Within the ultra-competitive segment of entry-level luxury performance sedans, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class hits the bull's-eye several times with only a few misses.
Since the Mercedes-Benz C-Class' last full redesign in 2001, the entry-level luxury sedan landscape has changed dramatically. Newer models have been offering ever higher levels of creature comforts and driving excitement. As such, Mercedes' entry-level car has been at an increasing disadvantage, with its small backseat, uninspiring handling and ordinary cabin furnishings being the notable drawbacks. American consumers would seem to agree, with the C-Class' archnemesis, the BMW 3 Series, outselling the C-Class by a considerable margin last year.
Mercedes-Benz's cavalry arrives this year in the form of the fully redesigned 2008 C-Class. It's meant to address many of the previous car's faults. The wheelbase has been stretched slightly, improving interior space, especially in the rear seat. It's not a massive gain, but the resulting cabin is certainly larger and feels airier than it did before. The C-Class interior also benefits from new features, including a very impressive optional hard-drive-based navigation and surround-sound audio system, along with a much-improved version of the COMAND interface.
As before, there are Sport and Luxury trim levels, but this year Mercedes has put in extra effort to make the trims more distinctive. The C300 and C350
Underneath, the C-Class' basic suspension design is the same as the previous model, but the components are lighter for improved handling and ride comfort. Steering feel and quickness have also been noticeably improved. Thankfully, high-speed stability and a comfortable ride, qualities always associated with Mercedes-Benz, are still intact.
Mercedes-Benz has chosen to carry over last year's V6 engines and will again offer all-wheel drive. Notably, there will be a new AMG model coming out in the spring or summer of calendar-year 2008. It features a 6.2-liter V8 and the usual high-performance modifications to improve handling and braking.
Overall, the new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a welcome improvement. The distinct Luxury and Sport trims should help attract a wide array of new and traditional buyers, while the interior is now fully up to date in terms of features and design. Plus, the 457-horsepower C63 AMG is bound to give the vaunted M3 a serious run for its money. However, the C-Class still exists in an incredibly competitive segment. Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Lexus (among others) offer very good luxury performance sedans, which are often less expensive and more powerful than a comparatively equipped Benz. All of these cars deserve a long look, but with its mix of driving involvement, comfort and high-tech goodies, the all-new C-Class is a fine choice for an entry-luxury sedan.