Three years ago, my mother almost bought a C300 sedan but cited the fact that it "wasn't special enough" as a deal breaker. Given the comprehensive update Mercedes gave the C-class for 2012, my mother was obviously not the only one who thought that the baby Benz could be more deserving of the three-pointed star. Simple changes like the silver, watch-like gauge faces go a long way, but the all-new interior makes all the difference. No longer is the center stack a large wasteland of black plastic; instead, it's an artfully laid out and usable infotainment space decorated with wood trim and chrome. All of the controls come straight from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin, which is not a bad thing in this case - the same radio and climate controls from the C-class can now be found on the $130,000 CLS63 AMG test car we recently had.
Speaking of pricing, this C350 coupe retails for almost $50,000 and doesn't have things like passive keyless entry, metallic paint, or, um, real leather that are generally givens at this price point. (Okay, maybe not at BMW, with the 335i coupe.) The competitors from Audi, Cadillac, and Infiniti, however, all ring in at less than fifty grand and come with the aforementioned niceties; but then again, the Mercedes badge does come at a price.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
With this car, you are getting everything that a Mercedes is for an extremely reasonable price. I had the opportunity to experience the coupe for more than just an evening, logging some decent time over the weekend down to Ohio. The navigation system was genius, warning of upcoming traffic conditions and providing alternate route options. Road time was not tiring in the least. Night driving was almost indescribable; I felt one with the car in the silence with the stars above. Auto-dimming headlights worked seamless and accurately. LED turn signals easily lit up anything reflective for nearly two blocks ahead. The front seats automatically move forward and the headrest dips to allow easy access to the rear seats, albeit a bit slowly if you find yourself in a hurry. It's really impressive what this car offers for the price. Granted, it's also surprising what's not offered, as Donny mentioned above.
Kelly Murphy, Creative Director
When I first got in the C350, I had the immediate sensation of being behind the wheel of a powerful sports car. You sit low and snug in the bucket seats. The stubby shift lever feels almost like it should be attached to a manual transmission. The steering wheel is just the right diameter and has perfect thumb-shaped indentations at the three- and nine-o'clock positions. The pedals (even the foot-operated parking brake) have very cool aluminum covers. I felt like I was strapping into the world's hottest performance machine.
The illusion was lost once I started driving. The Mercedes is quick and drives very nicely, but it doesn't feel much like a sports car. The steering is too light for my taste, the engine note is too muted and gravelly, and the car doesn't feel eager to hustle around corners. The C350 coupe seems more like an executive cruiser than an autobahn bruiser. It is an excellent car, but it didn't quite live up to my initial expectations.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Why did Mercedes-Benz wait so long to release this two-door C-class? It's very attractive, surprisingly spacious inside, and drives with all the abundant excellence of the C-class sedan. Although I didn't ride in the back seats, they seemed pretty comfortable and not cramped at all when I climbed back there to check things out.
The familiar 3.5-liter V-6 engine offers plenty of power -- although this isn't a sports car, as Jake pointed out -- but I'm looking forward to trying M-B's new turbo four-cylinder in the C250 coupe, which has a base price $5150 cheaper than the C350.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Yep, it's about time Mercedes offered a C-class coupe to compete with the BMW 3-series and the Audi A5. Unfortunately, the C350 is neither as beautiful to look at as the A5 nor as satisfying to drive as the 335is. Yet one might argue that the three-pointed star has more cachet and prestige than either the BMW or Audi, and the C350 is certainly a very good car and one worthy of wearing the Mercedes badge. Problem is, the first example of the new C-class coupe I drove was the high-performance, 481-hp C63 AMG. Then I drove this C350 a week or two later and I couldn't help compare the two. I know, I know, the C63 costs about $30K more than the C350. For buyers looking for a prestigious German two-door that doesn't cost more than a year at Harvard, the C350 is worth a look.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The C-class coupe is very attractive, giving the C-class line a more dynamic-looking model than the more sedate sedan. I'm not usually a fan of white cars, but this arctic white coupe with black interior is very striking. Whereas some black interiors can be dour and oppressive, this C350 coupe feels inviting. The black seats feature contrasting white French-seam stitching, the wood is rich and lustrous, and the metallic accents provide a nice contrast to the dark upholstery and wood. Plus, the panoramic roof allows plenty of light to enter the interior.
The C-class's V-6, which is now direct injected and puts out 302 hp (44 hp more than last year), is familiar from the SLK350 we recently had in. As in the 300-pounds-lighter SLK, the 3.5-liter six is lively and responsive, and you can use the seven-speed automatic transmission's shift paddles to change gears at your command. The C-class coupe is no sports car, but it does provide a decent amount of driving enjoyment in a package that somehow manages to feel both sporty and luxurious at the same time.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Funny, I walked away from the C350 with the exact opposite impression as Jake. Like Joe DeMatio, I assumed exposure to the wicked C63 AMG would all but spoil my impression of the pedestrian C350, but I was pleasantly surprised. The revised 3.5-liter V-6 may not break any technological ground, but it's a sweetheart of an engine: smooth, silky, and surprisingly responsive. It does a great job of accelerating the C350 quickly, especially when the seven-speed automatic is in its gear-holding sport mode. Speaking of pleasant surprises, I'm quite impressed with the cabin. Once upon a time, Benz interiors on anything below an E-Class equated to a relatively bland expanse of dour design and uninspiring materials. Thankfully, that's no longer the case. The instrument panel boasts a clean, well-organized layout; soft-touch materials dominate the interior; and stitched leatherette accents - particularly on the door panel inserts and gauge cluster brow - lend an upscale look and feel.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
My colleagues' notes are littered with allusions to the BMW 3-series, and while no one comes out and says it directly, it reads like they are lamenting that this C350 coupe isn't a 335i with a Mercedes badge on the hood. Not me. Unless you're making regular visits to the track or regularly commuting on the Cherohala Skyway, I'm not convinced that a BMW 335i has much of an edge over this Mercedes-Benz C350.
The option of a two-door body certainly raises expectations that this refreshed C-class is sportier than the prior iteration -- which was only offered with four doors -- and Mercedes delivers with its new engine. Despite retaining a 3.5-liter displacement, this V-6 is all-new, even switching from a 90-degree to 60-degree cylinder bank angle. There's a sizeable increase in power to 302 hp, but the real improvement is how effortlessly and gracefully the six-cylinder revs. The C350's steering is unquestionably lighter than what you get in a 3-series, but precision and feedback aren't directly tied to steering effort and I don't subscribe to the "heavy steering is good steering" school of though. So while it may not be as communicative as that of the 335i, the C350's steering is accurate and predictable and nicely calibrated. Frankly, I think it's perfect for this car. Mechanically, I'm only disappointed by the transmission, specifically the paddle shifters that require very deliberate, slow pulls if you want multi-gear downshifts.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor