Pros: It's a Benz. Solid construction inside and out.
Cons: It's a Benz. No fun factor.
Mercedes Benz has legendary status as a luxury mark. When people hear luxury car, many think of the three star emblem. When I bought my Audi A4 in 1996, I also test drove this MB-C280. The test drive must have been impressive, I can still recall it 5 years later.
Inside and out, the C280 is a Mercedes Benz. There is nothing overwhelming about the car, but you can see and feel the solid construction and engineering throughout. Nicely toned wood, soft leather, sensible application of plastic. Leather seats and floor upholstery are well stitched and placed. The doors open and close with a purposeful thunk. When you sit in a Mercedes and close the door, your ears sense a change in pressure.
According to the salesman, the car is made to float an hour, so the tight seals create that feeling.
The front seats were well padded and comfortable. Space is a little tighter in the rear, but cushioning is good.
The 18 valve V6 is smooth and torquey. It is powerful, but so highly civilized, there's no thrill factor. The Mercedes just gets up to speed with little hesitation along the way. The automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Manual is not available in US Model Mercedes Benz in this model year.
The C280's ride is different from the other cars in this class. Cruising down the road, we felt as if we were in an airplane, not a car. This road isolation makes the car a comfortable cruiser, but hurts it in sport driving. Turn in is a little slow, but handling is very stable. Steering seemed a little vague. Brakes had good feedback and stopping power.
The C280 looked much like a scaled down S class of the time, business like and stoic. Fit and finish is as good as you would expect. The trunk seemed larger than a BMW, but smaller than the Audi.
Mercedes has a competent car. It just lacks that special something that puts it ahead of the leaders in this highly competitive class. At the time, it cost slightly more than a BMW and much more than the competitive Audi/Acura/Lexus/Infiniti. I went for the sportier Audi, but if cruising the highway in supreme comfort is what you want in a compact sedan, this is the car for you.