Comparison: 2009 Volkswagen CC VR6 Sport vs Mercedes-Benz C350

By Brian Alexander, Road Test Editor
Before you email to inform us how blatantly foolish we are for comparing these two cars, hear us out. While pricing for the 2.0-liter CC begins at a reasonable $27,100, the VR6 Sport weighs in at a very C350-esque $38,700. Therefore, in our eyes any logical buyer looking for a V-6-powered German sedan could easily find themselves comparing the two. Go for a loaded CC or a C350 devoid of add-on gubbins? Some people may have a predetermined disposition towards front- or rear-wheel drive that will help narrow the competition, but make no mistake about it – these are two very different, very good cars.

The CC’s cabin absolutely oozes with character, the two-tone sports seats being a particular highlight. They’re fantastically bolstered and sticky enough to keep you in place, even if they do sit a bit high. The steering wheel telescopes out far enough to give you total control with optimal pedal reach, and you’ll soon find yourself in a seating position befitting a full-on touring car racer, not a mundane front-drive sedan.

The CC’s ergonomics are great, coming across as more Audi that Volkswagen, which garners plenty of bonus points in our book. It does have its own flavor to it though. Case in point: a quirky fold-down shelf above the driver’s left knee. We’re not sure what you’d keep in there – with all the recent anti-cellular legislation, your mobile phone might be a good bet.

The steering is a bit vague but once you’ve adjusted to the mildly lackadaisical ratio, you’ll be able to find a good rhythm through turns. Being front-wheel drive, the CC isn’t an on-road hooligan, though it does cope surprisingly well when pushed. With an open throttle and the front tires scrambling for traction, the rear end feels a bit floaty through turns. Asking front wheels to channel 280 horsepower and simultaneously do the turning is a bit like asking someone to work nights and weekends. They’ll do so, but not happily or to the best effect.

On paper, the C350 looks like to be more of a driver’s car, and to little surprise, it is. Like the CC it suffers from marginally vague steering, though the Benz’s rack is slightly more precise and the back-end feels reassuringly planted. While both cars have 18-inch alloys, the C350’s front wheels aren’t burdened with the task of deploying the power to the ground, giving it impressive grip in the corners. Its 268 horsepower comes at 6,000 rpm and the engine really wakes up as the tachometer needle swings past 5,000 rpm, though the midrange is robust as well with peak torque coming on at 2,400 rpm.

Push the Mercedes hard and you’ll find it predictable and properly rapid. Prodding the ‘ESP off’ button will put the ESP in limp mode, and it does an excellent job of catching you if you go too far without slapping you on the wrist or killing anything resembling oversteer.

Surprisingly, sport shift mode is better in CC, as it is less apt to rush into higher gears when compared with the Mercedes’ system. In fact, we had trouble discerning whether there was any difference between comfort and sport transmission settings in the C350. The ability to manually select gears in the C350 should overcome the disappointing sport settings, but the car likes to downshift on its own if you give the throttle anything more than an exploratory prod. The CC on the other hand comes equipped with paddle shifters, but we’d argue that it’s best when left in sport mode as it holds gears even at high revs and rarely misses a beat.

Overall, the Mercedes wins as a driver’s car, though given its rear-wheel drive setup little else was expected. That said, the CC is surprisingly rewarding when hustled and, if you factor in that the VR6 Sport will get you items like Bi-Xenon headlights, premium sound and a panoramic sunroof – all equipment you’ll have to shell out extra dollars for on the C350 – it presents a value that’s hard to argue with.

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