EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view


Countess LuAnn de Lesseps of the “Real Housewives of New York City” is wrong. Money canbuy you class.

Exhibit one: The 2010 Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Really, it’s not even a ton of money needed to wrap yourself in a leather-clad class. It’s the least expensive Mercedes available — but by no means is it cheap; it’s refined through and through.

Cruising along in the C300 4Matic all-wheel drive Benz is like talking with a well-dressed old friend. Every part of the car seems familiar and comfortable, but there’s something kind of formal about the occasion.

One day, during my testing, I was going to run to the store and realized I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I felt underdressed to drive the car, as well as get out of it and walk through a Meijer parking lot.

There are just some cars that demand a little bit more out of their owners: A Mercedes does that, even the C300.

Nothing is over the top with this car. The way the optional 7-inch color navigation screen moves out of the dash when you start it up seems almost magical. It whirs quietly and efficiently. It’s simplicity and artistic.

The leather seats (and leather-wrapped steering wheel) feel comfortable enough for long road trips or daily commuting.

There’s a German sensibility to this car that caters to your slightly frugal side — it starts at $34,000 — as well as the air of luxury that comes with the Mercedes badge.

Its ride is compliant and firm. The variable speed assist power steering feels weighty in your hands, but also just right.

While the independent suspension and relatively stiff body provide you with the ability to toss the C300 around on curvy roads, most of the time you simply sit back and enjoy the ride in near silence. My all-wheel drive test vehicle, which can provide a little more confidence for people in slippery climates, remained stoic no matter what the environment.

The C300 caters to its owner. It appeals to your luxurious sensibilities without ever acting garish or over the top.

And really, the C-Class does offer a lot of features. For the 2010 model year, Mercedes added things like the leather-wrapped steering wheel, new external mirrors and a dynamic handling package, which doesn’t come on the all-wheel drive model.

But my nicely loaded Benz included a nice mix of luxury options such as the COMAND navigation system and control, which allow you to work most of the controls on the car with a single spinning wheel on the center console. It takes a little time to figure out exactly how to use it, but once you do, you can move through the commands quickly.

Luxury and performance

There also were features that just seem to make the car more luxurious: rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirror, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat and a panoramic roof that lets lots of sunlight into the car.

The car’s performance was also very solid. The 3-liter V-6 pushes out 228 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That may sound a little low in today’s hyper-horsepower market, but it was plenty of power for this vehicle. It feels quick, though not necessarily nimble, and its highway acceleration was very good.

More importantly, the C-Class says something to other people about its owner. Many consumers don’t know the S-Class from a hole in the ground so buying a C-Class doesn’t mean you can’t afford some top-of-the-line, high performance AMG model. It means you can afford a Mercedes for around the same price as an Audi A4, Lincoln MKZ or Cadillac CTS.

Those cars may offer more features, a sportier ride or some other mystique, but there’s one thing they cannot match: the Mercedes badge. And for some buyers, that’s all the difference in the world.

While my favorite Countess may think money can’t buy you class (at least that’s what she sings), I’m pretty sure, she’d never turn down a ride in a Mercedes, even if it were the lowly C300.

sburgess@detnews.com (313) 223-3217

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