditional look grille, rear-wheel drive, and a 228-hp 3.0-litre 24-valve DOHC V6 engine mated to a six-speed manual (yes you read that correctly, manual) transmission. The starting price for this package will be $41,000, the optional 7G-TRONIC, a seven-speed automatic transmission is available for an extra $1,500, and for another $2,200 4MATIC all-wheel drive will be available shortly after launch.

First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2008 Mercedes-Benz C300. Click image to enlarge

Most buyers (Mercedes estimates approximately 90%) will be opting for the more aggressive front grille treatment as part of the Sport package. In addition to the grille, this package includes: sport suspension, aluminum trim, an AMG styling package, 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels with staggered 225/45R17s front and 245/40R17s on the rear. Also included in the sport package is a three-spoke sport steering wheel, upgraded brake calipers and drilled rotors, and aluminum studded driving pedals. The total cost for this package is $0 – that is correct: Mercedes has decided to throw this package in for FREE if you so choose it. Can’t get much better value than that!

A premium package is available for $3,200 which includes: an integrated garage door opener, 10-way driver and passenger seats with three memory settings, rear window sunshade, Sirius satellite radio and a Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system with Bluetooth. Other options include: full leather seats ($2,500), panoramic sunroof ($1,200), keyless start ($1,400) and the COMAND navigation package which adds a hard disk drive navigation system with the ability to store and play up to four gigabytes of MP3s ($2,500).

First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2008 Mercedes-Benz C300. Click image to enlarge

The C300 comes filled with too many standard features to list. Some of the highlights include: eight-way adjustable power front seats, bi-xenon headlights, six airbags, ABS and ESP (Electronic Stability Program), sliding glass sunroof, 60/40 split folding rear seats, cruise control, heated front seats and dual-zone climate control.

The interior of the C300 is larger in all directions than the outgoing C280 model, although still somewhat cramped for taller drivers. The interior fit and finish is wonderful with soft touch materials all around, a very easy to navigate information and audio system with the ability to use both standard hard buttons or the remote control dial on the centre console. For shorter drivers the control dial is a little too far rearward, but only a minor complaint.

On the road the C300 is everything you would expect from a Mercedes and some you do not expect. The six-speed manual is easy to operate and the engine produces enough torque down low to make city driving with the manual a breeze. I did find it somewhat difficult to drive the manual smoothly at slower speeds, similar to the Lexus IS 250 manual. The seven-speed automatic transmission shifts extremely smoothly, and with the ability to skip shifts, the transmission can choose the right gear ratio for quick acceleration, with smooth and almost imperceptible shifts.

First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
First Drive: 2008 Mercedes Benz C300  mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2008 Mercedes-Benz C300. Click image to enlarge

On the highway the C300 is extremely quiet and road imperfections go virtually unnoticed, even with the sportier and more aggressive tires. On windy cottage roads, the C300 really proves its worth in the entry-level luxury/sport sedan category. With crisp turn-in response, sharp braking and responsive throttle tip-in, the C300 truly performs when asked. The adaptive-valved shocks available with the sport suspension allow for a more dynamic ride during more aggressive driving, while still providing that trademark luxury comfort on the highway you would expect.

If you ask me – and if you are still reading this I guess you are – this new C300 from Mercedes offers tremendous value for the dollar in the segment. A free sport package is a no-brainer unless you are really set on the traditional styling. On the road, the C300 is as quiet and smooth as you would expect a Mercedes-Benz to be, and when the road gets a little twisty it can hold its own and then some and keep you smiling the entire time – I’ll take a manual with Sport package in white please.

Manufacturer’s web site




About James Bergeron

James Bergeron is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. James holds a national FIA race license and actively races and stewards at race events.