Friday, January 29, 2010

This entry-level Mercedes boasts luxury, pop

Sacramento, California – The crestfallen car-delivery man looked at me and said: “This is the first Mercedes I’ve seen without a navigation system.”

A 2010 Mercedes-Benz vehicle without a nav system? How gauche! What is this world coming to?!!!

I kid. I kid. Actually, the nav-less 2010 Mercedes C350 Sport Sedan fit my tastes just fine, thank you very much. First of all, I know where I’m going, at least most of the time. And second, this is an entry-level Mercedes, if a starting price of $39,750 can be considered entry level in this day and age.

Rest assured that plunking down your money on this C350 still gets you into the Mercedes-Benz club and all that goes with that: prestige, envious neighbors, excellent engineering and near-royal treatment when you show up at the local Mercedes-Benz service center.

All in all, not a bad deal for $40,000.

For most of us, “entry level” translates to stripped. Not so with the tested C350.

The comfort/convenience features were plentiful, and dare I say luxurious. The standard fare included a power sunroof, dual zone climate control with dust filter, heated 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, leather surfaces, maple wood trim, six-month Sirius Satellite radio subscription, Bluetooth connectivity, power tilt/telescoping steering column, rain-sensing windshield wipers and headlights with automatic sensor/locator features.

The list of safety/security features – primo perks of top Mercedes-Benz quality – was nearly as long. I’d list those, too, but I don’t want to be writing all night.

So, I’m sitting in the lap of C350 luxury and security, and what am I excited about? Well, the car looks hot, a decidedly pronounced wedge shape that looks ready to scoop up and discard poking cars. And most surprising of all: Serious robust performance.

This C350 has immediate and intimidating scoot, courtesy of a 268-horsepower, dual-over-head-cam, 24-valve V-6. I particularly liked the instant part. Pulling away from intersections and challenged by motorists who for some reason wanted to contest my signaled lane changes, the C350 blew them away.

Nimble, I say. I’ve driven plenty of 300-horsepower sports cars that didn’t deliver power so suddenly. Seven speeds on the gearbox, all sweetly in unison.

As for handling, the tester was clenched-fist firm. A three-link independent, strut-type suspension on the front and multi-link on the rear functioned to near perfection. For some reason, the car was just slightly mushy on a right-turn lane change executed at high speed -- just enough for a slight steering wheel correction. Otherwise, most impressive.

Gas mileage comes in at a so-so 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. If you’re taking your first steps in a Mercedes, you can probably live with those numbers.

Happily, the interior controls are uncomplicated and work well. Nav system or no nav system, Mercedes was frustrating me a few years back with too many electrical gimmicks, some of which tended to fail miserably during a mere week of test driving. That was not the case here. Simple and easy to use. Bravo!

Please note, the C350’s back seat is not designed for large adults traveling for several hours, but I don’t think complaints will come forth on shorter runs. Interior comfort is actually pretty sweet. Trunk space – the trunk snaps open, like magic, with a hit on the key fob – also is pretty good.

Bottom line: Moneyed luxury lovers will want more than the C350 has to offer, and I say good for them. And while the thought dropping $40,000 on a smallish sedan might make the rest of us swallow hard, the C350 remains alluring with Mercedes-level luxury and engineering, plus the promise that the thing likely will run forever.

Worth the money? I’d say yes.

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