Single malt whiskies are an indulgence only understood over time. Apart from developing a taste for them, you also learn to admire the finer aspects. You move beyond the age of the malts and look for things like consistency, smell, smoothness and so on. And they're best appreciated only when you go up the hard way - beginning with rather humble liquors that teach you a vital lesson - that the art of appreciation is earned and not gained.
You realise the value of a single malt, surprisingly when you are cornering in the C230 Avantgarde. Akin to a 'eureka' moment, the C230 has this habit of startling you. Corner hard and the gentle understeer, the delectable steering and the mildly squatting suspension speak to you like a 15-year old Glenlivet. The sublime experience is like feeling the texture of the whole grain-developed liquor through your palette - the dryness being replicated as your fingers move through the steering. It's at such a moment that you realise that the Audi A4 3.2 is like a heady tequila shot, while the BMW 325i could be vodka with Red Bull.
For such a mature experience, the C230 doesn't leave you with a 'wrinkled' feeling. Far from it; the large three-pointed star that occupies prime real estate on the grille makes a statement that no body kit can replicate. It exemplifies aggression with class, and in a way refuses to conform with 'sporty' luxury saloon requirements. It doesn't even have subtle body kit or a boot lip spoiler - just some silver surrounds on the mirrors and splendid 17-inch wheels that made even our champagne-coloured C230 look like it had just emerged from the gates of a distillery. On the inside, the two-tone interiors with fine leather and wooden coloured inserts only elevate the feeling. This, the W204 C-Class, has gone one up on its predecessor in terms of overall quality, fit and finish. Scruffy plastics have been pared to the bare minimum, while textures and materials have vastly improved. There is an advanced multimedia system like its rivals to play around with, while the usual blue faced dials and the floating needles are a constant reminder that you are behind the wheel of a three-pointed star. The seats are comfortable and offer support in all the right places, while there's enough legroom to ensure you don't feel cramped. It does feel a tad larger than the outgoing car, which tended to wrap around you in the same way a CLK would.
Despite feeling larger, the new C is even more eager to play ball. The C230 gets the same 2.5-litre V6 engine from the E230, but with 140 kilos of kerb weight shaved off, the C-Class benefits from a better power to weight ratio. This 2497cc engine produces just over 200 horses, but with the full force of 25 kgm of torque available pretty much across the mid-range, the engine feels more attuned towards driveability. Featuring a variable camshaft arrangement and a variable intake manifold, the C230 isn't short of the necessary tech to get you moving. To further enhance the appeal of this six-cylinder unit, Mercedes-Benz India offer the 7G-tronic gearbox as standard. Unlike the 5-speed automatic, this one can downshift a couple of gears to hit the sweet spot in the rev range, and it does so without the clunkiness that the 5-speeder came afflicted with. Interestingly, the 7-speed gearbox also comes with not one, but two reverse gear speed ratios.
While pottering around town, the comfort mode behaves like a soothing back massage, with smooth shifts and a laid back character that suits slow speeds well. Engage sport mode below the shifter and the car's behaviour changes rather dramatically by Mercedes standards. The new optional Advanced Agility system in the C230 not only changes the aggressiveness of the gearing, it also alters the throttle characteristics. Allied to the standard Agility Control system (which we shall get to later), the C-Class develops an all-new attitude. These result in fairly quick times, with 0-100 kph coming up in just a shade over 9 seconds. Keep the throttle gunned to the stop and the C-Class will hit the standing km in 30 secs, while top speed at some point in time will be a shade over 210 kph. It might not be as quick off the line as its competitors, and neither does the V6 sound like a quasi V8; it does feel mild, with just a flutter from the exhaust, but it still feels fairly quick in the real world. And in the real world, a set of twisties bring out this performance to the fore. The Agility Control package has also helped the car utilise its performance better. By altering damping to the road conditions and the directness of the steering to driver inputs, the C230 has closed the dynamic bridge to a large extent. Our test route came replete with a set of dives and elevations, and the dampers were constantly working hard to adjust to the changing situation by the second. Despite that, this hydromechancial system ensured that the ride stayed more or less constant. Despite being on the slightly stiffer side, it never became unbearably hard or thrashy as the weight balance constantly shifted from the front to the rear as the car dived and pitched.
Thrown into corners, the improved weight balance became even more apparent. Unlike the 53.7/46.3 front-rear weight balance of its predecessor, the W204 resorts to a 52.5/47.5 ratio. Despite a slightly longer wheelbase, the changed weight balance and wider track have more than helped the car's cornering ability. Mercedes-Benz have opted for the use of three-link suspension at the front, for reasons of improving brake performance and reducing vibrations. With a multi-link setup at the rear, the car behaves pretty well around corners, with mild understeer setting in. Throw it around a series of switchbacks and the understeer gets a bit more pronounced, which requires a bit of mid-corner correction to get the car back in line. It could be pinned to the lack of double wishbones at the front, but a bit more dynamic finesse to cover that last five per cent can make this car a full notch better.
With all of this kit, including the superb 12-speaker Harmon Kardon speaker system, the smart automatic climate control system and automatic headlamps and wipers, you pay a substantial amount more. At Rs 35.82 lakh, it's a lakh of rupees more than the BMW 325i, yet a couple of lakhs cheaper than the Audi A4 3.2 in Mumbai. For that kind of money, you could also upgrade yourself to the E220 CDI or E230, given the kind of discounts it currently enjoys. That makes the job of choosing a C230 over its sibling and rivals even tougher. Think of the C230 then as an intoxicant that is best enjoyed on a wintry evening next to the fireplace, and you will find the warm fuzzy feeling second best only to the mighty C63 AMG. Cheers to that!