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car review

Mercedes-Benz C250

The steering wheel of the C250 tells you a great deal about Mercedes-Benz's new coupe.

My wife – Ms. I'm Not Really Into Driving – said with absolutely no prompting that she really likes this wheel. This, too, points to something exceptional.

For many years, M-Benz steering wheels were huge. Even in a glamorous Benz two-seater, the feeling was akin to being at the helm of a yacht: great wide-diameter things they were, with skinny rims.

They remain outsized to this day in some Benz models. Not so in the C250. Observe the notches for the thumbs approximating three and nine o'clock. Grip the wheel and feel how an orthopedic surgeon might have contributed to the enabling shape of the rim, or a designer inspired by the aftermarket wheels Emerson Fittipaldi endorsed after winning racing's world championship, the Personal Fitti Corsa.

The steering itself ranks high in any enumeration of the ways in which the C250 is a joy to drive. Light but affording a sense of communication with the road, the electric-mechanical steering is at its best in this four-cylinder model, compared to the C350 with its heavier V-6 affecting front-rear balance.

Ms. I'm Not Really Into Driving may also have been swayed by the elegance of the interior. I know I was. The faux-leather upholstery standard in both C250 and C350 really does look like leather with the almond beige/mocha brown combination in the test car; its burl walnut trim is in fact real wood. And it all comes off as being much higher rent than anticipated in a car with a sub-$40,000 base price.

Also unexpected is the fuel efficiency. Our EcoDriver column addresses only vehicles with city consumption ratings of less than 10 litres/100 km. Basically, it's "hatchbacks are us," day in and day out. Yet this elegant sports coupe actually averages 9.6 litres/100 km in our week of suburban driving. Impressive.

Prospective buyers do need to know that optional packages figure greatly in making our test car as satisfying as it is. Begin with our praise for the steering: our test car's $1,900 Sport Package includes more direct than base-car steering linkage, more dynamic suspension, and 17-inch road wheels. The car wouldn't feel the same without it.

A $3,000 Premium Package heats the seats, dims the mirrors, introduces satellite radio, upgrades the sound to Harmon/Kardon Logic7, and reminds you the way home with a compass within the rearview mirror, as well as beeping you to your senses during wayward parking. A person would want all of this, surely?

Bluetooth is standard, but in the C250 the media interface with iPod, USB and auxiliary connections adds $375. The $800 blind spot warning and lane keeping assist package isn't fitted to our car, but we'd order it.

In reality, then, the $39,900 C250 typically sells for somewhere between $46,000 and $49,000. The C350, however, starts at $49,200 – with its own premium package beyond that.

Which model to choose, four-cylinder or V-6? If your measure of performance is primarily the force of the kick in the back when a traffic light turns green, the V-6 is the obvious choice. Acceleration to 100 km/h is achieved in six seconds, compared with 7.2 with the four. For many drivers, however, the C250 feels sportier as a result of it's being 65 kg lighter with the turbocharged four and its quite-ample 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. Fuel efficiency, of course, is far superior.

Wheelspin – despite the winter tires – is a given with rear-drive. The standard electronic stability control with acceleration skid control limits the spinning and inhibits the nasty consequences, but less traction than with all-wheel-drive is the downside of the sportier rear-drive.

If you view the elegant contours of Mercedes-Benz's first attempt at a coupe version of its C-class car as understated perfection, squeezing into the cramped rear seat will seem no big deal. I consider the four-door sedan equally handsome with the bonus of being a whole lot more livable.

Access is easier from the driver's side with its fully-powered front seat easing forward, then returning to its original position. The passenger side slides manually with no memory. Regardless of entry point, once installed in the rear two-seater my head touched the headliner and my feet were pinched.

Releases enabling the rear seat back to fold down are found within the roomy trunk. Coupe lovers can make their own case for this being a really practical form of transportation. I wouldn't.

It's a fun car, pure and simple, and very capable. In its most desirable iteration, 481 horsepower haul the $66,900 C63 AMG. In the C250 base model, appropriately optioned, the pleasure/price quotient may just be superior.

2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe

Type: Two-door coupe

Base price: $39,900; as tested, $48,569.70 (including $1,995 freight/PDI and all fees)

Engine: 1.8-litre, turbo four-cylinder with direct injection

Horsepower/torque: 201 hp/229 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.7 city/6.4 highway; in suburban test driving, 9.6; premium required

Alternatives: Audi A5, BMW 128i, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G-37