The term entry-level luxury is self-contradictory. The images that the word ‘luxury' conjure up have nothing entry level about them. If you were in the market for a luxury car and money was no object, why would you settle for anything less than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class? It is a proper luxury car. It looks elegant, has a smooth, powerful engine, lots of space inside and it's crammed with technology that does everything for you. But if money is indeed an issue and you're still adamant that you would settle for nothing but a three-pointed star, then you are setting yourself up for a compromise. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class would fit the bill perfectly as it is aimed at those who do not mind this compromise. Stuttgart has sold over 8.5 million examples of its entry-level saloon since its introduction as the 190 in 1982. Now the 2012 C350 is here hoping to attract millions more to the idea of entry-level luxury. Will it fare any better than its predecessor?
The 2012 model is not an all-new car. It's just a refresh of the previous model that came out in 2007. However, the mildly redrawn lines in the front and rear keep the C's chiselled, angular good looks up to date. Our test car looked a bit more muscular with its wheel arches widened a bit to accommodate the seven-spoke AMG light alloy wheels. Add to this a revised interior and driving aids that, until now, were only available on the more expensive models, and the new C-Class is already a more attractive proposition.
We had driven the C200 in July last year. If you remember, Dejan who drove it then was so besotted by the 184bhp, 1.8-litre turbocharged unit under its bonnet that he said he was willing to bet his lunch that the C350 would be just a waste of money.
Well, the moment I put foot to pedal I knew Dejan had lost his bet. The new direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 lump, mated to a new seven-speed automatic gearbox has to be one of the smoothest naturally aspirated V6 engines around. It features a more balanced 60-degree cylinder angle against the previous one's 90-degree configuration, and it feels much more refined and quieter than before. The compression ratio has also been raised from 10.7:1 to 12.2:1. For the first time, the C-Class joins the 300+ bhp club with the new mill making 306bhp at 6,500rpm and 370Nm of torque at 3,500rpm, that's 14 horses and 5Nm more than before. Although Mercedes rates the zero to 100kph run at 6.0 seconds, when you floor the throttle, the C350 shoots off in what seems like much less than that. Although this makes it still slower than rivals like the BMW 335i or the Infiniti G37, the C350's naturally aspirated V6 feels a lot livelier than the previous engine. Low- and mid-range torque is impressive; almost a match to the Bimmer's turbocharged 335i. The engine sounds good at lower revs promising to explode into a sonorous note at the higher end, but disappoints there, emitting just a muted whirr on full throttle. But those concerned about fuel economy will find the new C350's efficiency figures music to their ears. Mercedes has managed to keep fuel consumption down by 31 per cent compared to the earlier model to an impressive 6.8 litres-per-100km.
The C350's ride is solid yet compliant. Although the spring set-up is carried over from before, the new C gets slightly revised suspension geometry and a few new bushings. Body roll is virtually non-existent and on highway cruises it feels as sturdy and composed as an S-Class. And while it's no sports saloon, it's sporty enough to bring a smile to your face every time you chuck it around a corner, although electronic nannies do spoil the fun a bit. The CLS-style steering wheel is perfectly weighted and the drive is as engaging as that of a BMW 3 Series.
Gizmos like Lane Keeping Assist, Brake Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Blind Spot Assist and Parktronic have now found their way into the C-Class too.