Is it worth $15,000 more than the C Class?
I currently own and drive a 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250, the cheapest car Mercedes-Benz sells in the United States. Prior to that, I owned 3 other C Class Mercedes-Benz cars. Needless to say, I like them, A LOT.
THe E Class is considerably more expensive than the C Class, sells in lower volume, but is the car that most people regard as the mainstream Mercedes-Benz, or the car that best represents the values of the brand. It is the car that I, as a C Class owner, have long thought of moving up to if and when I could comfortably afford its higher purchase price. My thought was, if the C Class is as good as it is in the $40,000 to $45,000 range, the E Class should be even better given its pricing in the $55,000 range.
Last month I took a business trip and reserved a Cadillac CTS as my rental vehicle. When I arrived at the airport, all of the luxury cars were rented out, and all that was left was a pair of minivans, a subcompact and the far more expensive E350 (Hertz calls it Prestige class, which they rank higher than luxury class). After a few minutes of argument, they gave me the E350 for my 4 day trip.
First off, the E Class doesn’t look too much bigger on the outside than the C Class, but looks are very deceiving. The car is considerably longer and wider, but only a little higher, and shares a very similar angular design language with the C Class. I find the E Class more attractive from the front and rear, but the C more attractive from the side, due to rear wheel arches that just don’t fit the rest of the car, in my opinion.
Back in 2010 when it was introduced, the E350 had a MUCH nicer interior than the C300 I owned at the time. That is no longer true, as the 2012 C Class received rather substantial upgrade to the interior design, including a dashboard that is essentially a narrower version of the E Class dashboard. Yes, there is a little bit more wood in the E350 than the C250, the seats are ventilated (not available in the C) and there are some control differences, but the look and feel is almost the same, with no visible or tactile difference in quality between the larger and smaller cars other than physical size.
As a driver going down a smooth highway there is little to no difference between the C250 and E350. Both have the same heft in the steering that is a Mercedes design trait. Both have seats that can best be described as thrones. Finally, both are quiet and completely relaxed in their straight-line demeanor. It is only when you start adding back-seat passengers, bulky luggage, or hit twisty or poorly paved roads that you begin to feel a significant difference in ride and handling.
Back seat comfort is, like front seat comfort, not a significant improvement over the smaller C Class, but backseat room most definitely is. When I put the driver’s seat in a comfortable position in the C Class, I can sit comfortably in the back seat behind “myself”. I am 5’9”, but like a longer than average reach to the peddles and the steering wheel and as a result position the driver’s seat much like a 6 footer would. In the back of the C250, I have enough room, but just barely. My feet are tucked under the front seat bottom, and the front seat back comes very close to my knees. The headliner also comes down to within an inch of the to of my head, and it actually contact my hair when I sit in certain positions.
In the E350, I can sit behind myself in sprawling luxury, with room enough to even cross my legs, and an abundance of free space between my knees and the driver seat back. While the quality of the seat itself is the same, the back seat of the E350 is a much more comfortable place to spend time, at least for adults. The middle seat in the back of the E350 is also much more generous in space, and is actually wide enough for an average adult, where that in the C Class is only adequate for small children or the extremely skinny.
In front too, there is more empty space surrounding the driver and front passenger. Slightly more headroom gives a feeling of openness, as does having doors farther away from the seats, and seats farther apart from each other. The center console is also wider than that of the C Class, and flatter on account of the shift controller (an all-electronic switch rather than a mechanical shifter) being moved from the center console to the steering column. Many drivers won’t like this position, but one benefit is a feeling of spaciousness that borders on emptiness in the console, which has a rather generous storage compartment where the shifter normally resides.
As stated before, the dashboard is extremely similar in look to that of the 2012 C Class restyle, but does add a large analog clock to the gage package that gives a slightly more upscale look. Of course, the dashboard itself is physically larger, which also adds to the feeling of space and luxury in the E Class interior.
Okay, so the interior is very similar and other than space, there is little in terms of trim or material quality to justify the E Class price differential from the smaller and cheaper C Class. How about performance, ride and handling? This is where the money goes.
The ride of the E Class is about the same as the C Class on smooth pavement, which is to say absolutely serene, but when the pavement gets rough, the E Class retains its composure to an extant that the smaller and lighter C Class simply cannot. It is not likely a difference in engineering, rather more likely simple physics with the heavier, longer and wider E Class better resisting bumps and other pavement irregularities. There is also more insulation in the cabin and thicker glass all around that keeps road noise out to a better extent than the cheaper C Class can. The C Class is very good on bad roads, but the E Class is on a whole other level.
Performance is another E Class advantage, with the E350 accelerating from 0-60 MPH 0.6 seconds faster than the $15,000 cheaper 4-cylinder C250, though is is 0.6 second slower to 60 MPH when compared to the $10,000 cheaper C350. Of course, the E350 is quieter at full throttle than either of the C Class cars.
Handling is another area where many will find the E350 superior to the C250. The E350 has lighter steering than the C Class, which will make luxury oriented buyers think that it is easier to drive. There is also more insulation in the steering column, resulting in less road feel that many luxury buyers will prefer. The C Class, in comparison, reacts quicker to the steering wheel and has better road feel through the less-isolated steering for a sportier demeanor. Bottom line is that I would have more with a C250 on a track day or driving up a twisty mountain road, but I’d take an E350 for a long road trip.
So back to the original question, is the E350 worth $10,000 to $15,000 more than the C250/C350? The answer is just as difficult after spending four days in an E350 as it was looking at them on the showroom floor. The E350 is definitely roomier than the C Class, and on all but the best roads it is also smoother riding and quieter. The C Class is more fun to drive, and is either slightly slower (C250) or slightly faster (C350). Finally, both cars are equally comfortable in their seating and equally luxurious in their trim and since the 2012 C Class refresh, use the same advanced technology package for audio and navigation.
If I had large children or frequently drove clients or other adults in the car I wouldn’t hesitate to spend a bit more and get the E350, but as I usually drive either alone or with just my wife, the C Class is a better value. Of course, cars are not purchased based on value alone, and for that reason I still may move up to an E Class one of these days, if just for the more relaxed demeanor on long interstate trips, which make up most of the 4,500 miles I drive most months.
Amount Paid (US$):
NewModel and Options:
E350 Sport, Rear Drive