Driving the 2018 Mercedes-Benz C300 Wagon too much work

Ted LaturnusIf you’re like me, you miss the disappearance of the traditional station wagon. Especially if you grew up in the pre-SUV ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, when the family hauler of choice was a four-door wagon, often with a backward-facing, pop-up rear jump-seat at the very back for kids and pets. In hindsight, probably not the safest vehicle on the road, but if you’re a boomer, you likely grew up with one of these and look in vain these days to find one at your local Ford, GM, or Chrysler dealership.

All is not lost, however. There are still a few around, mainly from European manufactures, who prefer to call them “Estate” or “Touring” wagons”….Mercedes, Audi, BMW,and VW – among others – all make wagons of one type or another, and they remain a popular vehicle for many European families.

Mercedes’ C300 4Matic is a prime example of the estate wagon, and is, for my money, one of the sharpest looking models coming out of Stuttgart these days.

A few specs. With full-time automatic all-wheel-drive, the C300 wagon is powered by a turbocharged 2.0 litre four cylinder engine that develops some 241 horsepower. Think about it…..a four-banger that develops 120 hp per litre. A far cry from the voraciously thirsty V8s and in-line sixes that used to power the wagons of our youth. When I was a kid, we had a made-in-Oshawa 1956 Pontiac wagon powered by a 261 cubic inch in-line six that developed maybe 120 horsepower on a good day. A tough dependable rig, no question, but appallingly inefficient and definitely environmentally unfriendly.

But I digress. As well as being propelled by arguably one of the most technologically advanced four cylinder engines on the market, the C300 has a nine-speed automatic transmission…..nine-speed….and the aforementioned full-time all-wheel-drive. Again, our family Pontiac had a three-on-the-tree manual gearbox with a rear-drive differential the size of a basketball. So, as well as being comfortable, roomy, and nice to look at, the C300 has superb traction and roadability.

But this is definitely not your father’s station wagon, and all its state-of-the-art technology notwithstanding, the C300 wagon has some major irritations. Here they are:

– HVAC. I had my tester during a ten-day-long period of intense rainfall….the wettest January on record on the west coast, apparently. The defogging system in the C300 was simply not up to the task of keeping everything crystal clear during the deluge. If you didn’t use the A/C, the windshield would fog up in minutes, and the windshield defogger, while it worked well enough, only operated at full blast. Annoying. I found myself continually fiddling with and adjusting the HVAC system and it got irritating – not to mention distracting – after awhile.

– Sound system. The Burmester sound system in the C300 is an exercise in frustration, and has all the hallmarks of the old infuriating Becker systems that were standard issue in Mercedes in decades past. In other words, it’s too damn smart for its own good. There were times when I simply could not get a station because the tuner would insist on not recognizing it. Again, much fiddling around.

– Controls. Things like the toilet lever shifter and door-mounted seat controls have become Mercedes’ hallmarks. They are counter-intuitive, in my opinion. In fact, here’s my theory: Mercedes specifically makes their controls and ergonomics awkward and strange so that people will identify them with Mercedes’ reputation for above-average engineering. Absolutely, you get used to them after awhile, but they are not demonstrably superior to controls, switchgear etc found in far less humble models coming from – oh – GM, Toyota or even Hyundai.

In short, although the C300 is a treat to drive once underway, it requires far too much input from the driver…. this is supposed to be an upscale luxury car, but driving it is just as much work – if not more so – than piloting a Toyota Tercel.

All that said, it is a treat once underway. It has spectacular braking, world-class handling, and a decidedly European ride and feel to it that I find irresistible. Annoying a times, for sure, but still a cut above.

AT A GLANCE

Engine: 2.0 litre turbocharged four cylinder
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Drive: AWD
Horsepower: 241 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque:  273 ft. lb @ 1300 – 4000 rpm
Price as tested: $56,865
Fuel Economy: 10.7 L /100 km (city) & 8.0 (hwy.) Regular fuel.

Some Alternatives: Audi Allroad, Jaguar E-Pace, BMW 3-Series Touring.

Manufacturer’s Site: Mercedes-Benz

Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist Of The Year twice and is past president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

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