Prices are down and power is up as the 2013 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic jockeys for supremacy in the all-wheel-drive segment of the premium car market. The C300, a compact four-door sedan, has been "repositioned" - given a starting price of $39,990, a drop of more than $5,000 from last year - as it battles for a bigger share of the Canadian premium car market.
Consumers are the winners as BMW counters with a 328i XDrive Classic Edition for exactly the same price. Previously, the entry-level all-wheel-drive model in the C-Class or 3-Series had hovered around the $45,000 mark.
The Audi A4, which has a starting price of $41,300, now seems a little overpriced compared with its fellow Germans. The Infiniti G25x is pegged at $40,550. The Acura TL is the least expensive in this group by $100 at $39,890.
But beware: The 2013 C300 has merely been de-contented to arrive at its new price - standard equipment on last year's car is now optional. Tick off a few of the long list of available options and the price of the C300 quickly escalates to, and beyond, last year's price.
Our tester, for example, ended up with a list price of $46,680 once metallic paint, a navigation system, a premium package that includes a sunroof and a sport package were added to the base price.
The new price is only half the story. The other half is under the hood. The 2013 C300 sports Mercedes' new M276 engine is a 3.5litre, 60-degree direct-injection V-6. The engine, which shares the same basic architecture as Chrysler's Pentastar V-6, is 11 per cent more fuel-efficient than the 3.0-litre engine it replaced. The new engine is rated at 10.5 litres/100 km in the city and 7.3 highway.
In a round trip to Nanaimo in the pouring rain last weekend, I saw a real-world 8.6 litres/100 km fuel consumption.
The 3.5-litre is found in both the C300 and C350. The main difference is the level of tune. While the C350's engine develops 302 hp and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, on the C300 it has been detuned to produce only 248 horses and 251 lb.-ft. of torque.
Unless you have a lead foot and a great need for speed, the C300's 248 ponies are all you need without getting in trouble with the law. The 248 compares well against last year's discontinued 3.0-litre, which produced only 221 hp and 221 lb.-ft. of torque.
The engine incorporates a stop-start feature, which only works after the engine is sufficiently warm. Once at operating temperature, it was almost as seamless as a hybrid, stopping and restarting the vehicle smoothly - more smoothly than the system found in the BMW 3-Series. A button on the dash enables a driver to disable the system.
My only minor complaint is that I could hear the engine at all times. While it's not intrusive, there was always a constant drone to remind me of its presence on the highway. I would have preferred a more hushed ride in a luxury car, with the engine only making itself known under hard acceleration.
The standard seven-speed automatic transmission has one gear fewer than the BMW, but few will notice the difference. The permanent all-wheel-drive system normally appropriates power 45 per cent front and 55 per cent rear. While a driver can manually shift the auto, the side-to-side motions of the gear lever don't feel as intuitive as the fore-and-aft motions to gear up and down. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel are missing and will be missed by enthusiasts.
Despite a price drop of more than $5,000, the interior of the C300 has not changed, which is to say it is still a very nice place to spend time. I only bring this up because BMW, in its efforts to offer a model to match the Mercedes' price, removed or replaced some interior and exterior trim. It's most noticeable in the cabin, where the decontenting has resulted in the elimination of some chrome and substitution of other material for wood or metal.
On the other hand, a major redesign of the BMW 3-Series this year gives it a good showing over the C-Class in terms of headroom, legroom and trunk capacity.
Here are some observations of my time with the C300:
I found the seat bottom in the C300 a bit long - people with shorter legs will notice, while those with longer femurs will rejoice. The front seats have adjustable lumbar controls but no memory settings. There are only two uncovered cup holders in the centre console, and none in the doors. The storage bin under the centre armrest has no power outlet. The C300 has an ashtray but no central cubbyhole to temporarily hold cellphones.
Even though my tester had an optional navigation system, it did not include a back-up camera nor an ultrasonic back-up warning system. The C300 comes only with a standard glass sunroof and is not available with a panoramic roof.
As with most contemporary cars, the C300 has a number of displays and menus accessed via steering-wheel controls. While the audio is one of them, Mercedes-Benz doesn't have dedicated controls just for the sound system. Unless you have the controls set on the audio sub-menu, you can't change the radio stations, which I found to be slightly annoying.
The C300 is a great car. This year's "repositioning" gives it a low price to use in advertising, but doesn't end up saving consumers much money when they invariably add formerly standard equipment as options.
However, the 2013 C300 is still significant because of the introduction of the new engine - more power and better fuel economy are attributes that never go out of style.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Premium compact four-door sedan, front engine, all-wheel drive
Engine: 3.5-litre direct-injection V-6, 248 hp at 6,500 r.p.m., 251 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,400 to 4,500 r.p.m.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,591; width, 2,008; height, 1,445; wheelbase, 2,760
Curb weight (kg): 1,695
Price (base/as tested): $39,990/$48,980 (includes $2,200 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Options: Metallic paint $890, navigation $2,250, premium package (includes sunroof, heated seats, etc.) $2,350, sport package (includes sport suspension, LED running lights, sport steering wheel, upgraded brake calipers, 17-inch wheels, etc.) $1,200
Tires: 225/45 R17 front, 245/40 R17 rear on alloy wheels
Fuel type: Premium
Fuel economy (L/100km): 10.5/7.3
Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new car and roadside assistance
© Copyright 2013