So today late in the afternoon I was in the mood of testdriving something. I head up to the local Mercedes-Benz dealership to see what they have. A couple of A- and B-Classes, an SLK200 Kompressor and two W204 C-Classes. One of them is a C200 Kompressor, check, already driven. I was fearing that the other one would be another model I've already tried, but it wasn't. At the rear were the shiny polished badges of "C320 CDI 4Matic". Holy crap! I needed to drive this baby. So I ask the salesman if I can try her and he says "Sure, no problem."
The car had previously been driven, so the motor was all warmed up and ready to see some abuse on my part. One of the first things you notice when you start the engine is how quiet the motor is. For a moment I thought I must be behind the wheel of a C350 - because you don't hear anything, except a very light and hardly audible diesel clatter sound. Vibrations? None. The engine was tops in terms of refinement. Here are the quick specs: 3.0 V6 CDI Turbodiesel, 224-horsepower, 510 Nm (371 lb/ft) of torque and a claimed 0-62 mph time of 6.9 seconds. There is only one transmission available for the car, the 7Gtronic.
So how does a 4Matic Mercedes' sedan feel like? Not much different from a typical RWD Mercedes. The engine response was instantaneous with the C320 CDI 4Matic picking up speed in a very quick and fluid fashion. Although there was a small hint of turbo lag at lower RPM's, the large torque reserves quickly make you forget about it as the car picks up speed very quickly sending the driver deep into the plush and comfortable leather seats. I loved it. And that is the reason I kept hammering this baby and enjoying the brutal acceleration it had to offer. You don't feel the horsepower, but you feel the torque: all 510 Nm of it.
AWD actually helped here. On the RWD W203 C320 CDI I drove a few years ago, the car experienced something similar to "torque steer" when I hammered it. This means the rear tires would spin, especially if the road was dirty or wet. Not the case here. AWD channeled the power to all four wheels and ensured rapid acceleration and no wheelspin. Nice, very nice. The engine also harmonizes well with the 7Gtronic transmission.
The handling was generally excellent with the suspension being both sturdy but at the same time pleasurable enough to make the car comfortable for long-distance journey's. What I didn't like was the light steering feedback. Although the steering response was quick, I felt there was too little feedback from the steering wheel, especially considering that this was the Avantgarde trim (Sport). On other Avantgarde C-Classes I've driven the steering feedback was considerably more weighted. The C320 CDI 4Matic also felt considerably heavier than the smaller C200 Kompressor and C220 CDI's I've driven in the past and the excess body roll was noticeable in extreme cornering.
The leather seats were very comfortable but a bit to slippery to be used in sporty driving. I also felt the side support was a bit lacking. However, when the car was driven in a relaxed and elegant manor the seats were perfect. Cushy and comfortable, but not too soft either. Perfect for those long journeys.
I didn't have time to drive to the nearby Autobahn and fully spank the car, but I did manage a 160 km/h on a straight-line road where I was sure there would be no speed traps. The C320 CDI accelerates to high speed in no time. Mercedes claims a 0-100 km/h time of 6.9 seconds - and this seems a little slow considering how quickly the needle flew from 0 to 50 to 100 km/h. The 7Gtronic automatic transmission did its job well. I didn't feel or hear it shift at all, only when I looked at the RPM counter or when I heard the engine settle down after a higher cog was engaged.
Speaking of engine sound, I already mentioned that the C320 CDI 4Matic is a very quiet car. It is. But when you abuse it, such as slamming the pedal, it roars back at you with this vicious "V8" sound that reminds you of 1960s American muscle car. And it certainly has the acceleration to make you think you're in one too. I have used this comparison often when driving '320 CDI Mercedes', but it truly feels like a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" engine in terms of character. When you pamper her she's quiet, but when you abuse she screams, nicely I should add.
Overall, the car was very nice. I enjoyed the engine refinement, the comfort and the ballistic acceleration. On the downside, the steering feedback was a bit too light and the seats weren't too great in their side support offering. The C320 CDI 4Matic feels also much heavier than a lower-end C-Class and this is obvious when cornering hard or driving the car in a sporty fashion. An experienced driver will have no problems coping with this, but it doesn't feel as easy to drive or control as say the C220 CDI or a C200 Kompressor. I do see this car making an excellent cruiser bringing their occupants from A to B in style, comfort, safety and economy.
So, 8/10 from me. Great car overall, but the extra weight and the resulting poorer handling are a little disappointing.