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15 Minutes in the All-New 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class…Better Than BMW or Lexus?

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Mercedes-Benz has recently introduced the all-new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan. The new sedan boasts a sexier exterior, new engines and more interior room than the outgoing model. Are these changes enough to win over would be BMW or Lexus buyers?

To celebrate the launch of the all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Mercedes is holding what they call “The C-Drive”, which is basically an event to learn all about the new C-Class.

This is how Mercedes described the event: “You will be among the first to put the all-new 2008 C-Sport to the test and experience its combination of cutting-edge style and exhilarating performance, all in a sales-free environment.”

Of course I had to go to test the new car and since I am in the market for a new ride in a few weeks, I jumped at the chance.

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The 2008 C-Class is the fourth generation of the car, which dates back to 1983 (The first generation was named the 190). The fourth-generation of the car is bigger than the third generation. The wheelbase has grown from 106.9 inches to 108.7. The overall length has increased 3.9 inches to 182.3. The width of the car has also increased by 1.7 inches to 69.7 inches. The only thing that didn’t increase is the height of the C-Class. The length of the C-Class is about two-four inches longer than the BMW 3-Series and the Lexus IS, which is obvious.

The C-Class comes in three versions for 2008, the C300 Luxury Sedan, the C300 Sport Sedan and the C350 Sport Sedan. The C300 has 228 hp, while the C350 has 268hp. The C300 is on par with the horsepower ratings of the 328i and the IS 250, but the C350 comes up short. 268 horsepower vs. 300 in the 335i and 306 in the IS350. Was it noticeable? Read on…

Ok, so I drove the C350 sport sedan. Immediately I loved the new styling of the sedan. It looks much better than the last generation. Once inside I noticed how much more spacious the C-Class is compared to the IS350 and the BMW 3-Series. The overall styling of the interior is much better than the boring 3-series interior. I would have liked it better than the IS350 interior if it wasn’t for the cheap looking materials. The plastic looked like it belonged in a much cheaper car. I especially hated the plastic shifter. The COMAND system took some time to get used to, although other reviewers have raved about it. I kept wishing that it was a touch screen like the Lexus, but at least it is better than BMW’s iDrive.

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So on to performance. I already mentioned that the C350 has less power than the 335i and the IS350 and sadly it was painfully obvious. Right from the start the car seemed underpowered (compared to the 335i and IS350) for the top of the line C-Class. Mercedes decided to not offer a manual transmission on the C350, so I had to make due with a seven-speed auto (the manual is only available on the lesser powered C300). Mercedes does offer “Touch Shift”, which allows you to manually select the gears, but it was a waste. Not only do you have to shift the lever left or right (BMW and Lexus are north and south), but it automatically shifts for you when you near the redline. What the hell?! I hate when cars do that. There is absolutely no point for this feature and it fails to replace a manual.

Not only did the car have a power deficit, and an annoying transmission, but the stability assist killed any chances of me actually having any fun driving the car. From a stop sign I turned right and floored it, halfway around the corner the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) kicked in and killed the momentum. It felt like your mom had just stepped in and said “Now son watch it, you are going to fast.” So why call this model a “sport”? Is it only due to the fact that it has “sporty” styling? Other automakers like to apply the sport label to otherwise boring cars that have no performance advantages over their lesser models. Is this what Mercedes has done here?

During “normal” driving the car felt very solid and capable. The spacious interior was comfortable and the COMAND system was mostly user friendly. These are all things that a $40,000 car should have. Overall if I love the way the C-Class looks and feels. I just couldn’t deal with the fact that it didn’t feel very “sporty”. At over $45,000 for the C350 Sport, I would much rather drive over to my local BMW dealer for the 300 horsepower 335i.

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