Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe (2016) Review

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Treading a fine line between sportiness and elegance has long been a strength of Mercedes-Benz’s compact coupes, but with the Three-Pointed Star looking to attract a younger clientele, is the C-Class Coupe as well-balanced as it should be… and does its turbocharged 4-cylinder engine do it justice?

We like: Head-turning looks, exquisite interior, spirited performance

We don’t like: Ride on firm side of pliant, uninspiring engine note

Alternatives:

  • The dynamic option: Having recently undergone a revision, the BMW 430i can’t match the C-Class’ boulevard looks (or its plush interior), but it still holds a slight edge in terms of driver involvement.
     
  • Nonconventional luxury: Lexus recently introduced a 2.0-litre turbocharged version of the RC coupe and, although expensive, the RC200t EX is specced liberally. It seems more of a cruiser than sportscar.
     
  • Still worth a look: While we await the arrival of the new generation Audi A5, the current Walter de Silva-designed car is an elegant, well-made coupe that represents a solid used/almost new purchase.
     


The superbly proportioned C-Class Coupe looks resplendent with its "starry sky" grille.

What is it?

It won’t surprise many people that Mercedes-Benz’s exterior design director, a Slovenian named Robert Lesnik, signed off on both the new C-Class Coupe and the exquisite S-Class Coupe projects, because the (newer) former incorporates several of the latter’s design cues, which is especially evident in its voluptuous rear three-quarter view and the elegant silhouette of the side profile.

The C-Class (of which the sedan version is produced in East London) continues to be a top performer for Mercedes-Benz around the globe and the Sindelfingen-based firm attests that the average age of the sedan’s buyers is younger than it was for its predecessor. With the svelte Coupe version, Benz hopes to attract an even more youthful clientele and has dispensed with old-school conservatism to create an avant-garde package (excuse the pun) that is eminently fashionable, equipped with contemporary technology and athletically-inclined from the outset (not limited to AMG derivatives).       


The Edition 1 package adds subtle badging and standout 19-inch rims to the C-Class.

How does it fare in terms of…

Outstanding kerb appeal?

Whereas BMW went so far as to rename its 3 Series Coupe the 4 Series in 2013, Mercedes-Benz simply ensured that, aesthetically speaking, the coupe version of its W205 C-Class would clearly distinguishable from its sedan brother, with the former receiving the biggest allotment of pretty genes. Of course, there is a familial resemblance, which is strongest from the front and front three-quarter view of the C300, but from the A-pillar all the way to the bluff rear-end, the test unit looks every bit like a micronised S-Class Coupe, replete with seductively sloped C-pillars and a subtle bootline. What's more, those sensually elongated taillamp clusters “broaden” the hindquarters and “flatten” the car’s stance.    

The end result is an exterior execution that looks both grand and alluring; a shape that appeals to older and younger buyers at different levels. Design critiques are subjective, but the C-Class Coupe must be one of the most distinctive and dashing cars in its class. The eye-catching 19-inch wheels come courtesy of the Edition 1 package that was specified for the test unit and for those buyers who find AMG derivatives accoutrements a little flashy, the C300 oozes restrained elegance. Bravo.


A flat-bottomed steering wheel gives a clue to the C300 Coupe's sporty pretensions.

A sumptuous interior?

If there are readers who aren’t entirely won over by the exterior characteristics of the C-Class Coupe (there shouldn’t be many), they’re more than likely to be enraptured by the German car's meticulously detailed interior. The Edition 1 package trims the Coupe in a combination of brown and black leather upholstery with turquoise contrast stitching (an acquired taste, but it works well in conjunction with the LED mood lighting).

Meanwhile, the expansive plunging fascia is trimmed in matt-finished dark wood veneer and smattered with marvellously tactile metallic switchgear. The entire space feels instantly exclusive and, most importantly, expensive. Anoraks will be quick to point out that the standard trim on the car is Artico faux leather and that trim lines add to the cost of the car, but if the purpose of the interior is to evoke a business class ambience in a compact executive car cabin, it’s worth the outlay.

To its credit, the Coupe's driver's seat strikes a good balance between an engaging position, for when you want to sit low and close to the steering wheel, and a more comfort-oriented setting, where you'd want to recline a bit more and stretch your legs on longer drives, at least more so than its predecessor. And, whereas the previous two-door version of the C-Class did not have class-leading interior design or ergonomics, the C300's controls (admittedly derived from the World Car of the Year winning C-Class sedan) are very intuitive to use, save for the Comand menu navigation that now seems a trifle clunky (but improves with familiarisation). The steering wheel doesn't feature the haptic "scrolling" buttons as featured in the new E-Class, for example, either.     


The instrumentation cluster is housed in a pair of interlaced chrome-edged half-cylinders.

Performance and handling?

Given the C-Class Coupe's evocative cladding, it would be a travesty if the C300 disappointed in terms of performance and dynamism. Fortunately for Benz, it doesn't... the 180 kW/370 N.m 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol may not have an inspired exhaust note under normal operating circumstances (it does snarl a bit more urgently in the Sport driving mode), but it will dispatch the 0 to 100 kph sprint in a claimed 6 seconds and deliver eager overtaking acceleration in freeway driving conditions. The coupe's handling characteristics are sure-footed courtesy of an electronically adaptive suspension and a wide track and the steering setup, although not communicative in the traditional sense, is well weighted and direct. The C300 is fleet of foot and yes, engaging to drive. 

You may sense that there is a BUT coming and you're right, here it is... The C-Class Coupe is a relaxing car to drive on the daily commute, with a good level of NVH suppression, a willing engine and firm-but-generally-pliant suspension setup. The C-Class Coupe is also surprisingly eager to pile on the pace where road conditions are conducive to enthusiastic driving. However, where the C300 seems the least impressive is when you are driving the car in a variety of ways in short succession (when you require a short, sharp burst of speed while cruising on the highway, for example).


The enlarged Comand infotainment screen does not offer touchscreen functionality, but its display is crisp and clear.

Whereas the Benz's 9-speed transmission is ubiquitous in the new E-Class range, this derivative makes do with the older 7-speed 'box and, whether the engine's throttle mapping is too conservative for the sake of efficiency, or the 'box shift pattern software is calibrated to only react under very particular conditions, or turbo lag tends to make its presence felt, the C300's responses can feel a mite blunt and hesitant at times. When most drivers encounter this, they will tend to apply more pressure on the throttle pedal, which will make the gearbox snag a lower gear and a droney rev frenzy is sure to ensue.               

Practicality?

Although the downsized engine (a derivative in the C300's position would have sported a 6-cylinder motor in the previous model line-up) comes with a less characterful soundtrack, the claimed average fuel consumption of 6.9 L/100 km should allow the Coupe to be reasonably affordable to run (by sportscar standards, at any rate) and we saw returns of comfortably below 10 L/100 km during the test.

Purchasing a 2-door does require a fair degree of compromise, but in the case of the C-Class Coupe, it is palpably manageable. Rear occupant headroom was always going to be a luxury given the Benz's wicked plunging roofline, but legroom is satisfactory for a pair of adults on shorter trips. The rear bench's cushion and backrest feature two indentations to facilitate better seating comfort. Two small children should sit quite comfortably, but don't expect to fit a family of four's luggage into the boot, it's better sized for a few days' shopping/a large suitcase and a hold-all bag, perhaps.  


The C-Class Coupe's wind-cheating shape aids fuel efficiency, which is a claimed 6.8 L/100 km. 

C300 Coupe price and after-sales back-up

The standard car costs R664 518, including a 2-year warranty and 6-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.

Verdict

It's difficult to argue against the C-Class Coupe in terms of the bold expression of style and fine taste that it makes on behalf of its custodian/owner. Mercedes-Benz has yet to introduce a 6-cylinder version that will close up the reasonably cavernous divide between the highest of the 4-cylinder models (the C300) and the flagship C63/C63 S AMG derivatives in the product line-up. As a result, the C300 (as tested here) is an excellent showcase of the C-Class Coupe's finest traits: tantalising design, exquisite detailing, superb occupant comfort and a good performance-ride-handling balance.

And yet, we'd be remiss if we failed to note that the C300's unspectacular powerplant/transmission combination and less-than-lively responses when required to transform from a comfortable cruiser to an engaging sportscar, if only for brief periods at a time, renders this particular derivative more of an executive's luxurious and (reasonably) comfortable mode of personal transport and less of a driver's car. Fortunately for Mercedes-Benz, however, the C300's potential buyers will favour the former over the latter by some margin. It's not a perfect all-rounder, but very few cars are...

Viewed in isolation, the Lexus RC 200t EX seems a well-appointed left-field choice, the BMW 4 Series is sportier, but with less sense of occasion and given the Audi A4's set of talents (and superb build quality and refinement), the upcoming A5 will be well worth looking out for. In the meantime, however, the C-Class Coupe makes the biggest, most emphatic statement; if it's sheer dynamism you are after, look at the Four, for everything else, get the Benz.         

Compare the Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe with the BMW 430i and Lexus RC 200t Ex

Quick facts of the C-Class C300 Coupe:



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