To view the all-new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is to view the future of the brand. We all know by now that the vaunted German brand has not been so vaunted over the years. Complex and unreliable electronics have taken some of the luster off of the three-pointed star, as Mercedes loyalists and new purchasers of the brand have faulted Mercedes’ quality and indifferent dealer network.
Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of DaimlerChrysler and Head of the Mercedes Group, has made restoring the legendary quality of Mercedes-Benz his number one priority. Ensuring that purchasers get a first class sales and service experience is also a main priority. Time will tell if dealers have listened to Zetsche’s decree, but after driving the all-new 2008 C-Class, it’s quite clear that everyone on the design, engineering, and manufacturing teams have listened well.
Internally designated as the W 204, this fourth generation C-Class is easily the best C-Class ever, and ranks in build quality with top-of-the-line big brother S-Class. When compared to last year’s W 203 model, the new C-Class is far more rigid, significantly quieter, and more spacious inside.
The rigid body shell can be attributed to the extensive use of high strength and ultra high strength steel, found in 70% of the body structure. The rigid shell, combined with Mercedes’ “Agility Control” suspension, mean road manners are superb. Agility Control uses a hydro-mechanical selective damping system that achieves much of the handling prowess of Mercedes’ Active Body Control system without the system’s huge cost. Agility Control uses an internal strut valving system. When you are cruising along in a straight line, two valves are open within the strut to allow hydraulic shock absorber fluid to flow freely, resulting in a compliant ride. When spirited driving or an evasive maneuver is detected, one of those valves instantly closes to restrict the amount of shock fluid that can pass between the valves. The result is a stiffer suspension just in time to handle the demands of back-road driving. It’s a simple yet elegant solution to the dilemma facing all manufacturers trying to knock the undisputed leader in the entry luxury segment “the BMW 3 Series” off its lofty pedestal.
During the four hours I spent behind the wheel, everything worked as advertised. This car is fun to drive on country roads, but won’t rattle your teeth in the city. And you’ll also have more room to move around inside, as the new C-Class is larger than its predecessor on all dimensions.
The new C-Class comes in two models, Sport and Luxury. The “Luxury” model comes with a 3.5-liter V6 making 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission, first in its class, handles shifting duties. It’s a seamless, world-class transmission with imperceptible up and downshifts. Luxury models also feature the traditional “star” hood ornament, Burl walnut wood interior trim, and a four-spoke steering wheel. The overall look of the car is Benz traditional, which depending on your tastebuds, is either too traditional or just right.
For me, it’s too traditional, especially when compared to the “Sport” model. The Sport features the Coupe-style grille with integrated star, AMG-designed body styling, 17” staggered alloy wheels (18” optional), a lowered sport suspension, a sport braking system with “perforated” front rotors and special calipers, and dual exhausts with a special rear diffuser panel between the exhausts.
It’s a get down funky look that sets the tone of the character of Sport models. All Sport models are powered by a 3.0-liter V6 that makes 228 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. The big news is the availability of a six-speed manual tranny, should you wish to row the gears on your own. While I did not get a chance to test the manual, again, it draws the C-Class closer to the 3 Series. Aluminum or Birdseye maple wood trim, a three-spoke steering wheel, silver instrument cluster and rubber studded aluminum pedals highlight the Sport interior.
Road power in both models is impressive, particularly in passing situations at the top of the rev band. These cars can move out in a hurry.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the new C-Class is the price. Consider this: The new C-Class offers as additional standard equipment over last year’s already well-equipped model a power sunroof, eight-way power front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, 17” wheels, dual zone automatic climate control, and Mercedes COMAND Central Controller.
Prices for the new baby Benz start at just $31,975 – a real savings when comparing standard equipment to last year’s $29,650 base. And of all the reasonably priced options, you must opt for the Panorama Sunroof ($1,000). It features a full-roof glass panel with a front opening sunroof, and sliding privacy shades for both front and rear-seat passengers. With the panels retracted, the interior shines brightly under natural light. No squeaks or wind noise emanate from this well built option.
Hard drive navigation, a monster sound system and convenience and luxury packages are all reasonably priced. Even a full-tilt luxury model will find it hard to break $40 grand.
The new C-Class is a make or break car for the brand. If it succeeds, Mercedes-Benz will once again rise to the top of the status vehicle pyramid.