A coupe is a car with two doors and a fixed top. With the accent on the last letter, the word is French for “cut,” or shortened, and like many car terms (cabriolet, landau, limousine) it comes from the horse-and-buggy era. A coupe was a four-place carriage with its back seat cut away. In America we drop the accent mark and say koop, but it’s the same thing. Carmakers often fudge by leaving in all the seats and whacking off only the rear doors, and then sloping the roofline to convey speed and sportiness. Most makers regard the sedan —f our doors, four or five seats —a s the standard for a new car, and then develop a coupe version only after the four-door has tested the waters.
Thus the 2017 C300 Coupe is an evolution of Mercedes-Benz’s very successful compact C-Class sedan; it’s a spicy two-door four-seater of some style and even emotion, but utility as well. As a deluxe but everyday coupe — not a high-strung exotic — it can serve as an only car, for dashing to the store, commuting to work or touring cross-country. Although the Coupe is focused on the driver and one passenger, any reasonably sized human should find its back seats reasonably comfortable, and entry and exit are aided by front seats that motor out of the way and then return to their pre-set positions. The C300 Coupe’s sportiness is no mere styling illusion, either, but has been properly baked in.
The engine is an all-aluminum Four — inline, 2.0 liters, turbocharged to 241 horsepower and 273 torques — that is hooked to a well-mapped electronic automatic transmission with seven forward speeds, a sport mode and shift paddles on the steering wheel. With rear-wheel drive, the Coupe’s MSRP is $42,650 or, with 4Matic all-wheel drive, $44,650 — plus $925 destination and delivery. Mercedes-Benz says both versions can sprint to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds and should squeeze 26 (RWD) or 25 (AWD) miles out of a gallon of gas in combined city and highway driving.
Although Coupe buyers are typically less concerned about this sort of thing, the two-door C300 offers new levels of safety in its price segment. Drowsiness alert, collision warning and automatic braking are standard. Available systems include parking assistance and a 360-degree camera, cross-traffic alert and braking, adaptive cruise control, enhanced lane-keeping and, in thick traffic, the ability to autonomously follow the vehicle ahead. The C300 even looks backward, warning cars behind by flashing its hazard lights if necessary and then battening the hatches if being rear-ended seems inevitable.
With either of the available suspensions, fixed or air-adjustable, the two-portal 300 offers sportier driving than the C300 sedan. On New Hampshire’s twisty Kancamagus Highway, the car only felt better the harder it was pushed. And with either drivetrain — 4Matic adds only 132 pounds — there was no sense of weight transfer, no flexing and no plowing or over-rotating in corners. The rack-and-pinion steering is electrically boosted and speed-sensitive, like the sedan’s, but quicker. In all, the Coupe was supple and smooth, with none of the harshness that sometimes comes with sporting setups or base-level cars.
At full throttle the engine can sound strained, but it doesn’t give up. The exhaust note is fed into the cabin through the stereo speakers, but it’s not artificially enhanced — it sounds like a real Four, not a bogus V-8. On the interstates, thanks to excellent aerodynamics and insulation, the car was nearly silent; at 80 mph, conversations could be comfortably hushed.
The C300 Coupe finally, truly nails down the status of the entire C-Class as aspirational automobiles unto themselves. In the top-down hierarchy of Mercedes-Benz cars — Maybach, S, E and C — the base C models used to be what the Brits call “cheap and cheerful.” Back then, we really wanted an E320 but bought a C240 because that’s what we could afford. But the current C-Class lineup isn’t cheaper because it’s less Mercedes-Benz; it’s just smaller, and smaller can be good. Working empty-nesters or well-set retirees, DINKS (double incomes, no kids) or young single professionals can scoop up a well-appointed C300 Coupe for less than $60,000 — half the price of an optioned-up S550 — and feel like full members in the club.
— Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Smarter-looking, inside and out, than other coupes
— Like nearly all Mercs, only gets better at speed
— 4Matic AWD adds just 132 pounds (and $2,000)
— A “real” Benz, but smaller and extra efficient
— Turbo Four can sound (but not feel) strained under heavy load
— Touchpad screen still looks like a glued-on afterthought