Coupes used to be a big deal. In the 1970s, my father drove them exclusively, graduating from a Cougar to a Grand Prix to a Thunderbird to a Mark V. Mom finally swapped a wood-sided wagon for a Regal, then bought a succession of Cougars, all festooned with the formal rooflines so popular in the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, coupes are relatively rare. People feeling sporty increasingly prefer sport/utility vehicles, some of which are infuriatingly referred to as “coupes.” Newsflash: a Mercedes GLC or GLE equipped with a fastback roofline is no more a coupe than the football-shaped Honda Crosstour is.
A true coupe is a car like the 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class pictured above. It has two doors and a fixed roof, and is equipped with a separate trunk instead of a rear hatch. Don’t believe me? Google “what is a coupe?” C’mon, the internet doesn’t lie.
The C-Class Coupe is redesigned for 2017, based on the same platform as the current C-Class Sedan and sharing the same mechanicals save for a plug-in hybrid powertrain that is exclusive to the 4-door model. A new C-Class Cabriolet debuts this year, too. To create it, Mercedes chops the top off the coupe, and, well, you get the idea.
This was my first time driving the C-Class since Mercedes began rolling out the redesigns in 2015, and while I would have preferred sampling the sedan because I’ve got little kids to shuttle around, this C300 Coupe actually proved unexpectedly agreeable as family transportation.
Balanced, but bland
Can I be honest about something? I find the styling of the latest crop of Mercedes models to be bland and boring. To obtain one with character you need to downgrade to the oddly proportioned CLA-Class or GLA-Class, or upgrade to the upper echelons of the lineup. Everything in between looks amorphous, derivative, like you’ve seen them somewhere before.
That must be why my favorite exterior design cue on the C300 Coupe is the chrome studded, diamond block grille. It makes a clear statement about the car’s upscale intentions, and not just because of the oversized Mercedes star sitting right in the center of it.
Though this is a balanced and proportional design, the rest of the C-Class Coupe is unremarkable. The rounded roof and tapered tail give the car an egg shape, certainly exacerbated by my test car’s white paint. The beltline resembles the Honda Accord Coupe. The rear end carries a whiff of Chrysler 200. Even the upsized, thin-spoke, machined-face AMG wheels didn’t get my blood pumping.
But the grille, that’s cool, and it has impact.
No shortage of style inside the C-Class Coupe
People often buy a Mercedes-Benz for no other reason than it is one. However, there is no denying that this car is fancy inside, the kind of fancy that looks and feels special. Equipped with cranberry red leather, aluminum finishes, and natural grain wood trim, my test car’s delectable cabin boasted the high design and compelling style absent from the car’s sheet metal.
Drivers and front passengers enjoy comfortable, supportive seats, and my test car’s chairs included both heating and ventilation. Power adjustments and temperature controls are mounted on the door panels, as is Mercedes-Benz custom, and include a separate cushion extension for improved thigh support. The fit is tailored – not too snug, and not too spacious. This is exactly the right approach for this type of car.
Rear seating accommodates adults of shorter stature and children. The front seats power forward and out of the way to ease entry and exit, which significantly enhances the C-Class Coupe’s practicality. In fact, I hauled my family around in this car for a week, and the only hassle associated with doing so related to the longer doors, and only in cramped parking spaces.
Taller people will complain, and loudly, about headroom and legroom. Mercedes does pad the outer portions of the front seat backs to improve comfort, but because the bottom seat cushion sits high with good thigh support, my guess is that if you’re taller than 5’10” there is no way you will agree to ride back there.
Storage space is adequate for a car most likely to contain no more than two people, thanks mainly to the sizable bins embedded into the door panels. If there is a source for disappointment within the C-Class Coupe’s cabin, it’s with the unfinished appearance of the front cup holders and storage tray when its classy cover is open.
Technology isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come cheap
Can technology be complex and simple at the same time? Yes, and Mercedes-Benz has proven this, though not in the C-Class Coupe. Rather, it is the stunningly good E-Class that makes the future accessible and easy for a technophobe like me.
By contrast, the C-Class is a big step backwards, with an older graphical menu interface and frequently confusing Comand control operation. The touch-sensitive pod covering the control dial makes quick reference to underlying functions difficult, and often produces unintended results.
Thankfully, then, the voice recognition system worked well, easily recognizing my somewhat difficult Spanish-language street address. And the Burmeister surround sound audio system is good enough to forgive some of Comand’s faults.
Priced at almost $58,000, my test car lacked increasingly critical driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies. In fact, even a reversing camera is an upgrade for a C-Class Coupe, priced at $460.
Not everything is going to vacuum cash from your pockets. Standard equipment does include Attention Assist drowsy driver monitoring as well as Collision Prevention Assist forward warning and adaptive braking technology. A blind spot warning system is tucked into the Premium 1 option package, which runs $2,300.
Everything else is a part of the Premium 3 option package ($7,860). So keep that in mind if you want pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, an active version of blind spot warning, and other driving aids that are available for this car.
Terrific turbo engine makes the C300 satisfying to drive
Turbocharged 4-cylinder engines are nothing new. Turbocharged 4-cylinder engines that thrust a car forward like a V-6 engine are increasingly common. Turbocharged 4-cylinder engines that sound like a V-6 engine while doing so are unusual, and that’s one reason I love this 2.0-liter motor from Mercedes.
Output figures are modest, at 241 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. The torque peaks from 1,300 rpm to 4,000 rpm, while maximum horsepower is reached at 5,500 rpm. A 7-speed automatic powers the rear wheels, and in my test car a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system maximized traction. It takes less than six seconds to reach 60 mph.
Granted, this is the least powerful version of the new C-Class Coupe, but my bet is that the majority of people will find it more than entertaining. One reason for that is the somewhat guttural engine note that makes its way into the cabin. Unlike most turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, which sound coarse, granular, and unrefined, and are often accompanied by whine or whistle, the Benz power plant both feels and sounds like a larger engine.
Dynamic Select provides the driver with Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual driving modes. Each one alters the car’s character in palpable ways, transforming it from a purring housecat into a growling cheetah. Mostly, I used the Comfort and Sport modes, earning an average of 24 mpg on my usual testing loop. That’s short of the EPA’s rating of 25 mpg in combined driving, but not by a significant amount.
The faster you go, the better this car is
Most of the time, in day-to-day driving, you’re going to keep the car in Comfort mode and rely on the turbocharged 4-cylinder’s impressive wave of torque to squirt you onto freeways, around city corners, and away from suburban intersections.
Fitted like my test car, with 19-inch wheels and summer performance tires, you may suffer extra road noise and greater ride stiffness in such environments, but aside from occasional and unexpected lateral rocking motions over undulating pavement, the upgraded rims and rubber won’t cause much bother.
Choose Sport mode, and the C300 adopts a clear preference for speed. The steering feels heftier, and the powertrain adopts an eagerness for going fast and having fun. The test car’s Sport Package includes drilled front brake rotors to help dissipate heat, adding an extra measure of capability and performance on hot days.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a good romp down a favorite back road, the Sport+ setting is the one you want. My favorite routes are laced across the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles, and during the week of testing they were pummeled with rain, resulting in mud flow and rock fall.
After a reconnaissance drive to make sure the road was clear of debris and dry enough to sample the C300’s capabilities, I switched to Sport+ mode, and took off down the stretch of Mulholland Highway that I know best. The car flew down to the beach with utterly unflappable grace, the heavily weighted steering a perfect partner in crime, the paddle shifters keeping the engine within the thick of the torque curve, the brakes delivering confidence under repeated hard use when coming upon damp and dirty portions of the road.
Granted, testing conditions were unusually cool and wet, but that underscored just how good the C-Class Coupe is to drive if you’re the type of person who enjoys driving.
Design and UX improvements would make the C-Class more compelling
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe will never be mistaken for a bargain. And without that oversized three-pointed star in its grille, onlookers might not even mistake it for a luxury car.
Rightly so, this aspirational automobile carries with it a premium price tag. After all, if you have something that people want, you get to charge more for it. However, it sure would be nice if the C-Class Coupe displayed a greater sense of style. It simply looks unexceptional.
Mercedes also needs to re-think this particular version of Comand. The touch-sensing pod gets in the way, and it takes a long time to acclimate to the menu structures and which functions require a push, a twist, or a shove of the dial on the center console.
Otherwise, this is an impressive car. Dynamically, it is a joy, and the interior demonstrates nearly enough style and substance to make up for the dull exterior flanks. Comfort levels are high, and the C300 Coupe is unexpectedly practical as a daily driver.
Tellingly, though, I didn’t miss it after it was gone.
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