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The C350 is both sophisticated and sporty. Delores Johnson / The National
The C350 is both sophisticated and sporty. Delores Johnson / The National

Ambitious Mercedes gets down to business with C350

Road Test Neil Vorano gets behind the wheel of the Mercedes that bridges the gap between C-Class and AMG.

Congratulations on the promotion; upper middle management is always something to shoot for. You've made it, at least this far. So you need to reward yourself with a shiny new car, something befitting your elevated social and economic status.

A Mercedes is always a nice decision - you may not be at the S-Class level just yet, but you want something with the tri-star parked in your driveway, and maybe something with a little oomph, too; you're still young and have all of your hair, after all, right?

Oooh, but those AMG cars are expensive, aren't they? The C63 might be a bit of a stretch financially so why not go for something that looks like one? And that's when the salesman takes you to see the C350.

But this isn't just an average C-Class. No, this one is dolled up with the AMG package. It makes the car look like you've shelled out much more than what you really did. And it's a good looking car, too; wow, those sharp lines, hulking stance and AMG spoke wheels really set it apart. This C350 has a refined yet still sporty look to it.

This one is in bright red, making it look faster than it may be. It's still got just a 3.5L V6 in it, not some hot 6.3L V8 like the real AMG version. Will that really be enough to satisfy you, though?

If you're not looking for a scary-fast saloon then, yes, it will. The salesman will hand you the key fob and you'll push the big, metal start button for the test drive and, ooh, that engine does sound good. No, not like a V8, but it's still got some verve. That 306hp will make passing cars no problem at all, and that drive to your office tower can be an exciting one - you'll find that seven-speed automatic gearbox almost prophetic in its gear selections. It's one of the best on the market, even though you'd want it to drop a gear when pushed just a split second sooner. But it is an automatic, after all.

One disappointment you might have, if you're perceptive, is the lag between pushing your foot down on the throttle and the response. Why the delay, you might ask? It's but a heartbeat slow, but it will make smoother driving more difficult, especially keeping at slower speeds around the car park.

One thing you'll appreciate in that car park is the speed-sensitive steering, though. Turning the wheel pulling into your new parking spot at the office is a breeze, and yet it tightens up and gives good feedback at higher speeds. It's something that you don't really notice at first, but when you do, it's much appreciated.

When you're not tossing it through the roundabouts and are stuck in a kilometre-long traffic jam, take a look around the cabin. It's certainly befitting your new-found status; very sophisticated and full of high-quality materials. Though you may notice that the seat controls, located on the doors like in every Mercedes, sort of break up the feng shui. They should be left hidden, as you'll use them once and forget them. Maybe on a hot day you'll appreciate the fact that the cooled seats keep the sweat off your back, making you look calm and cool for the boardroom. Or, if the weather's nice, open the front sunroof (the rear one is stationary). But be thankful you're sitting in the front as, while the front seats are spacious, the rear area is somewhat cramped.

You might appreciate all the technology and safety features that Mercedes is known for, too. These are really what separates this German brand from the lower cars, options such as the belt tensioners, which remind you every time you buckle up by pulling against you and then slackening. Or the Pre-Safe early braking system that hammers on the brakes right before an accident. Or the Comand media interface, one of the easier-to-use ones on the market. Perhaps even the active blind spot assist, the active lane-keeping assist (which unsettlingly rattles the steering wheel when you cross a line without signalling) or even the power rear window blind. There's also the adaptive cruise control, though you might find that annoying in traffic as it seems to just slow you down to a crawl. And when you're parking, you'll also wonder why, when the radio is turned off, the rear parking camera doesn't work when you're reversing. This is a safety oversight, something that should automatically come on.

Your test drive will be a pleasant experience, and you'll come back to the dealership to talk turkey. And that's when you'll find out that this car, with all of its options, costs more than Dh78,000 over the price of the base C-Class. Ouch. Decision time: do you casually ask to look at the lower C250 with a four-cylinder engine; do you think this C350 is worth the money; or do you imagine the AMG C63 really isn't all that far off your budget?

How big a raise did you get again?

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