Around the ’Benz
Last weekend, my wife Christine and I headed south from Burlington on Route 116 on a combination foliage tour — the trees started showing peak color around Starksboro — and an extended test drive of a Mercedes C 300 Luxury Sedan, courtesy of The Automaster in Shelburne, Vermont. Over the course of the day we would traverse the Green Mountains twice, visit three ski areas, cross four covered bridges and travel more than 150 miles. A picturesque Vermont road trip if ever there was one.
The Mercedes C-Class line presents the most accessible models of this carmaker’s offerings. The C 300 Luxury model I was driving has a 3.0-liter V6 with seven-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC 4WD system. It puts out 228 hp with a 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds. The starting price of $35,400 is reasonable given the advanced German engineering of the engine and drive train, and the high level of comfort and design of the interior.
It was a chilly morning, and the coziness of the eight-way-power, heated seats was almost as good as an onboard masseuse. Seriously.
The controls, which put everything within easy reach, have a feel reminiscent of a high-end audio system. Speaking of audio, the eight-speaker sound system achieved a nice sense of balance. I felt evenly surrounded by clear, quality sound, something I always look for but rarely find in a car.
For those who prefer a more performance-oriented vehicle, the C 300 Sport model is available with six-speed manual transmission, lowered sport suspension and a handsome, aggressively designed grill. From there you can step up to the C 350 Sport, which has a 3.5-liter V6 that adds 40 hp and shaves one second off the 0-60 mph time. Want the ultimate in performance? The C 63 AMG has a 6.3-liter, 32-valve V8 that produces 451 hp and a blistering 4.3-second 0-60 mph time! This bad boy is a street-legal version of the C-Class AMG that has won more races in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) racing history than any other car.
A mile and a half past the intersection of Route 17, we took a left and headed towards Lincoln. The first geographic highlight of our trip was the beautiful falls in the New Haven River, just off the right side of Lincoln Road.
The Mercedes C-Class engines all employ variable intake and exhaust valve timing. What does that mean? Valves in an engine allow a fuel-air mixture to enter and exit the cylinder. In old-school engines the valves allowed in a fixed amount of fuel and air regardless of conditions. With variable timing, intake and exhaust are adjusted and optimized, allowing the car to get significantly better gas mileage and provide power, or torque, over a greater range of engine speeds. This increased performance was evident, whether I was scaling Lincoln Gap or pretending I-89 was the autobahn.
We had lunch at Sugarbush’s Timbers Restaurant in the new Lincoln Peak Village. As we ate, young daredevils zipped by the windows on an 800-foot zip line. The food was good and the leaf-peepers were plentiful. Every trip should include some exploring, and so from there we headed out Moretown Mountain Road toward Northfield. This turned out to be a nice choice, with far fewer photographers jockeying for that perfect foliage shot.
From there it was north on Route 12 and then west on I-89 to Waterbury. On the Interstate, as Christine gazed out the window at the trees, I pressed the pedal and accelerated to a speed that significantly exceeded what would normally worry her. But the ride was so smooth and quiet, she never even noticed — I totally got away with it! Other cars ticked by in succession until we exited and headed north into the eye of the leaf-peeper’s perfect storm: Ben & Jerry’s, Cold Hollow Cider Mill and Stowe. Needless to say, our momentum was significantly diminished.
Once out of Stowe, we headed up over Smugglers’ Notch on Route108. This is where I first played around with the Touch Shift manual shift mode. Tap the gearshift left or right and it engages, giving you greater control over shifting. Though it didn’t give me quite the feedback of a manual transmission, it was fun and more responsive, and allowed me to further test the performance of the car on the winding road ahead.
The car performed very well for us in all conditions. It’s what you would expect from a Mercedes, but with the redesigned C-Class, I think the automaker has achieved a combination of style and ride that will intrigue a lot of people. After 50 miles in many vehicles, I’m ready to get out and walk. I emerged from the Mercedes feeling good and ready for an evening of fun in Burlington.