Driven: 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe

By Seyth Miersma

May 21, 2012

—Ypsilanti, Michigan 
We recently had our first exposure to the 2012 version of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, via a week-long loan of the utterly lovely C63 AMG Coupe. If you missed that review (wherein we compare the C-Class with all relevant competitors) you should definitely give it a browse. And while driving the C63 is a singular experience that we highly recommend, we can honestly say that we were looking forward to testing the C250 with almost as much anticipation as the AMG car.
Having been positively impressed with the style and packaging of the C Coupe in general, and with driving impressions of rival BMW’s new turbocharged four fresh in our brains, getting some time with the 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder that powers the C250 (yes, we agree that it should be the C180) seemed like a great idea.
[Click here to read our review of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe.]
To begin, let us say that the C250 is a fine-handling car, likely aimed at a group of buyers for which aggressive driving equals occasionally passing a minivan by way of the right-hand lane. With the same basic steering and suspension components as the rest of the C-Class coupes, but missing, of course, the aggressive AMG springs of the C63, we found the C250 a willing winding-road partner up to medium-fast pace. The softer springs and smaller, skinnier wheels (again, compared with the C63) offer smoother ride quality overall, but with the tradeoff of a lot more lateral roll in hard cornering.
Drive like a normal person, even a fast-normal person, and you’ll be likely to characterize the C250’s handling as well balanced, and fairly sporty. We were honestly pretty impressed by the responsive chassis and the steering feel, which is filtered but still pretty talkative when on lock. The steering is otherwise fairly light, quick to respond, and pleasant to use.
The car was neutral through even some of the tighter bends that we took it through, with hardly any understeer in evidence upon turn-in, and nothing like oversteer rearing its head at all. (There’s not enough power to get the tail truly out of whack in sane, street driving. At least there wasn’t in the dry, sunny conditions of our test day.)
The C250 is a lot lighter than its AMG brother, weighing in at around 3500 pounds—400 or so less than the bruising V-8. We’d love to say that the lighter nose of the car was worth in handling what the much smaller engine lacks in power, but that’s just not the case.
The 1.8-liter feels just dandy. Of course, it feels a lot better if you haven’t yet driven the vastly superior 2.0-liter turbo that BMW is selling in its 328i sedans these days. 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque are made by the direct-injection four. A specific output figure of about 112 horsepower per liter doesn’t sound too bad, maybe, until you recall the likes of Ford’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost (around 118.5 horsepower/liter in the Escape), Kia’s 2.0-liter turbo (137 horsepower/liter in the Optima), and the previously mentioned BMW motor (120 horsepower/liter). Turbos have stepped up their game.
Still, the C250 doesn’t feel the slightest bit underpowered, certainly. It’s easy as pie to keep the engine humming in the sweet spot for torque, between around 2000 and 4000 rpm, especially when making good use of the car’s seven-speed transmission. The competent automatic may not be as racecar-fast as the new MCT auto in the C63, but it’s still quite good to use via the steering wheel paddles, and never feels to be in the wrong gear when shifting on its own. The C250 doesn’t feel particularly snappy when pulling away from a stop, but it’s got no issues playing “overtake the slow coach” at higher highway speeds.
All in, this is a very nice looking, reasonably priced luxury coupe, which is well suited to laidback driving with a heavy helping of posh. It’s not the driver’s car that the fire-breathing C63 is (few are), but it’ll allow its owners to have plenty of fun on the better stretches of road that inhabit their lives.
VS: BMW 328i Coupe
Right now, the chief BMW rival to the C250 Coupe is the 3.0-liter I-6-powered 328i Coupe. In that comparison, Mercedes’ turbo-four fares a lot better than it will when the Bavarian company gets around to combining its new turbo engine with a two-door 3-Series configuration (sometime next year).
Fitted with the straight-six, the Bimmer is still the more compelling driver’s car though. That engine may not be brutally powerful, but it sounds sweet, begs a willing driver to rev it to the moon, and is generally satisfying in a way that recalls a simpler age of joyful German car driving.
The C250, meanwhile, being more recently updated and generally more modern, feels like the car that would be nicer to live with, day-to-day. It’s also a few thousand cheaper, which isn’t missed in the total analysis, either.
VS: Audi A5
For a few thousand dollars more than the C250, you could opt into Audi’s A5 coupe, with the 2.0-liter turbo engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, and Quattro all-wheel drive.
Unless you’re entirely smitten with the character of a rear-drive car, or simply must have the three-pointed star adorning your grille (both wholly acceptable, by the way), Audi’s slinky A5 does seem to be the better-realized, mild-mannered luxury coupe. We prefer Audi’s modernist interior styling to the (still very nice) M-B cabin.
And yet, the C-Class has better steering feel, slightly more nimble handling, and a more stirring engine note at high rpm. We doubt that most of those positives come into play for the target market here, but they exist nevertheless.
2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe
Engine: Turbocharged inline-4, 1.8-liters, 16v
Output: 201 hp/229 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 7.1 sec
Weight: 3538 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 21/31 mpg
Base Price: $37,220