By Al Vinikour
Years, or even centuries ago some military leader once said, “Never go into battle without superior weaponry.” (I think it may have been the famous General Nuisance.) I thought of this recently as I was driving in one of this year’s seemingly endless array of snowstorms. Blizzards and their side effects can be deadly and also intimidating to those terrified about driving in those conditions. However, when you’re driving a potent “weapon system” like the 2013 Mercedes-Benz C300 with 4Matic, the brand’s exceptional full-time all-wheel-drive system, the world is your “desert highway.”
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class luxury compact sedan is the most accessible of the company’s sedans sold in the United States. It’s comprised of four models; the C250 Sedan, C350 Sedan, C63 AMG Sedan (a high-performance version not meant to be driven by the faint of heart) and the C300 4Matic Sedan. Each has a designated engine assigned to it.
As mentioned, my test vehicle was the C300 4Matic with the optional Sport Package ($2,500), and equipped with a 3.0-liter V6 that develops 248 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque; a lot of power in what is a relatively small car. It’s mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift manual shift control. Just don’t bother trying to count the gear changes. Its smoothness will fool you every time. The powertrain, combined with all the goodies contained in the Sport Package (like 18-inch AMG two-tone black/polished wheels, AMG rear spoiler and Agility Control (which provides the benefits of both soft and stiff shock absorbers, just not at the same time) collectively make the C300 4Matic a powerful, predictable and safe road machine, especially in sloppy weather.
Rich little brother it may be, the C300 has handsome, big-car styling. Yes, it’s more aerodynamic than a lot of its competition, but it also has a no-nonsense solid appearance and stance. Add a classic grille with the distinctive Mercedes-Benz star, dual exhaust with twin chrome outlets, and the car speaks for itself. Its voice may not be as loud as the AMG version’s, but it is nonetheless clear. The C300 also has all the safety features expected from the German automaker including four-wheel disc brakes, ABS w/traction control, electronic stability control, nine airbags, Lane Keeping Assist, Night View Assist Plus, Distronic Plus radar-based cruise control and a wealth of other technologies that wrap its occupants in a luxurious blanket of safety.
Mechanically (or otherwise) the only complaint I have about the C300 is the Eco Stop-Start System. Whenever the car stops with the brake pedal depressed, the engine is automatically turned off to save fuel. As soon as the driver touches the accelerator pedal, the engine computer decides which piston is in the best position for first ignition, and the engine is restarted almost instantly. It’s the “almost” that can sometimes be annoying. Too often I’ve noticed a noticeable thud and minute jerking of the vehicle when stopping and/or starting. It could be that the vehicle I was driving needed an adjustment, but more likely that this very efficient restart system can be a bit rough under certain conditions. In querying some of my colleagues, I’ve heard agreements and disagreements regarding this feature, so I am not alone in my criticism.
With any luxury car, however, it’s what’s inside that defines “easy street.” Once you slide into the eight-way heated power front seats, the meaning of luxury soon becomes apparent. The three circular instrument gauges are crisp and legible, and the functionality in the center stack is relatively intuitive. I will admit there’s a learning curve with the route the central control wheel takes through the menus, but when finally accomplished you’ve made a friend for life. There’s a 5.8-inch display that shows every setting for every main category (like audio, climate, etc.) and a 4.5-inch color instrument cluster display. If you have the optional Multimedia Package with Comand (Mercedes’ spelling, not mine) system navigation it has a 7-inch high-resolution LCD color display.
As good as the standard HD CD/MP3/AM/FM/Weatherband radio is, the unit that’s part of the Premium Package puts it to shame. It’s a Sirius Satellite Radio iPod/MP3 Media Interface, harman/kardon LOGIC7 Surround Sound System. Don’t try explaining all this like I just did if you’re not an audiophile, which is readily apparent that I’m not. However, those in the know… know. I just know it sounds good without knowing why.
There’s a lot of storage space, and very good front and rear cupholders. Other comfort and convenience features include power tilt/sliding sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control with dust filter, tilt & telescoping steering column, multifunction leather steering wheel, rain sensing intermittent wipers, heated windshield washer reservoir, power windows with express up and down, and a lot of other items that will make you feel like a rich kid at an upscale candy store.
Front seat legroom is 41.7 inches, but those who are forced to sit in back only have 33.4 inches to play with. Curb weight is 3,737 lbs, just one reason the fuel mileage is 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. MSRP is $38,950, with a destination and delivery charge of $905. Just as a comparison, my test vehicle was loaded with packages and the bottom line was $45,375. If this sounds like a considerable sum, you can rationalize it by what you’re getting for the money. If that doesn’t do it, then think what it’s worth to you to have peace of mind as you pass other vehicles that have taken up residence in ditches because of treacherous highway conditions. Yet there you are, tooling along, seemingly without a care in the world. And if you’re questioning whether it makes sense to spend that kind of money for a car, particularly one that has such an awesome all-wheel-drive system, when we’re so close to warmer weather, I don’t want to shock you out of your reverie, but just about the time you get used to basking in the sunshine, next year’s winter is just around the corner. The Boy Scouts of America said it best (and I’m not talking about being courteous, kind, obedient and helpful): “Be prepared.” With the C300 4Matic, you can.