x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mercedes C350 Coupé is great fun for two, but don't expect kids to be comfortable

Road Test This two-door coupé is just the right size and fit for those looking for sporty luxury.

The Mercedes-Benz C 350 Coupé has a more sloping rear roofline compared with its four-door cousin, and headroom suffers. Lee Hoagland / The National
The Mercedes-Benz C 350 Coupé has a more sloping rear roofline compared with its four-door cousin, and headroom suffers. Lee Hoagland / The National

I'm not a big fan of big cars; I've always thought a smaller one is more fun to drive and just makes more sense in so many ways. I don't need to stretch out my elbows or take a walk in the back seat, I don't (usually) need to transport furniture or loads of cargo around. I like the freedom of finding a small parking spot, of treading around tight streets in Abu Dhabi without worry, of pushing a light, spirited car with crisp handling through a turn. You can keep your big, imposing land yachts and SUVs - I'll stick with the smaller, more fun cars.

For those reasons, I like the C-Class for Mercedes; it's the perfect size for me. Not too small that it feels cramped, yet not too big that it feels like a boat on the road. If you need more room for the family, I get it, but this 350 is the perfect size for a young(ish) executive type looking to make a mark, yet still have fun behind the wheel.

And if you're looking to get even sportier, this Mercedes comes with two less doors for the Coupé; yes, you lose the practicality of easier access and a bit more room in the back but, for some people, the looks outweigh the losses. It's less family car, more independent overachiever, and it does look good. It's got all those sharp creases and the attractive front you find on the saloons, but the roofline slopes down much more (which makes rear headroom tight, to say the least), flowing into the short boot at the back. It makes the car look just a little more muscular and athletic than the four-door version - though I have to admit, I might prefer the saloon as it's just as stylish in its own way but has a bit more sophistication.

Of course, if you're buying something with the tri-star on the bonnet, you have a certain level of expectations when it comes to features. The C 350 has a long list of options, such as heated and cooled seats, sat/nav, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, cruise and a lane-tracking system that tells you when you're running outside of the lane. But it's also devoid of a few things, too - the seats are manually moved fore and aft (though electrically for lumbar and height) and there's none of that night-vision stuff like in the higher-end cars; both of which is actually refreshing. Who needs to adjust the seat all the time? Plus, there are smaller, thoughtful additions that are more appreciated: the seat belts are held at the bottom on a bar so they slide easily out of the way for rear passengers, and the rear seats fold down with levers in the trunk, which is where you'll probably decide you need the extra room. The one bugbear I have with the reversing camera is the same with all Mercedes cars: if you turned the infotainment system off because you don't want to listen to the radio, the rear camera doesn't operate. It should appear on the dash screen anytime you need it and Merc needs to change this feature.

The rest of the interior feels upscale and sophisticated, with a variety of high-end, soft and textured plastics and lovely leather all around. The gauges, too, are attractive in silver and display the vehicle's pertinent information. The climate controls are easy to use and, like the aluminium switches all around, just feel like quality. It's these little things, everything a driver sees and touches, that makes owning and driving a Mercedes such a satisfying experience.

Power comes from a 3.5L direct-injection V6 under the bonnet, and it's good. Really, not only is it smooth and quiet, but when you feel like being a bit more "sporty", the 306hp really rips open and comes on strong. But make sure to put the seven-speed transmission into the "sport" mode, as the shifts come early and downshifting is delayed (sometimes frustratingly so) in the normal, eco mode. Yes, yes, that's better for economy, but the sport mode bumps gears later in the rev range and is much more fitting for a spirited drive. Or, if you like, put it in manual; the shifts are quick with the paddle shifters but the sport mode is so good in the city, I hardly felt like I needed to do the work myself. Any way you use it, though, the shifts are seamless and smooth.

When you do get a bit eager, the car is surprising, especially in corners. This has the AMG package with a sport suspension and that keeps the car tight in the fast curves. In fact, it handles surprisingly well as understeer is almost non-existent and it feels like any which way you turn the wheel, the car will go there with no fuss. It gives the Coupé a very good range between everyday comfort and sports car manoeuvrability.

You can probably tell I really liked this car, and you'd be right. Mercedes has a good product here, so why doll it up with AMG badges? The AMG package included on this C 350 includes a sports suspension, body kit and speed-sensitive steering, among other things, but AMG is the tuning division of Mercedes, known for turning the luxury cars into high-end hot rods with the performance to match. This Coupé has no engine performance mods - it doesn't really need them. The V6's power is certainly sufficient for an everyday car, and I feel Mercedes is diluting the AMG brand by offering the associated accoutrements without the mad horsepower to back it up. Offer the added body kits and accessories, but keep the AMG name for those cars that really deserve it, otherwise there's more than just a whiff of "poseur" about the vehicle.

Regardless of the fancy badges, the C 350 Coupé is certainly worthy to go against the BMW 3 Series or the Audi A5. Yes, I'd take the saloon version - there is just as much sport on a comparably equipped model as this Coupé - but I think there are enough people out there who want a Merc without the family look to make this a serious contender in the luxury coupé market.

Price, base / as tested Dh174,692 / Dh238,454

Engine 3.5L V6

Gearbox Seven-speed automatic

Power 306hp @ 6,500rpm

Torque 370@3,500-5,250rpm

Fuel economy, combined 7.0L/100km