Photo By: Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti
When you’re spending more than $50,000 on a new car, you’re not just buying transportation – you’re buying a whole basket of goodies.
But are you buying the right basket?
Such a purchase is not just about transportation, seating space and cargo capabilities. It’s about how the car makes you feel as you’re driving from point A to point B. It’s about how other people will perceive you as you drive by. And it has a lot to do with the location of point A and point B, and the quality of the road in between.
Take, for example, two 2012 cars we drove last month: the Mercedes-Benz C350C4 and the Infiniti Performance Line G37 Coupe. They cost the same, are about the same size inside and out, and from the outside, the styling differences are quite subtle. But on the inside they were vastly different and offer completely different driving experiences.
With its cutting-edge 4Matic all-wheel drive and luxury wood-trimmed interior, the C350 is all about confidence and comfort. In contrast, the G37 offers the latest in high-performance handling technology, and the matte black and brushed-chrome interior echoes the car’s commitment to speed and responsiveness.
To illustrate the primary features of the Mercedes-Benz, we were transported to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the company laid out a 150-mile loop on two-lane mountain roads. The drive took us over the Teton Pass Highway into Idaho and back, and carved out a snow-packed handling course on a large open field so that we could test the safety features without risking the cars or ourselves.
The major feature being promoted by Mercedes-Benz in this model – which justified our journey to snow country – is its fourth-generation all-wheel-drive system, now available on all 10 models in the manufacturer’s lineup. This system puts power to all four wheels at all times, improving handling under all conditions, but it has the capability of directing different amounts of power to specific wheels to minimize skids and allow the driver to maintain control even if an individual wheel loses traction.
Our morning drive started out with lightly falling snow, but as we climbed into the mountains, the wind and snowfall increased. As we crested the summit of the pass, we could see only a few feet in front of us. Despite the drifting snow and occasional patches of ice on the highway, the car never showed a tendency to slide or lose control, and the drive was not unpleasant at all.
In the afternoon – with a challenging course carved out on a snow-covered field and the surface packed to almost icy conditions – we were able to experiment with the capabilities of the all-wheel-drive system.
During the afternoon, everyone eventually discovered that these systems won’t keep a car from sliding if it is pushed beyond its physical limits. However, everyone also found that the limits were significantly extended, allowing us to make quick course corrections and negotiate tight corners at much higher speeds than would have been possible in any car without the AWD system.
Infiniti Performance Line G37 Coupe
When we got home, we found the Infiniti G37 waiting at the airport. We had it for a week, making sure to head to the hills for some snappy driving on the curving back roads.
Perhaps we would not have noticed the difference as much had we not driven the Mercedes immediately before it. The suspension on the Infiniti was stiffer, steering was quicker and the car responded faster to inputs.
For the individual who really enjoys driving and likes the feedback of a high-performance automobile, this car would have been more satisfying than the Mercedes, but one wouldn’t have mistaken that feeling for comfort.
Searching for an analogy, one of our colleagues said the Mercedes-Benz was like a butler in one of those old Jeeves movies – quiet and understated, happy to stay in the background, but always keeping everything under control. The Infiniti, on the other hand, was like a good personal trainer, always ready to challenge you to try a little more but ready to catch the weights if you pushed yourself too far.
If we were asked to choose the better of the two cars, we would have to beg off. There is nothing in the statistics, the build quality or even the styling that would distinguish one from the other. Instead, they simply have to be driven to get a sense of the feeling behind the wheel. The Mercedes-Benz is smooth, quiet and comfortable, and will make its driver feel important. By contrast, the Infinity is spirited, a little louder and stiffer, and will make its driver feel competent. You just have to decide which type of satisfaction you seek from your automobile.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.