A Classier C-Class

The new entry-level models from Mercedes-Benz are longer and livelier

Mercedes-Benz (DAI ) amped up the sportiness of the C300 and C350, stretched them to provide more room, and added an optional 30-gig music database. They still don't match BMW for performance, but they have more of the luxury look and feel of pricier Mercedes models than perhaps any entry-level car the company has built.

2008 Mercedes C300-350

BASE PRICE: Starts at $31,975, goes to $46,000 fully loaded


Both the C300 luxury and C350 sport model wear the rounded front fenders of the pricier S-class. The sports model has a big Benz badge, while the luxury car has the trademark three-pointed Mercedes star as a hood ornament.


The new C-class is four inches longer than the old model. That gives driver and passengers more legroom. With 12.4 cubic feet of space, the trunk is cavernous.


The 350's 3.5-liter V-6 engine has 268 horsepower and goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. The 3-liter engine in the C 300 does 0 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. A seven-speed transmission makes for smooth acceleration. Manual is available only on the C300.


Mercedes simplified its Comand system, which let the driver operate the sound, environmental, and navigation controls by toggling through a series of pages on the in-dash screen using a rotating knob. But it still requires too much time staring at the screen.


Every C-class Mercedes comes with standard side-curtain air bags that protect passengers in the front and rear seats from side-impact collisions. Many manufacturers offer side-curtain air bags only as an add-on. The front air bags are engineered with some intelligence. They deploy at lower force if the collision is at lower speeds. If the car detects a harsh front-end collision, the air bags can bust open in 15 milliseconds.

By David Welch

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