Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe

The overall message conveyed by the selection of vehicles in the Museo Automovilístico de Málaga is that cars can be expressions of great design. Believe me, this museum is packed with such cars, examples of which range from the beautiful to the bizarre. They all make an impression.

It's “form follows function,” as one engineer put it, paying homage to the Bauhaus tradition that clearly still informs and inspires German design.

Fittingly, this would be the location where we'd first meet the 2017 Mercedes-Benz C 300 Coupé, a vehicle described by its makers as, “sportiness meets beauty.” I think the point would have been made no matter where we first encountered the C 300 Coupe, as this is a car that effortlessly turns heads, its lines deceptively simple and captivating.

It's a looker, no doubt about that; a classic coupe that won't be available until March 2016, with buyers for the higher performance Mercedes-AMG C 63 variants having to wait until July to get up close. Hence the trip to Spain, with pre-production C 300s arranged in the museum plaza and a busy driving itinerary planned over two days.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz C 300 Coupé is a vehicle of perfect proportions and sumptuous lines. It rides 15 millimetres lower, and measured from the roofline is 37 mm lower than the C 300 sedan. Compared with the outgoing model, the new Coupe is longer by a substantial 95 mm, gaining 80 mm in the wheelbase. It's also wider by 40 mm with front and rear track increasing by 29 and 10 mm respectively. It is, in short, longer, wider and sleeker and 50 kilograms lighter than its predecessor, its designers stretching and shaping it into a wonderful form that both expresses and facilitates its purpose.

It's “form follows function,” as one engineer put it, paying homage to the Bauhaus tradition that clearly still informs and inspires German design.

It also gets more interior volume (to return to the mundane), happily creating greater room especially for the driver and front passenger. Mercedes-Benz is also particularly proud of its latest Coupé's low 0.26 coefficient of drag which contributes to a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption.

What you can't see from outside is the lowered suspension's new four-link front axle designed for more agile handling, better ride quality and a reduction of road noise and tire vibration. It's a sport-tuned suspension, in other words, but one that is still capable of delivering an agreeable ride.

The standard engine is a 2.0L, four that generates 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque (a V6 C 450 is on the way late next year). A 7G-TRONC PLUS seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is the standard gearbox (no manual is offered in Canada). This combination will move the C 300 from 0-100 km/h in just over six seconds.

More pics: 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé

The car arrives with an array of standard and optional safety and infotainment features. Canadian C 300 Coupés will all be 4MATIC all-wheel drive versions and will be equipped with the Dynamic Select drive system that offers ECO, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual drive modes. Other standard features will include power seats, memory package with power steering column, rain sensing windshield wipers, panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control, SmartKey remote, interior chrome package, heated front seats and windshield washers, eCall system, split folding rear seats and 17-inch twin five-spoke wheels.

Also standard are an array of on-road technologies including Crosswind Assist (a self-explanatory active steering assist), Dynamic Cornering Assist and Collision Prevention Assist Plus, a combination of radar-based distance warning, assisted braking and autonomous partial braking designed to lessen the danger of rear-end collisions. Other technologies, like PARKTRONIC self-parking, a 360-degree camera, a multi-purpose head-up display and air suspension are optional. 

For navigation, however, you'll need a package – “Premium” to be specific – with which you'll also get static LED headlamps, the 13-speaker, 550 watt Burmester surround sound system and a rear-view camera. Other packages include Premium Plus, Sport and Intelligent Drive, the latter where you'll find all the advanced safety technologies like Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Intelligent Cruise Control (DISTRONIC PLUS) with steering assist and a range of additional collision avoidance and mitigation assists.

But in case you think that all these assists somewhat defeat the purpose of a car designed for driving enjoyment, you can turn most of them on and off to suit the prevailing conditions.

The Sport Package mentioned above includes several AMG specific features including exterior and interior styling items, AMG floor mats and a special chrome diamond grille. Nineteen-inch AMG wheels are also available.

But the genuine Mercedes-AMG version of this car takes it to a whole other level. Mercedes somewhat weakly describes it as “the sportiest C Class ever,” which is understatement if I ever heard it. This car is not “sporty...” my corduroy jacket is “sporty.” No, this car is a raucous, audacious, beautiful pit-bull of a creation that's so well-behaved and cooperative that it transforms road drivers into track masters and weekend racers into genuine competitors. Whatever your skill level, however, you'll be permanently smitten.

Actually, there'll be two versions: the C 63 and the C 63 S, and under the hood compared with the C 300, the engine doubles Incredible Hulk-like in size, turbochargers, cylinders and almost in output. Yes, it's a 4.0 L twin-turbocharged V8 that makes 469 or 503 horsepower, depending on specification. And it sounds awesome, but I'll get back to that.

The rear-wheel drive-only Mercedes-AMG C 63 considerably differs in appearance from the Mercedes-Benz models sharing only the roof, trunk lid and doors. Its front and rear track is yet wider, requiring a redesigned front end and a model-specific rear axle assembly. The flared wheel arches widen the car by 64 mm at the front and 66 mm at the rear. There's a limited-slip differential back there, as well.

The body structure is stiffer and reinforced, the tires are wider, the double power-domed hood is 60 mm longer, front axle lift is reduced by a splitter below the grille and rear lift is managed by a diffuser and discrete spoiler. Top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h but that increases to 290 km/h with the AMG Drivers Package (you'd want that if you plan to take your car to Germany or to Bonneville, or maybe you'd just want it anyway). Acceleration times, in case you're wondering, are a stated 4.0 seconds 0-100 km/h for the C 63 and 3.9 seconds 0-100 km/h for the C 63 S.

You get all this in a package that is not overwrought with wings and ducts and decals like the C 63 DTM German Touring Car race series version that has an excuse. No, the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C 63 is tastefully realized; you and your significant other could get dressed up and take it somewhere swank at night and you'd fit right in. But slip it into Sport mode on the way home, press that accelerator with authority and you'll make a whole other kind of statement.

We drove both the C 300 and the C 63 S, with the C 300 by no means deficient even though it's not as “race-bred” as the AMG models. First of all, the interior is exquisite. The major gauges are... how do some describe it? Jewel-like? Actually, these are inspired by IWC, which you should google if you don't know what a fine German timepiece looks like. I reckon these gauges are actually marketing devices. Every time you look at them they communicate such precision that you can't help but be sold on the presumably similar qualities of the entire vehicle.

Likewise the high definition colour display perched on top of the centre stack. Yes it looks like a tablet that you could pick up and take with you, but don't try that: it'll fight to the death. However, its map resolution is brilliantly sharp and anybody would follow the instructions of the nice English lady who patiently and politely requests that you “move off” of go “straight through” even though you're at a T-junction and going straight through would put you in a farmer's field.

After muting Her Highness, you can better concentrate on the driving dynamics of the C 300, its suspension wonderfully compliant, giving excellent lateral control in the corners and an almost carpet-like ride on the straights. The steering is always sharp and responsive, the brakes powerful and acceleration from the prodigious torque generated by this small engine would surely baffle Newton himself.

The seats were perfectly designed for support and comfort. They're not soft by any means; they're form fitting. Mercedes did its homework designing these seats (ours were heated and cooled) as after a long drive you felt as fresh as when setting out.

The back seats look great. Finely crafted and striking in their white leather surfaces on black surrounds, the two buckets would fit their occupants equally well if you could get into them without imitating a pretzel. And once inside... well, it's tight. But it's a coupe, right? It's a car that's really for the driver and one passenger. The rear seats are for occasional use by very flexible or small people. They're not even handy for groceries or whatever. For those you have a trunk that's surprisingly more than sufficient. Big, even.

We drove the C 300 on narrow mountain roads where your hands and feet are constantly busy as you negotiate the ascents, descents and twisty surfaces to multi-lane highways at around 130 km/h. The C 300 is a joy to drive in both environments is my takeaway. The harder and faster, the better is my observation.

Our experience with the C 63S began at Circuito Ascari, a five-kilometre racetrack named after Alberto Ascari, a famous Italian racer who died in a car crash at 37 years of age. I had mixed feelings when I learned this.

But not to worry. As technical as this track it, the C 63 S can handle it. We followed Mercedes-Benz factory drivers around at increasing speeds and honestly, the sound of these cars when they get down to business is just glorious. I ran in Sport Plus mode, put it in Drive and away we went.

First of all, what's uncanny is how the transmission acquits itself in this environment. From outside, listening to the car, you would think I'm manually shifting with the precision of an experienced race car driver. I'm not. I'm steering, braking and accelerating. Meanwhile, the transmission is shifting up and down, blipping the throttle as it goes, seemingly making decisions flawlessly. Now perhaps Mr. Ascari would choose different shift points, having his own style of driving and all, but he could have put it in manual mode and used the paddles. Best of both worlds, perhaps.

The cars were run all afternoon, alternating performance and cool down laps for about four hours. No clutches were harmed and the brakes all stood up. There is a ceramic brake option for this model, by the way, but apparently it's not a common choice in Canada (actually, I'm told no-one's ever checked that box; you could be the first).

As powerful and track-ready as this car is, it's also amazingly forgiving. We had no incidents at all during the afternoon; no “offs” as such events are so pithily described. Other than completely trying to defy physics, the C 63 S goes where you point it, although the better you position it, the better it obviously responds. Personally, I can't see buying this car without tracking it. It's in its genes.

However, after surviving Circuito Ascari, we drove about 120 km through more twisty mountain roads down to the Costa del Sol, although it was the moon that greeted us there. En route you easily get how much fun this car is to drive, even at speeds closer to the posted limit. It is like driving a go-cart on these undulating roads, the car just moving precisely where you want it without a hint of complaint. Passing really is a whole new experience in a small car packing 500-plus horsepower and a racing suspension. Let's just say we were efficient.

I have to mention the dynamic LED headlights. At night on these dark, twisting roads, these light were terrific. They follow the curve, keeping the beam on the road so you always have maximum visibility ahead. This is a great option if you'd like to improve your night-driving experience. The instruments, too, were crisply lit and easily read. The Head Up Display is brilliant. Honestly, I had no trouble with any of the controls in this vehicle as I have had with interfaces in some other vehicles. They've really got it right.

All in all, a terrific introduction to the Mercedes-Benz C 300 and Mercedes-AMG C 63 S. In a couple of decades, one of them could easily end up in Museo Automovilístico de Málaga. No pricing as yet, but you're definitely in the $50,000-$90,000 range assuming you want a few options.

That said, coupes account for about only about 20 percent of C Class sales in Canada. Plainly put, they're not the practical choice when it comes to a car purchase. But not everyone is driven by practicality. After all, if all cars were sedans, what kind of fun would that be?