2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Review

One thing before reading on: Please put down the voodoo dolls and stickpins.

The vehicle tested this week gets less than 30 m.p.g. highway, has no batteries hidden under the rear seat and will cost less than $20,000 only when as used in 10 years.

It's the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C300, an entry-level sedan to invite people into the luxury segment who Mercedes hopes will stay when they can afford something at $50,000 or more.

But the C300 -- or any of its Mercedes brethren -- isn't a conservator of the planet's finite supply of petroleum-derived energy, though more fuel-efficient versions are coming.

Mercedes, while insisting hybrids aren't the only answer to energy problems, will offer a ML450 SUV that runs on gas and/or electric next year. It also will have a hybrid S400 that runs on gas with a battery boost when needed and like the ML450 kills the gas engine at the light.

For 2009, it also brings out the ML-, GL- and R-Class sport-utility vehicles with Bluetec V-6 diesels that meet federal emission laws in all 50 states. The engines don't meet the stricter standards in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont yet.

So be patient. Higher-mileage Mercedes are coming with the promise of more once the Bluetec is welcome in all 50 states.

And diesels promise 30 percent better mileage without the extra baggage of hybrids -- space grabbing batteries where gear could be stored.

Stay tuned.

We tested the 2008 C300 Sport with its sloping coupe-like roof and AMG (the performance folks) designed front end with huge Mercedes star in the three-bar chrome grille.

Length swells by 3.5 inches, wheelbase by 1.8 inches and width by 1.7 inches for more room to stretch feet, knees and elbows upfront, elbows and melon in back, where knee room still is tight and the narrow door opening doesn't help getting in or out.

Mercedes says C300 seats five adults -- perhaps, if the one in the middle in back is the Invisible Man.

The trunk is spacious. Press the key fob and the lid pops wide open for easy loading/unloading. A pull of handles in the trunk lets rear seat backs fold for more cargo room. But unless arms are mop-handle long -- or you keep a mop handle in the trunk -- you have to walk around, reach in the rear door and pull the backs down.

C300 comes with a 3-liter, 228-horsepower V-6. Plenty energy to sprint from the light and dart into and out of the passing lane. The 25 m.p.g. on the highway is respectable, but not as eye-popping as it would be in hybrid or diesel. At least the V-6 burns cleaner E85, the ethanol/gasoline blend, though at a cost of up to 30 percent mileage.

Anti-slip regulation (traction control) and electronic stability program keep the wheels side down on straight or twisty roads and at speed into and out of corners. The test car, however, lacked 4Matic four-wheel-drive. Those who live in the Snow Belt or who will slap the accelerator when the Greenies aren't looking, would be wise to invest the $1,400 for 4Matic to maneuver over snow and maximize handling on dry roads.

The C300 Sport starts at $31,200 with dual-zone climate control, power sunroof, power driver/passenger seats, Bluetooth phone connectivity, AM/FM/CD player/MP3 player, anti-lock brakes, side-curtain air bags and power locks/windows/mirrors.

Nice touches include the multimedia package with a 7-inch screen that pops up from the dash for the navi map and radio station settings. It uses voice activation or Comand control dial in the center console to activate the $2,950 option.

Unlike the BMW iDrive that puzzles PhDs, the only skill needed to master Comand control is the ability to turn a dial left or right. Much easier than even pushing the voice-activation control and uttering "next station." The radio will move from 670 to 780 on the AM dial in a few seconds after pausing at every station between. So why not just grab the dial and turn from 670 to 780 in a second?

Besides this, no option is cheap: $650 for Tele Aid, Mercedes' version of GM's OnStar; $1,440 for 7-speed automatic; $2,750 for a package to get satellite radio, power rear window sun shade and heated front seats; and $1,000 for a panorama sunroof that opens over front seat and is fixed in back.

Mercedes is counting on the new C-Class, and a return to the top five in J.D. Power and Associates' 2007 owner satisfaction index, to make 2008 the 15th consecutive year in which sales top year earlier levels. Thanks to strong start for the C-class, it is very likely that it will do just that.

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