COMPACT executive saloons are very good at most things, but the one thing they cant offer is particularly sporty looks. But if you can manage with two doors instead of four, there are some desperately good cars out there.
Take this, the Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI Coupé. Two doors, four seats and a sleeker, longer-looking body make it look the part in a way that the more understated C-Class saloon cant, but its real brilliance comes in a way you might not expect.
If you take it at face value its the saloons sportier brother, and while the engine is a diesel, its a 201bhp, 369lb.ft twin-turbo that promises serious punch. You also sit quite low unless you raise the seat a good way up.
Despite the early racy indications, thats not really the way Mercedes has made it work. Rather than being overtly firm, sporty or focused, the C Coupé is remarkably comfortable albeit riding on 17-inch wheels and winter tyres rather than the standard 18s.
But as a cruiser it punches way above its weight, covering miles with the kind of relaxing opulence thats usually reserved for cars costing at least twice the price.
The engine is a bit gruff; quite obviously diesel-ish in its noise, despite its physical smoothness. Its a natural by-product of squeezing a lot of power out of a medium-capacity engine.
Thanks to clever engineering its surprisingly frugal at a cruise but theres a condition. For maximum cruising fuel economy the seven-speed automatic gearbox is a must, with its extra, longer ratio over the standard-fit manual box.
It means that 70mph equates to just 1,650rpm or so, and after I drove 120 motorway miles at that speed Id registered 57.7mpg. That would have been impossible in the manual without a hefty tail wind.
Most Mercedes cars are ordered as automatics these days, which shines a light on the typical Merc buyer. Good looks, comfort and relaxation make an essential combination for them, and this car is a perfect example of Mercedes gunning for that market.
The one down-side is the same as with all diesel automatics. When it kicks down a cog or two as you press the throttle harder than normal, the revs rise beyond the peak of the torque curve and miss much of the engines potential. Its better to use only half throttle and stay in the same gear or if acceleration is more important than motorway cruising, stick to the manual.
Slightly smaller wheels or not, the ride is superb. Fitted with the Dynamic Handling Package, a very reasonably-priced option including continuously variable damping, the car absorbs even relatively large bumps in a controlled, stable way. Even with a full compliment of passengers, the chassis manages the road beautifully.
Another highlight is the sheer build quality. From the ancillary stalks to the leather trim (optional on the seats), its absolutely delightful. Especially before delving into the typically expensive Mercedes options list, it feels every bit worth its asking price.
Its well kitted-out as standard, with power-folding mirrors, absolutely brilliant bi-xenon headlights, AMG body styling details, front and rear parking distance gauges, a DAB radio and loads of other technology, some of which you might never notice but all of which is there for a good reason.
Both rear seats have ISOFIX child seat mounts should you need them, and a seemingly endless list of safety equipment serves to reassure you that its at least as safe a place to place your child as anywhere else this side of a nuclear bunker.
There are one or two niggles aside from the gearboxs tendency to use too many revs when pushed hard, but theyre hardly deal-breakers. The instant fuel consumption meter, bizarrely, only goes up to 40mpg so youre often off the scale. And the average readouts actually work in litres per 100km, converting those measurements to MPG for the screen and resulting in large MPG leaps.
Long doors can make it tricky to get out in tight parking bays, too, but you just have to take that into account when choosing a space. There are some ways in which a saloon will always trump a coupé, after all.
But the boot is large, theres a spare space-saver wheel as standard and theres useful storage space around the cabin. Its a very amiable experience to live with, summed up well by the extremely efficient engine stop/start mechanism. It stops in such a way as to make it quicker, smoother and quieter to restart.
This is a coupé for the real world, and it goes about its business astonishingly well. Its the kind of car that would make someone not just very happy to own it, but very reluctant to ever part with it.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI Coupé, £33,635 on the road (£46,950 as tested).
Engine: 2.1-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel producing 201bhp and 369lb.ft.
Transmission: 6-speed manual driving the rear wheels as standard (7-speed auto optional).
Performance: Top speed 149mph, 0-62mph in 7 seconds (auto 7.1 seconds).
Fuel economy: 52.3mpg (manual), 53.3mpg (automatic).
CO2 rating: 143g/km (manual), 139g/km (automatic).