Friday Fleet Notes: 7.27.07

MMS ID 64487 (created by CM Utility) automatic-content-migration

This week we had a lot of different cars come in and out of the fleet, but we decided to let Mike wax poetic about the Civic Hybrid’s mileage in his own post. That left everyone clamoring for seat time in the new Mercedes C-Class and a few of us revisiting an old Faceoff winner.

2008 Mercedes-Benz C300

Considering the C300 is the less-powerful trim level, I thought it accelerated pretty well. It’s no rocket, but it certainly benefits from the seven-speed transmission. It takes off smoothly and quietly, seeming to start out in second gear when in Drive, an old Mercedes practice. Even in the Sport version, it didn’t live up to the BMW 3 Series or the Infiniti G35, but it was pretty satisfying to drive — and not every luxury automaker can chase the same goal.

The interior’s aluminum trim and gauge application is very well-executed, and the shifter knob has a great feel to it. The motorized LCD is very slick, and I have to agree with Mike Hanley that the latest generation of Comand is reasonably intuitive and simple to use, though I still think I’d prefer a touch-screen. The quality is a step up, perhaps enough to quiet the complaints that began when the previous generation was new, but there’s still something cheap feeling — and sounding — about those ventilation control dials. The exterior styling is younger and more aggressive, and I love the large star logo in the Sport version’s grille. The regular C looks wrong without it. From the side, the Sport’s design looks overdone. There’s a lot going on there. Too much. But it’s a new direction, and a good one.

  • Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor

Anyone enamored with the current CVT fad should drive Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic. While the example in the C300 is not the quickest to downshift in normal situations, it’s impressive under the gun. Engage the Sport mode and push the car hard, and the transmission affords the V-6 snappy revs in a succession of closely spaced gears. Like I’ve always said: A CVT trumps a bad automatic, but a good automatic is oh-so-much better.

Cabin materials are impressive, with climate controls that clearly indicate the temperature, day or night — much better than some systems that, well, don’t. Gone are the days of block letters and pixilated readouts; the C’s navigation system displays realistic text and PC-quality resolution. I’m not so thrilled by the exterior fit and finish. There are unsightly gaps where the hood meets the windshield, and they run all the way up to the headlights. Asked whether there is some design logic behind this, Mercedes has yet to reply.

  • Kelsey Mays, reviewer

There’s no question the new C-Class is a good-looking car, and you’ll definitely feel the luxury as you drive it. As for me, though, I didn’t feel much else when I was behind the wheel. I was surprised at how disconnected from the road I felt while driving this luxury sedan — an experience that’s likely a good thing for some, but I’d have preferred to be a little more involved in the experience.

In the “it’s-the-little-things” department, the turn-signal stalk could not be more inconveniently located than it is in this car. It’s completely hidden by one of the steering-wheel spokes, and I kept nudging the cruise-control lever whenever I needed to change lanes. Granted, it’s the kind of the thing I’d probably adjust to rather quickly, but why bury it in the first place?

  • Beth Palmer, copy editor

MMS ID 64491 (created by CM Utility) automatic-content-migration

I was kind of excited to get into the RAV4 V-6 with a Sport package; weird, huh? I heard from other staffers that it was a sporty little SUV with a powerful V-6, and after piloting the car around downtown Chicago I have to agree. However, I could see the sport package wearing on me after a while; the suspension was rough, and most people would probably find it too aggressive for a small SUV. The flipside is that until your back starts to hurt, the RAV4 is surprisingly fun to drive, especially with an extra 100 hp over the four-cylinder RAV4 and its eternal competitor, the Honda CR-V.

What I didn’t like was the driver’s seat, which I couldn’t for the life of me adjust to be comfortable. I drove granny-style, all up on the wheel, and leaned back almost to the rear seats, but all to no avail. There just wasn’t that sweet spot, at least not for me. One more thing is the rear seat’s large headrest, which completely obstructed my view when I looked over my left shoulder; fortunately, the large side-view mirror helped out in those situations.

  • Joe Bruzek,

I reviewed the RAV4 last year, and even weighed in when we named it the winner of our Cute-Ute Faceoff. Strangely enough, the same exact test vehicle returned to us months and 8,000 miles later for a video shoot, so I got to revisit this strong seller.

The RAV4’s engine is what I would call punchy. It has power, but it comes in bursts. Like Joe said, it’s hard to find a good seating position, and my wife never liked how she fit in it. The reason the RAV4 won the Faceoff against the CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander was its huge and easy-to-use cargo area, excellent mileage and powerful engine. It didn’t win on road noise and ride quality; both were pretty bad in this Sport model.

The good still outweighs the bad, and I guess that’s why it sells so well – which it definitely does, given the two dozen other new RAV4s I saw on the road while it was in my possession.

  • David Thomas, KickingTires editor

2008 Mercedes-Benz Expert Review (
2007 Toyota RAV4 Expert Review (
Compact SUV Faceoff (
More Friday Fleet Notes (KickingTires)

Photo of David Thomas
Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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