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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - Coupe

Our Opinion

We like
7G-tronic gearbox, sweet 250 petrol and gutsy 250 diesel, great value for a German coupe, unbeaten handling/ride balance, enduring design, appealing quality
Room for improvement
Dreary dash, anachronistic foot-operated park brake, expensive options, CDI diesel noisy under acceleration, questionable trim combinations

22 Aug 2011

YOU have to hand it to Mercedes-Benz. At a time when car-makers are moving away from coupes, it springs a compelling pair of them off similar architecture, but at different price points designed to make both buyers and shareholders happy.

If you haven’t been paying attention, here’s the state of play right now.

After almost a dozen years of having the old W202 and W203 generation C-class sedan-based CLK Coupe from the late ‘90s, with its bespoke bodywork and E-class pricing, Daimler decided to work the W204-derived ‘CLK’ replacement in with the related W212 E-class to create the C207 E-class Coupe (and ragtop).

But … with that model kicking off from $100K, Mercedes identified a gaping hole in the $60K segment in which to take on the well-established BMW 3 Series and popular Audi A5 Coupe – hence the C204 C-class Coupe.

Basically, then, besides a $40K gap, the E-class Coupe differs from its C-class Coupe cousin by having its own bodywork and interior, higher levels of specification, and that all-important pillarless ‘hardtop’ roofline so beloved by traditional coupe buyers.

In contrast, the new C-class Coupe is clearly a 41mm lower version of the sedan that begat it, with completely different sheet-metal aft of the windscreen, 300mm longer doors, and a boot that is some 15 litres smaller.

And for the privilege, Mercedes charges just $2000 extra – an astonishingly generous move on its behalf when its compatriots basically gouge an extra $10K from their customers for the coupe privilege.

OK enough history and background.

Visually the C204’s slim roofline is probably the biggest point of difference from the sedan, looking sleeker and sportier than its W204 sibling. We imagine buyers will respond to the sober elegance of the silhouette, which blends in nicely with the existing C-class snoz and tush.

If you’re familiar with the facelifted C-class released in May this year, an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu will occur the moment you open that hefty door and step inside the cabin of unmistakable, appropriately Mercedes ambience.

Essentially all the hardware in front of you is from the sedan/estate, meaning a blocky and somewhat fussy but nicely built and presented quality dashboard with clear instruments, sufficient storage space, foolproof functionality and excellent ergonomics.

The front seats are big and inviting, with a suitable driving position available for most people. Rear vision isn’t too bad either.

More observations: the awful foot-operated park brake is carried over from, say, 1957, and that’s disappointing. And cheapo. The new three-spoke steering wheel is big in an old-school Benz manner, and we don’t normally mind that, but it seems out of place in a car of intimate/personal pretensions. And the silver-on-white trim in one of the two C204s was a total mismatch.

Since this is all about a different back seat, let’s assess that. Getting in is neither difficult nor especially easy, for both front seats will tilt and slide forward simply enough, but the resulting aperture isn’t enormous. Getting out isn’t particularly graceful either, actually.

Once sitting, the two-person individual seat placements are commendably comfortable, with ample shoulder space and quite impressive knee room. But your tester’s 178cm frame meant headroom is just adequate, and there isn’t really sufficient under-seat space for toes.

It is a coupe though, so we’re not really going to deduct points for any of that. Mercedes offers an R-class if space is your final frontier …

We only managed to sample two models, the C250 CDI diesel and C250 petrol – though together they should amount to between 70 and 80 per cent of all C204 volume, Mercedes says.

CDI first. An all-new, 150kW 2.1-litre common-rail direct-injection unit introduced with the W204 range a little while back, it is smooth and punchy, with a decent turn amount of mid-range urge following the usual turbo-diesel momentary step-off hesitation.

The company’s fine 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto makes the most of the available 500Nm of torque on tap, metering out the right ratios for effortless highway motoring.

But we found that there was a tad too much mechanical noise entering the cabin – more than we might have expected from a blue chip brand like Benz. Under heavy use (driven over a range of interesting country roads in and around Victoria’s Otway Ranges), we were always aware that the dinky little diesel unit was working hard.

In other ways, the diesel coupe impressed us with a superbly balanced chassis featuring meaty and responsive yet relaxing rack and pinion steering, a firm but supple and well controlled ride, and great brakes. All current C-classes are dynamically accomplished, and this is no exception.

Nevertheless, though a strong and fearless performer with undoubtedly excellent economy credentials (bolstered by an unobtrusive – and switch-off-able – idle-stop system called ECO), the C250 CDI’s diesel powerplant is probably best left for the sedan and wagon.

This was further underlined once we switched to the C250 Coupe with a 150kW/310Nm 1.8-litre CGI direct-injection four-cylinder turbo petrol unit. We’d happily trade in the 190Nm torque deficit compared to the diesel for the appealingly flexible power delivery on offer.

Lively like a coupe should be from standstill, the revvy little 1800cc engine’s sizeable turbo propels the C250 forward with exceptional vigour, to more than meet the expectations of most motorists. Only when the CGI is caught off-boost – say when you need to join fast-moving traffic at a T-intersection – is there any lag.

On the gorgeous, snaking Otway roads, the Coupe’s lighter front end and AMG Sports Pack’s lowered suspension and quicker steering – at a press of a button labelled ‘Sport’ – provided a degree of alacrity that belied both the C250’s size and its relaxed highway cruising demeanour.

Throw it into a series of quick bends, and the helm’s response is agreeably sharp, with plenty of feedback and body control for precise placement combined with surefooted roadholding.

At the same time, as the engine sings all the way past the tacho’s red line, the power delivery is linear and decisive, for fast point-to-point cornering.

In the 2000-6000rpm sweet spot, with the turbo spinning away, the 1.8 feels more like a 3.6. Only the occasionally shrill top-end exhaust detracts from an otherwise impressive driving experience. After a blast through the fine forest roads we felt exhilarated in this.

Unfortunately we never got to drive the C180 Coupe opener that might prove to be the sleeper of the range, but with all the extra performance and equipment that the C250C’s $11,000 price premium brings, we can’t imagine why you wouldn’t stretch to the ‘bigger’ turbo petrol four-pot.

Similarly, at $100K-plus, the 3.5-litre V6 petrol that we sadly didn’t sample would have to be almost C63 AMG-fast to justify the $30K difference, though we don’t doubt the treacly smoothness of Mercedes’ latest direct-injection six-pot scorcher.

As it stands, the C250 CGI petrol is a fine piece of two-door four-seater German coupe motoring. From inside and out the differences between it and the well-balanced W204 sedan are large enough to justify the relatively small extra outlay, especially when the execution is as mature as this.

And Mercedes deserves a clap for making the newest member of a long and mostly illustrious heritage of coupes more accessible than ever.

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