By Car & Driving
The MK1 model C-Class coupe was Mercedes' rival for the popular 2-door versions of BMW's 3-series and Audi's A5. Based on the third generation 'W204 C-Class' model and launched in 2011, it was a more clearly focus coupe than some of the company's previous models, cars like the CLC, the CLK and the E-Class coupe all failing to live up to expectations. Lower roofline aside, this C-Class coupe looks almost identical to the saloon it's based on and shares that car's engines and interior.
Before this C-Class Coupe model arrived in 2012, it had been a long time since Mercedes had fielded a credible challenger to the cars that in that era were dominating the British executive coupe sector, two-door versions of BMW's 3 Series and Audi's A5. Previous to this period, efforts from the Stuttgart brand in this regard had been surprisingly muddled. In the earlier years of the 21sy century, they had given us first the CLK, then E-Class Coupe models that were too pricey for many buyers. Which wasn't ideal given that the only alternative for Three-Pointed Star customers in this segment at this time was a C-Class Sports Coupe model that though attractive, wasn't really in the same dynamic league as its German rivals and was allowed to live long beyond its sell-by date badged as the 'Mercedes CLC'.
It took until the spring of 2011 and the launch of the C-Class Coupe model we're looking at here for the brand to at last have a completely competitive contender in this category. Unlike the old C-Class Sports Coupe, this model was pricier rather than cheaper than the saloon variant upon which was based, but it did come with a degree of both perceived and actual sportiness that that car lacked.
It's certainly an attractive used buy. The standard AMG bodykit takes care of the visual dynamics, while lowered sports suspension, speed-sensitive steering and active damping account for a road going response that'll surprise BMW and Audi buyers. Here then, is the most affordable route into a world of Mercedes-Benz coupe motoring revealed here in arguably its sportiest form. It sold until the launch of a second generation model in the Autumn of 2015.
What You Get
Mercedes is determined that we should see this car as a fully-fledged sports coupe, rather than merely a two-door version of the C-Class saloon. Hence the standard AMG bodykit, the 18-inch alloy wheels and the 15mm lower ride height that all UK customers had to have. All of which build on the other differences that visually set this bodystyle apart from commoner saloon and estate C-Class models - the more steeply-raked windscreen, the lower roof and the shorter boot. There's also a more distinctive front end, dominated by a more prominent radiator grille and side air intakes in the bumper featuring daytime running lamps that sit low-down to create a road-hugging appearance.
All this intended sportiness is there for a reason - and it isn't only to get this car on terms with BMW and Audi. This quickly becomes clear when you look at a few stats, for essentially what we have here is a product that's in many ways near-identical to Mercedes' significantly more expensive E-Class Coupe model. That car and this one sit on basically the same underpinnings. They share the same wheelbase and a number of the same engines. Indeed, aside from the fact that an E-Class Coupe is 55kgs heavier and four inches longer, there isn't really too much difference between the two cars at all. Except that they're intended to appeal to two very different audiences, the two-door E-Class targeted at older buyers, this car at younger ones.
Hence this design's more dynamic look and feel, a trend that continues on inside. You sit lower-down behind an AMG-style three-spoke chrome-trimmed wheel and look ahead into three deeply cowled sports instrument dials, the largest central one of which features a smart three-dimensional display at its centre. It's a beautifully-conceived cabin, higher in class and smarter in feel than that of a BMW 3 Series Coupe or Audi A5, thanks to carefully combined use of high-gloss, matt and chrome finishes that make the high asking prices seem easier to bear.
Not quite as impressive in comparison to these two rivals is the amount of legroom you get when installed in one of the two individually-sculpted sports seats that you'll find in the rear. While you might just about get away with calling the equivalent BMW or Audi 'a four-seater', this model is better considered as more of a 2+2, with occasional room for adults, though comfortable space for children. The narrow aperture of the rear side windows does make it feel a bit enclosed at the back too. We've no complaints about the boot though, very useful in size at 450-litres and further extendable if you're prepared to push forward the 60:40 split-folding rear seats.
What to Look For
Some owners have reported troubles with the 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox. The alloy wheels can suffer brown stains that are thought to be a result of corroded wheel bolts. However in general, the C-Class is typically very reliable and there are no major issues reported. A thorough check of the service history and condition of the car should be enough to avoid any poorly maintained examples.
Insist on a full Mercedes dealer service history, especially for the most recent models whose lengthy warranty - effectively for the life of the car - is dependent on proper servicing by an authorised agent. Check that all the accessories work and watch out for cosmetic damage which can be expensive to correct. Also look for the usual signs of wheel kerbing and poorly repaired accident damage. Mercedes experienced problems with the piezo electric injectors on the C250 CDI and replacing them within factory tolerances seems to be a problem for many dealerships, resulting in sub-par economy.
(approx. based on 2012 C250 model) Allow around £90 for a set of front brake pads and £75 for the rear and about £375 (excluding catalyst) for a factory exhaust system. A full clutch replacement would cost around £295, a radiator is about £245 whilst a starter motor can be up to £250. A new alternator would be in the region of £500.
On the Road
In the Mercedes-Benz line-up in the 2011 to 2015 era, there was it seemed, a coupe for just about everyone, but aside from the SLS supercar with its lottery-winners' pricetag, there wasn't too much for the keen driver. The luxury CL-Class and four-door CLS-Class models were really aimed at more laid-back drivers. Even the folding metal-roof SL and SLK roadsters didn't really prioritise super-sharp handling. So there was undeniably a place in the Stuttgart brand's model range in this period for this car - a mainstream coupe aimed at younger - or older - more red-blooded folk.
In 457bhp C63 AMG form, this C-Class Coupe provides exactly that, taking the fight to BMW's M3 in a form that shocked the Munich marque. When it came to the more mainstream C-Class Coupe variants that most customers actually bought, cars like the C220 CDI diesel variant that proved most popular, it was of course a slightly different story but even this variant can be an addictively rewarding thing to drive. If not quite as sharp as a comparable BMW 3 Series Coupe, it shades Audi's A5 and is far better than Mercedes' pricier E-Class Coupe. Come to it from an older Mercedes two-door - a CLK perhaps, or the old C-Class Sports Coupe - and you won't believe the difference.
The reasons why are mainly all to do with suspension. News that this car has a stiffened and lowered set-up might make you fear for the supple, comfortable high speed ride that buyers will tend to expect from anything bearing a Three-Pointed Star on its bonnet. Don't worry. This car remains in its element on the motorway and soaks up poorly finished urban surfaces with ease. Yet on the kind of twisting B road in which you'd usually be more comfortable in a BMW, this Mercedes can change its personality, thanks to its Agility Control suspension that incorporates an Adaptive Damping System, flattening bodyroll around the bends in a way that makes you feel comfortable about pushing on. That's assuming you can adjust to the slightly vague feel of the speed-sensitive steering.
The extent to which you can push on depends of course on the engine chosen. Don't expect many performance fireworks if your budget restricts you to one of the entry-level 1.8-litre four cylinder petrol variants, the 156bhp C180 or the 204bhp C250. The 2.15-litre four cylinder diesels though are better, thanks to their far superior torque. There's 400Nm of it in the 170bhp C220 CDI variant (nearly twice the pulling power you get in a C180), which makes it feel faster than the 8.4s rest to sixty sprint time would suggest. Opt for the 204bhp C250 CDI model and there's 500Nm of torque on tap, good enough to get you to sixty in 7s dead and to raise the top speed from 144 to 149mph.
If that's not fast enough and you can't stretch to the C63 AMG, then the 306bhp C350 six cylinder petrol model is well worth considering, capable of rest to sixty in just 6.0s. Almost all C-Class Coupe models were sold with the smooth 7-speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox with its wheel-mounted paddle-shifters. Only the diesels and the C180 petrol variant offered the option of 6-speed manual transmission.
No luxury brand - come to think of it, no other brand of any kind - offers a wider choice when it comes to coupe motoring than Mercedes-Benz. This C-Class Coupe may be one of the marque's more affordable offerings when it comes to this kind of car, but it still feels of very high quality indeed. But that you would expect. What might be more of a surprise is just how satisfying a driver's machine this model can be, especially in its more powerful forms thanks to clever suspension and a hi-tech range of engines.
The top C63 AMG is a potential BMW M3-beater and you can get much of its capability in the six cylinder C350 model too. Even more affordable versions - a C220 CDI diesel variant for example - can be remarkably rewarding on the right road, even if the sporty AMG add-ons do slightly affect running costs. You could argue that many potential Mercedes buyers won't especially value this car's more dynamic repertoire - and you might be right. Important though, we think, for the Stuttgart brand to show that it was capable of providing it. If that was the intention, then the job's been done well. Ultimately, it's enough to make this first generation C-Class coupe a surprisingly compelling used car choice.