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The 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class brings all-new versions of these entry-luxury sedans. Longer and wider than last year's models, they accommodate four or five occupants with much more interior room than before. They also offer improved performance and better fuel economy than last year's models.
The small family sedan that started out as the "baby Benz" in 1982 and morphed into the C-Class has matured through three generations into the company's most popular model worldwide, with more than 6 million units sold. This latest generation of the smallest Mercedes-Benz sedan marks a big step in its maturation.
The C-Class comes in two distinctive personalities: Sport and Luxury. Each gets its own exterior styling and interior design. The C300 and C350, which replace the previous C280 and C320, indicate their more powerful V6 engines. And 4MATIC all-wheel drive is available.
The 2008 C-Class is now much closer in size, looks, and behavior to the larger E-Class, yet with a lighter touch and feel all its own.
We found the 2008 Mercedes C350 Sport feels strong but light, zippy but substantial. Handling is crisper than with the previous models. It feels sportier, less plush than before. And these cars are quick. Mercedes says the C300 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 7.2 seconds, which is quite zippy, while the C350 can reach 60 from a standstill in just 6.2 seconds, which is quite quick.
We found the C350 Sport comfortable, with seats that were containing when cornering. The layout of the controls is very good, without a lot of learning labor involved in operating the car. And the available Harman Kardon stereo sounds fantastic.
Initially, the U.S. market will get only these two sedan models, and in due course, the U.S. model range will expand to include diesel-engine versions, 4MATIC all-wheel-drive versions, and a high-performance AMG model with a V8 engine. No coupe version is planned, and there will be no station wagon version for the U.S. market.
An AMG Sport package of exterior and interior trim items, wheels and tires will be available as an option when the car reaches the U.S. market in August 2007.
Options include leather upholstery, Thermotronic automatic climate control, navigation, Panorama roof, AMG Sport package, Adaptive Light System, Advanced Agility Control, bi-xenon lamps, Bluetooth, Comand APS with storage for up to 1000 music tracks, the Intelligent Light System, Keyless Go, multi-contour seats, Parktronic, TeleAid emergency communications, twin-sunroof Panorama roof, and 18-inch AMG split-spoke alloy wheels.
Package P1, standard on the C350, contains the satellite radio, heated seats, autodimming lamps, folding mirrors, a garage door opener and rain-sensing wipers. Package P2 adds bi-xenon headlamps, cornering fog lamps, a split folding rear seat for cargo versatility, and a rear sunshade. The Multimedia package adds Comand navigation with a larger seven-inch screen, a six-disc DVD changer with a PCMCIA slot, Harman Kardon Logic7 surround sound system and voice controls. An Advanced Agility Package features variable shock absorbers and revised transmission shift points.
Safety features include seven airbags: two adaptive airbags for the driver and front passenger, a kneebag for the driver, two sidebags in the front seat backrests and two large windowbags which extend from the A to the C-pillar during a side impact. The driver, front passenger and outboard rear seats all have belt tensioners and belt force limiters. The standard head restraints operate on the Neck Pro system. During a rear-end collision, the padded surfaces are pushed forward to support the heads of the driver and front passenger, reducing the risk of whiplash.
Active safety equipment that comes standard includes ABS, traction control, Brake Assist, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and an Electronic Stability Program. An Adaptive Brake system primes the braking system in panic situations, and, whenever the windshield wipers are on applies light, continuous contact to dry the brake discs.
The fourth-generation, 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class looks sporty, with all-new styling.
The new C-Class is wider and longer than the outgoing model, a tauter, sportier design, addressing complaints that it was just too small for many Americans. With an overall length of 180.4 inches, the sedan is more almost four inches longer than its predecessor. Body width has increased more than an inch and a half to 69.7 inches, overall height increased almost one and a half inches, and the wheelbase has increased 1.8 inches to 108.4 inches.
Two completely fresh grilles are used, one for the Luxury model with the traditional horizontal bars and hood-mounted star, one for the Sport version with a large, surrounded star in the grille. The Sport will have six- or seven-spoke alloy wheels and staggered tires (the rears larger than the fronts), and will carry a decklid spoiler. The Luxury version will have the same size tires all around, riding on five-spoke alloy wheels.
The bold new front ends are amplified by a striking, rising line in the bodyside sheetmetal from front to back, flowing directly into a set of new and more aerodynamic taillamps. Even in this larger size, the drag coefficient of the new C-Class is a mere 0.27, among the best in the world.
Improved safety comes via the new bodyshell, 70 percent of which is high-strength and ultra high-strength steel. Compared to the previous series, Mercedes-Benz has larger deformation zones and improved energy flows. The front-end structure of the new C-Class has four independently acting impact zones, which enable forces to be distributed over a wide area around the passenger cell. The hood, fenders, and decklid are aluminum.
According to Mercedes-Benz, the static weight balance of the new C-Class is 52 percent front and 48 percent rear, awfully close to the magic 50/50 spread. The body is 13 percent stiffer in torsion and 12 percent stiffer in bending than the old car, and the chassis features a new rear axle and suspension design.
The 2008 C-Class is the first car in history to be designed, engineered, developed, and tested on Mercedes-Benz's proprietary virtual and digital design and engineering system. That includes every single part, component, and system in the car as well as the interior and exterior design, the complete powertrain, and the chassis. The time saved in development on the computer was devoted to additional real-world testing, to the tune of 24 million kilometers, three times more than the previous model had accumulated. So these cars should be fully sorted.
The interiors of the '08 C-Class are all-new as well. Front shoulder room has increased by 1.6 inches. Trunk space has grown by a cubic foot.
For 2008, the Mercedes C300 and C350 come with a revised instrument package design, a new steering wheel with two sets of auxiliary controls on the horizontal spokes, and a new center stack that includes a pop-up five-inch screen on the dashtop that displays all the necessary vehicle, navigation and entertainment system data.
The Sport version has a three-spoke steering wheel, aluminum metallic trim panels, aluminum floor pedals with black rubber studs, and black birdseye maple trim with special stitching on the upholstery, while the Luxury version has a four-spoke steering wheel, traditional burl walnut interior trim and more traditional interior colors.
The cabin of the C350 Sport is more elaborate than before, with a new standard power sunroof and standard power eight-way driver and passenger seats, with a power lumbar support on the driver's seat. The door panels have more brightwork, and it is tasty.
A console-mounted push-and-twist wheel controls all of the display functions for navigation, entertainment, climate and communications. The dual-zone climate control is located at the bottom center of the dash, easy to read, understand and use. Whether the three-spoke or four-spoke steering wheel, both have a new layout, with two large multi-function controllers and two smaller buttons to control 12 different functions. The instrument pod itself, newly dressed up in aluminum trim with a white-on-black color scheme, houses a 4.5-inch information display inside the speedometer that can be changed at the touch of a button.
The center stack features a hooded, retractable five-inch color display at the top center as the main display unit for the Comand system, big enough to see and shaded from the sun's rays. Other electronic features include a standard eight-speaker sound system with six-CD and MP3 player, a standard auxiliary plug-in spot for your iPod, and standard Bluetooth connectivity for your cell phone.
The Harman Kardon digital 5.1 surround sound system that came in our C350 Sport featured 450 watts of power and 12 speakers, and it was nothing short of fantastic in reproducing the familiar sounds we brought along on our iPod, with automatic volume control and excellent imaging.
On our initial test drives over a couple of days on the highways and mountain roads surrounding Valencia, Spain, we could feel a new edge of precision and sportiness that the old C-Class simply didn't have.
The new C-Class is altogether sharper, more precise, and quicker in terms of handling and steering. The ride is more controlled and sporty and less plush, all of which we liked.
The brakes are extremely powerful and the pedal is nicely progressive.
The steering of the new C-Class is more direct than the previous model's. The standard Agility Control suspension controls the shock absorber forces according to the driving situation. When driving normally with low shock absorber inputs, damping forces are reduced, with a noticeable improvement in ride comfort. In faster driving, maximum damping forces come into play.
Mercedes-Benz has developed an Advanced Agility Package that offers the driver a choice of two programs, Sport and Comfort. The shock absorber for each wheel has infinitely variable electronic control. A new speed-sensitive steering with a more direct ratio, variable centering, and adaptation to acceleration and automatic transmission shift points will be included.
After 25 years, 6 million cars, and a lot of lessons learned, Mercedes-Benz has gone the extra mile with the new 2008 C-Class to provide American buyers with more room, more style, more standard content, more performance, and more substance in a pretty package at what we expect will be reasonable and competitive prices. If the quality holds up, this should be a winner.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Valencia, Spain.