Mom, just to clarify, I don't quite have the scratch to buy you a new Mercedes. I don't even have the scratch to buy you an old one. I'm just trying to make a point. Mom... please get off the phone with the insurance company. MOM! It's just an illustrative headline.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: Mercedes wanted us to drive the new C300 4MATIC so badly that they gave us one, full of fuel, when we asked for it. I may have also let it be used for a trip to Ikea.)
It's a common problem in automotive criticism that we end up, by virtue of access or kink, loving cars that most people don't; like being a music critic who loves Warpaint but is stuck reviewing Katy Perry. We can become jaded. We request the car we're least likely to be given, thus the perverse attraction to RWD brown diesel station wagons.
Thankfully, the Mercedes C-Class lives in a part of the market where all the cars are better than decent and the car you end up with is probably close to exactly what you want. They're cars too good to be jaded about, even if not every car is the one you'd buy. For instance, the BMW 328i is probably Ze German chariot I'd get for myself because I want RWD and I want a stick. The Audi A4 is the car I'd get if I was an Uber driver. The Mercedes C300 is the car I'd get my mom, because she'd love it and I love her.
It would also be appropriate since my first car was a slightly janky creme mustard yellow 1978 Mercedes 300D my mom purchased for me when I was 16. It wasn't a perfect car, mind you, nor was it quick. If I'd have wanted quick an E30 would have been a better car, but damn if it wasn't comfortable and even classy, standing out amidst the relatively characterless late-'90s C-Classes that filled my suburban high school's parking lot.
To understand why this car would be great for my mom you'll need a bit of context, lest you think I'm trying to imply this car is perfect for old people. Quite the opposite. My mom is a Generation Xer who has always been younger and cooler than the typical matriarchs in my neighborhood.
An embarrassing example: When I was in middle school I listened to swing music and wore spats. I finally caught up with my mom in high school when we both wanted the same Radiohead record and, eventually, passed her my Freshman year at The University of Texas when I started listening to all the weird noise that college students pass off as music.
She's also not one to want a giant SUV or full-size luxury sedan. She enjoys driving. She drove basically nothing but cars with a manual transmission for most of her life, including a Volkswagen Scirocco. Her first new car — purchased when I was 11 — was a Ford Escort with a 5-speed and basically no options. She doesn't pamper herself despite having worked, so far as I can tell, every day of her life but the day she had me. She even worked the day of her wedding.
Her one indulgence, besides the omnipresent bag of dark chocolate M&Ms I find every time I go home, is style. She likes looking nice. My mother doesn't go in for the staid look of most people who work in office buildings, favoring bolder prints and colors. She runs a small business on the side selling purses and jewelry at fairs and festivals on the weekends (again, she works basically every day).
All of this makes me think the C300 would be perfect for her, starting with how it looks. Is there any reasonable person who thinks the Mercedes isn't the best looking vehicle in its class? The 3-series BMW looks like a 3-Series BMW. The Audi A4 is nice in that Audi way but is indistinguishable from every car from Ingolstadt that isn't an R8. The only car you'll ever mistake a C-Class Mercedes for is an S-Class Mercedes, which is an insane statement given the price difference.
BMW may have brought the idea of organically billowing surfaces into the mainstream, but Mercedes perfected it with just the right amount of drama and restraint. Every detail serves to express the idea of fluid motion and the interplay of light across body, like the crease that stretches from the front fender to the rear that perfectly bends the light to its will. The front clip with the little silver AMG lip below the Milky Way dark Lunar Blue hints that this is a car capable of being sporty without all the pretension of a million wings and vents.
The same can be said for the inside, here wrapped in upmarket black piano plastics and aluminum with none of the cheesy wood you'd expect. Other than the iPad-miniesque multimedia screen, basically everything else is what you'd want an expect from a premium brand. Even the Burmeister tweeter lodged in the door is ornate, like a nickel shower head you'd find poking out of the glass-enclosed mini steam room of one of your finer international hotels that looks down you in judgment as you slowly masturbate.
It's roomy and airy without feeling big or lumbering, which I could scarcely say for the 300D. That was a big car, and a slow one. The C300 is not slow.
Performance-wise the Mercedes is also in a nice sweetspot, offering a 241 horsepower/273 lb-ft of torque version of the 2.0-liter turbo direct injection fourpot at the heart of most of their offerings. Acceleration is surprising given that this is the base engine, propelling the car to 60 mph in a reasonable 6.5 seconds. That torque I mentioned earlier? It comes on at 1,300 RPM and puts power down through all four-wheels.
Do I think my mom needs an AWD version of this car living in Texas? Not really, but that's the base model and RWD/FWD/AWD isn't going to matter much given how it's going to be driven. Will the seven-speed automatic transmission force her out of a gear whenever it wants to? Yeah, sadly, but she's content to not drive a car with a manual especially given how short her commute is.
Diving through town on all-season tires wrapped around 18-inch AMG five spokes through the "sport" suspension, everything about this car feels sportier than I expected. Perhaps it's the suggestion of the flat-bottomed steering wheel, but the C held itself well to the road, responding to inputs the way German luxury cars are supposed to. Edmunds says they got 0.87 Gs on the summer tires and I absolutely believe that.
The only qualm I've got with the C300, besides the transmission with a mind of its own, is the price. The non-AWD 328i starts at $37,500, while this starts at $40,400. While I'd probably skip the Sport Package and the Multimedia Package for my mom, I'd probably opt for the Driver Assistance Package (I want her to be safe) and, hell, the Lunar Blue paint and aluminum trim.
That would bring the price up to about $45,000 with destination, which isn't cheap considering she has, at least a few times, told me she loves me no matter what. You can't put a price tag on unconditional love, but you may be able to catalog some of the savings.
It's all hypothetical anyways. I don't have the money to buy my mom a car and, even if I did, I think she'd rather have me save any money I do have so that I can produce a grandchild for her.
But if you find yourself in a position to purchase a car for your parent, I highly recommend it. The new C-Class has all the poise, style, and substance you'd expect from Mercedes in a package that differentiates itself from the competition.