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2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe Second Drive Review: What Price Fashion?

Point-Counterpoint: Arguing for and against an emotional, irrational fashion purchase

Point-Counterpoint: Arguing for and against an emotional, irrational fashion purchase

The subject of this review is a reasonably impractical, swoopy, gen-u-wine two-door coupe, as you can plainly see. These are some of the trickiest vehicles about which to work up a hard line of reasoning and analysis because—let’s face it—they are first and foremost fashion statements. Of all the myriad human souls and silicon circuits toiling to bring this Mercedes C300 coupe (or any of its competitors) to market, the folks bearing most of the burden of the car’s eventual success are the stylists and designers. If the looks of a coupe don’t grab you, no mental gymnastics or left-brain rationalizations will lead to long-term satisfaction. So you have our permission to jump right to the photo gallery, stare at this little beauty from every angle, and assess the degree to which it makes your knees go all wiggly. Then jump to the relevant section below. Full disclosure: My knees knock more when gazing at a BMW 4 Series or Caddy ATS coupe.

Like what you see in those pics and need a little hard analysis to reinforce your emotional prejudice in favor of the new C coupe? The plucky new 2.0-liter turbo delivers just as much torque as the previous naturally aspirated V-6 did—273 lb-ft of it—at a much lower and hence more accessible engine speed (1,300 versus 3,500 rpm). This imparts a more relaxed sense of acceleration. Oh, and if you love the looks but aren’t crazy about the four-banger, hang in there until the fall and snap up an AMG model—either the C43 with a twin-turbo V-6 (362 hp, 384 lb-ft) and a new nine-speed automatic good for a 4.6-second sprint to 60 mph, or the C63 with a twin-turbo V-8 (469-503 hp and 479-516 lb-ft of torque) and a multi-clutch AMG speed-shift seven-speed that should hit 60 minutes in 4.0 seconds or less. A cabriolet body style will also join the lineup then.

The electric power steering provides a reassuring degree of heft with superb precision—especially in its default Comfort setting. (The Sport mode just adds unnecessary heft, which makes the Individual setting attractive for sporting up the chassis and powertrain responsiveness without stiffening the steering.) More good news: The base steel-sprung suspension offers the best ride, whereas the $1,190 USD optional Airmatic setup yields some undesirable floating sensations unless its starchier Sport Dynamic drive mode is selected, negating the air springs’ slight ride plushness advantage. Northern-tier folks interested in all-wheel drive might be glad to learn that routing 45 percent of the torque to the front wheels does not seem to affect steering feel one iota, and the 2.0-liter is stout enough to power all four wheels. This wasn’t the case for the previous C-coupe’s 1.8-liter. And the 132 pounds (60 kg) the 4Matic hardware adds ranks as among the lowest weight penalties for such systems.

A big plus on the convenience front is the seatbelt presenter function that saves you that awkward grope toward the distant B-pillar when buckling up. So far, that’s pretty much a Mercedes thing. Oh, and this car is, statistically speaking, a chick magnet, as more of its buyers are women.

Thinking “meh” and looking to bolster the con column? This four-banger might indeed pull as hard as the V-6, but it never feels as premium as a six. Put your foot down, and the sound it makes in the middle of the rev range where the torque is strongest sounds a tad industrial, though the wail you hear when it’s nearing the redline is considerably more stirring. The sounds and vibes it generates as it auto-stops and restarts also rank a few rungs down from “world class.” There is no manual-transmission option for the serious enthusiast, although the paddle-shifted seven-speed does a perfectly adequate job of grabbing the right gear.

Another less-than-perfect attribute is the unibody rigidity, which feels a bit less “milled from billet” than other bigger Mercedes coupes. Harsh suspension inputs seem to reverberate through the central floor structure more than expected. Its rear seat environment is the tightest of the lux coupes in this size/price class, offering less headroom than the Audi and BMW and less legroom than the BMW and Caddy. Its 10.5-cu-ft trunk roughly matches the Caddy’s and offers barely two-thirds the space in the BMW 4 Series.

Finally, the C-Class is the priciest of the entry-lux coupes we’re considering here, starting at $43,575 USD. That’s $730 USD more than the BMW 428i, $2,150 USD above the Audi A5, and $4,585 USD pricier than a Cadillac ATS 2.0. Of course, nobody every orders a base car in this category, and determined option-code checkers will ring up the priciest four-cylinder luxo-coupe in their Mercedes showroom: $69,945 USD for the ne plus ultra C300 4Matic, versus $62,170 USD for a fully loaded BMW 428xi, $59,290 USD for a gussied ATS4, and $53,370 for an Audi A5 Quattro. Then again, remember that this is an emotional purchase. What price fashion? It’s only money, and you can’t take it with you.

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