Let’s say you’ve read our hands-on pieces of the Mercedes SLS and SL AMGs and now fancy something sporty with the three-pointed star on the bonnet, but your budget’s a little more five figures than six. Then perhaps a new, 2013 Model Year C-Class coupe would be up your street?
We’re really testing two things with this hands-on story, because it’s our first acquaintance with the new C-Class Coupe, but also our first test of a C-Class in 2013 spec – which brings a host of improvements across the range of C-Class Saloon, Estate and Coupes to help it take on its newly refreshed greatest foe, the BMW 3-Series.
The first surprise is this car’s ability to turn heads. Mercedes is on a bit of a roll at the moment with its colour, trim and accessories range and our “polar white” coupé, dressed up in its AMG body kit, full-length panoramic roof and black AMG wheels shouts "bling" every bit as much as the SLS. Judging from our experience, while it can’t quite stop traffic like that car, it manages to turn many heads and the trim of this car certainly helps what is ultimately quite a dowdy shape for a coupé. It’s got the arcing roofline thing, but it’s all a bit dour and similar to the saloon in its surface and detail execution and it doesn’t even get frameless windows, surely a pre-requisite of every "true" coupe?
Still, fling open the door and we suspect you won’t be bothered, because AMG trim brings with it a neat, chunky, three-spoke steering wheel and our test car came fitted with red leather, a £1,350 option, wrapping fully electric drivers and passengers seats – which will cost you an extra £1,095. Still, fear not about the options - because the bespoke design of the seats for the coupé is standard and while you will want the leather you can probably do without the electric memory adjustment. In the back, you’ll find two individual sports seats moulded into the bench which allow a decent amount of room for four people.
You might have spotted a theme developing in the paragraph above and it’s true that our test car came loaded with options - ten grand’s worth to be precise. Quite a chunk of that relates to safety, anti-collision and tech options, the worthiness of which we’ll get to in a minute. But whether you spec these options or not, they don’t alter the core driving experience of the C-Class, which we found to be unexpectedly good. The diesel engine manages to be a tad-more vocal than you might like, but delivers a nice, thick thump of power from under 2,000 rpm right round to the rev-line - and hooked up to Merc’s 7-speed auto gearbox it feels quicker than an equivalent BMW 320d, at least from the subjective point of the driver’s seat.
More impressive still, through that chunky three-spoke steering wheel you get a really nice weighting and level of feedback from the steering which means you can drive the C-class coupé with a real level of confidence. Clearly, the speed-sensitive power steering and 15mm suspension drop on the C-Class coupé AMG Sport works here, it feels sporting but not too hard.
Like all the latest Mercs, you get stop-start, attention assist, which detects if you’re about to nod off, and a pre-safe anticipatory safety system which knows you’re going to have a crash before you do and gets your seatbelt, chair etc, into the best position to restrain you should the worst happen.
On our test car, this was augmented by the £1895 “driving assistance package”, which adds blind spot indicators in your mirrors, an advanced form of radar-guided cruise control which will also brake the car to stop you rear-ending people and active lane-keeping assist, which - because we like to keep our hands on the wheel when driving - we can’t really tell you much about.
The DistronicPlus radar cruise control makes this a tempting option, but at nearly two-grand it’s an expensive one and we suspect most will sooner opt for the £1,995 full Comand interface, which gets you 3D satnav mapping, in-car internet, a hard disk for music storage, voice control, an SD card slot that you interface with through a 7-inch centre screen, and control via a rotary knob. It really ought to be standard, but that’s never been the Mercedes way - hell, they used to charge you extra for a radio! And while we don’t rate it as highly as BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMi - less intuitive interface, less than wonderful screen graphics - it’d be a brave person to omit it from their options choices on a car like this.
Not being the biggest fans of its looks, and having clocked the £44k with options price tag before we took it out, we weren’t expecting to like the C-Class Coupe as much as we did.
Its deepest talent is an ability to cosset when you just need to chew through a few-hundred miles of motorway. But it's also happy in obliging if you want to be a little more foolish with it. Above all, it feels like a quality, premium item. In this trim, you don’t even need to throw ten grand’s worth of options at it to make it look good and the cabin appear full with tech. That striking paint is standard, as are the wheels (not painted black), so if it were us, we’d simply add leather, Comand and the panoramic roof for £1,350.
It’s a cliché, but there’s a sense of depth and quality on show here that makes it quite easy to forgive the C-Class Coupe for not looking a little more special in its basic shapes and proportions. From pretty much every point you touch as you get into the cabin, to the fact that the seatbelt gives you a tug when you first get in as if to say, "Hey, I’ve got your back" (it’s actually working out how much you weigh so it knows how much to inflate the airbag if you crash), the things Mercedes has always been famous for - quality and engineering prowess - really shine through.
We’d need longer with one to make a true call, but the latest updates to the C-Class appear to once again put it within striking distance of its old enemy, the BMW 3-Series. And it’s a good illustration that, if you’re thinking of spending 30-40k on a car, right now you really are spoilt for choice.