When we get a fun car, and have a little extra time, the first thing that comes to mind is a road trip.? Knowing the new small Mercedes-Benz C-350?coupe was on tap for us, we thought; why not take it somewhere metaphorically familiar ? Leavenworth.
The little central Washington town, located about 135 miles east of Seattle on the Eastern edge of the Wenatchee National Forest, adopted a Bavarian Village theme in the 1960s after the railroad pulled out and the logging and sawmill industries died.? Now Leavenworth?s business district and many of the residences look as if they had been plucked from the German mountains and more than two million visitors a year pour into the scenic mountain village with the German ambience and an endless stream of community events. ?
The drive from our home in the Portland, Oregon area takes us up the Columbia River on the scenic gorge road.? Although the navigation systems usually route a trip this direction across the river into Oregon using Interstate 84, the most fun drive is on Washington Highway 14 as it winds along the great river climbing to scenic overlooks and offering glimpses of waterfalls dropping from the sheer cliffs to the river. ?Further east the path turns from green forests and mountains to rolling, hills covered in wheat, grapes and massive windmills.
There are only a few passing lanes on the 85-mile stretch before we turn north on Hwy 97.? To make any time at all requires some quick passes, to get around the 18-wheelers, travel trailers and the ?don?t rush me, I?m enjoying the view? crowd.
All new in 2011 the Mercedes-Benz C-350 coupe is available in four versions: C250, C350, C350 4MATIC (all-wheel drive) and C63 AMG.? The C250 is powered by a new 201-hp, direct injection, turbocharged four-cylinder 1.8-liter engine; the C350 Sport with its 302-hp direct injection 3.5-liter V-6 and the C63 AMG version with its 451-hp 6.3-liter naturally aspirated V-8.? All three engines produce impressive 0 to 60 acceleration times of 7.1 seconds, 5.9 seconds and 4.4 seconds respectively.? The new four-cylinder fuel economy is rated at 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.? The V-6 is 19/28 mpg and the AMG 13/19 mpg.
All models have the latest version of the venerable seven-speed Mercedes automatic transmission, with the exception of the C63 AMG, which has the high-performance seven-speed double clutch automatic.
Our 2012 test car was the C350, and it responded as if it had significantly more than 301 horsepower.? With the accelerator to the floor, the Mars Red coupe rocketed around slow moving vehicles to triple digit speeds before pulling back into the driving lane.? Just as impressive as the acceleration was the fuel economy, which averaged 28.0 mpg on the 500 mile round trip despite the multitude of passes we made.
Even when standing still, the Mercedes-Benz C-350 ?coupe looks fast with its extreme wedge-shaped silhouette that ties the distinctive Mercedes-Benz radiator grille, long hood, steeply raked windshield and standard Panorama sunroof to a very short trunk lid.? Under the trunk lid there?s 11.7 cubic foot cargo space or enough space for luggage and extras for a couple spending a few days in Leavenworth.? Combined with large tires, which are pushed to the four corners of the car, the distinctive coupe looks both aggressive and elegant.
The coupe interior is furnished with four attractive bucket seats.? The front seats have deep side bolsters to support the driver and front seat passenger during hard cornering.? The seats are comfortable and supportive, but we thought they were a little too firm and required more ?get off my butt breaks? than the softer seats in other cars.? Like most coupes, the rear seats are a challenge to get in and out of, but once seated, they are surprisingly spacious for average size adults with short legs.
The business-like interior is designed to enhance the driving experience with precise and well-placed switchgear and a large three-ring instrument cluster with a new color digital display in the center of the speedometer.? The display is controlled by a steering wheel-mounted button that displays trip functions, phone, audio and the optional navigation system.? Many of the same functions are also controlled by a console-mounted electronic controller that replaces dozens of buttons and switches with a series of menus and sub-menus on the screen.? It?s sometimes difficult to remember where in the menu structure you wanted to go, but it?s better than many similar systems and with a little practice, most owners will quickly become proficient.
A 5.8-inch color screen, mounted just to the right of the instrument panel at the top of the center stack, displays controls for Bluetooth, phone, wireless audio streaming and all the major audio functions.? Cars with the optional Multimedia Package have a larger, seven-inch, screen and GPS navigation, rear-view camera and a 10 GB hard drive for music and photo storage. ?One feature we didn?t like was that the rearview camera, does not work, when the audio system is turned off.? We think the rearview camera should be on anytime the car is put in reverse.
The C-Class has a noticeably stiff body structure and chassis thanks to the industry?s most intensive use of high-strength steel (70 percent) and innovative laser welding and bonding techniques.?? Combined with Mercedes-Benz?s unique four-wheel independent suspension, the C-Class displays precision handling with no noticeable body lean.
The Coupe has all the latest safety equipment plus some extras like driver?s side knee air bag and the Attention Assist Driver Drowsiness Monitor.
Our C350 test vehicle, which had a base price of $43,245, including the destination charge, was very well equipped with a long list of standard features.? Extras on our test car added $8,240, but included many features we think are important, including a rearview camera, agility package (suspension and wheels), COMAND package (audio and navigation) and leather seating.? It also had the lighting package (adaptive bi-Xenon lights and highbeam assist) and a Lane Tracking Package (blind spot warning and Lane Keeping Assist that warns the driver when the car drifts over the highway lines).? Other coupe pricing ranges from $38,970 for the C250 to $63,180 for the C63 AMG.
Like most of the Mercedes-Benz models we?ve driven, the C350 coupe did not disappoint, it has high style, excellent performance and much better fuel economy that we expected.