The Inside

The C-Class wears the three-pointed star, but closer scrutiny reveals areas of cost-cutting versus the $35,000 competition, let alone Mercedes' pricier cars. It's the sort of thing that requires a closer look. At first glance, the cabin seems upscale Ч the wood and chrome accents are tasteful; the gearshift pulls with weight and precision from Park to Drive. The window switches and turn-signal stalk impart good craftsmanship. But on closer inspection, we found too many areas that rang cheap. The rubbery armrests haven't the slightest veneer of upholstery. The dashboard has exposed gaps, cheaply grained plastics and flimsy climate dials. The door locks employ the sort of flimsy, roughshod plastic you'd find in an entry-level car, and the three-spoke steering wheel is covered in hardscrabble leather.

Taller drivers may want more front legroom. When the seat was elevated, I had to drive with it all the way back; I'm 5-foot-11. The backseat is tight all around, with limited legroom and narrow doors. A 60/40-split folding backseat is standard on the C63 and optional elsewhere. Considering the trunk's 12.4 cubic feet Ч class-competitive, but still small Ч the folding feature is worth getting.

Our tester had leatherette (that's vinyl) upholstery, which some luxury carmakers offer in base models. Certain competitive examples do a good job simulating real cowhide; this isn't one of them. The C300's upholstery is low-rent, rubbery stuff. Real leather seats are optional Ч but I'm not sure that would improve their comfort. The seats lack lateral support, and several editors found too much lumbar support even with that adjustment dialed all the way back.

One hit: Mercedes' optional Comand system. Comand manages the navigation, audio and other systems via a flip-up dashboard screen and a console-mounted knob. I still find it the best of its knob-based peers: Map scrolling, audio track changes and submenu organization are altogether more intuitive than in BMW's iDrive or Audi's Multi Media Interface.

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