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Sunday, 18 April 2010


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Congrats Mike! Enjoy your Leica M8. ;)

Nice car, but did you consider the considerable price difference in maintance costs? Price out some simple things like a water pump and you might be surprised. Anyway, it looks much nicer in the photos than your other choices and is a much nicer car - you will really like it.

Congrats, Mike! It's beautiful. Enjoy it in good health, as we say.

Wheeeeeee! I mean: Congratulations, Mike and Zander! Drive safe.

Er, Mike, does this mean you're going to need a new set of non-frumpy threads to go with the up-market wheels?

Eeeeeeeeek! An automatic?

Insurance costs between the US and UK must vary wildly. My brother - a driving instructor - tells me that the going rate for car insurance for a 17 year old on a cheap, old, small car (around 1.2 litres/60bhp) can be £2500 a year! It's not unusual for the yearly insurance cost to be more than the value of the car even with only third party cover.

With a C280, many insurance companies would refuse to provide cover at almost any price.

The M3 has an in-line 6. I don't think BMW has ever made a V6.

One thing, The 1993 M3 had a straight six engine not the V6 :) I don' remember any BMW with V6 engine actually ;)

And what engine do you have in you're new Merc? They are usual rear wheel drive :)

Yule log... hahahaha!!!

I, as a father with my only son, can understand you completely, Mike.

BTW, I love Golf GTI as well. Not tried Chevy Cobalt SS yet.

Then, I love stick shift. Simple. Direct control.

I drive a VW Jetta.

1. transitive and intransitive verb offer reasonable explanation for something: to attempt to justify behavior normally considered irrational or unacceptable by offering an apparently reasonable explanation

That's OK. Neither cars nor cameras are rational purchases no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves. Or our spouses.

Enjoy the ride!

I just picked up a '10 GTI this week. Sweet ride. Not the quickest but a pleasure to be inside, drive, and operate. Plenty fast to get tickets and delightfully flexible. Miss the rawness of the Rex and SS, but would rarely get to use those advantages in real life. And for what it's worth, I will get it chipped.

I can hear them at school. "There goes Zander in the Merzedes."

Mike: Please delete if this is offensive. I don't think so but I don't know you or Zander very well. I couldn't help myself.

Congratulations, excellent choice. Please drop me a line in 10+ years from now how your Silberpfeil is doing.

Hope you don't feel too bad when someone snaps their fingers and you come out of the salesman inspired hypnotic state!
As a recently newborn cyclist you should have lost all interest in cars, bought an 8 year old something to replace the Ford (something practical enough to transport 2 bicycles to nicer ride areas) - and saved all that money for a trip to visit your TOP friends in Europe.

Mike, absolutely perfect choice. I used to have Audis, and am now with a C-class. The most obvious difference is apparent after driving 1000 km in a strech (distance between my house and my mother's): I was TIRED with the audis, while not at all with the C. Just different tracking stability and inherent maneuvrability. The use of electronics is also different, nicely integrated in the "normal" functions of a car in the Benz, while more like gadgets and toys in the case of Audi. The safety is also irreprochable: you will feel safer knowing that Z is in this car. The 280 is peppy enough, but is NOT a race car. Doesn`t suggest any excess to a teenager. Gas consumption is also good when considering what is under the hood. Wise!

Erich Healey, whoever he might be, is the Unknown Photographer of the Cobalt picture. He took this photograph in 2008, and if you ask me, I'll even tell you how I know, it's quite a story...

Good for you!

Good call mike, I've been buying only recent second hand solidly built European cars for almost the last 6 years as it represents a good balance of value and quality that I want from a car and it also doesn't hurt for the fact that European cars basically have no second hand value compared to Japanese cars here in Indonesia as it's stereotyped as demanding, more sensitive and expensive cars to keep.

It was an eye opener for me when my used 1995 Toyota Corolla sold for more money than my wife's 1996 BMW 520i when we sold them around the same time, considering the BMW when it was brand new, originally costs more than double of my Corolla!


Great choice, Mike! Congratulations. It's the "proper" color for a German car, too.


It's excellent that you both like the car so much. Nothing grimmer than using a vehicle that you do not like. Sounds like a good car.

I suppose we will be going through all this again in about 2021, where we can discuss the new runabout's flying capabilities and the performance of the anti-gravity motor.

Congrats. Great car and once the kid gets over the shock of having to drive a Benz, he's going to dig it. And.......silver is the proper color for a German car. Nicely done.


What a good choice, Mike! Congrats to a wise decision and a great purchase.

BTW: it's actually 'Nürburgring'. I was born close by.


Cobalt Image = Copyright 2008, Eric Healey. As indicated by the notice on the image. I do not think it is appropriate to infringe - even if it is your ideal car.

This is over the limit. Even for car-obsessed Americans. Please stop!

Ahhh... that car looks like it was meant to be in that driveway. Enjoy it Mike! I'm envious. Maybe the next car for me?

I wish someone like a Steve Rosenblum had offered similar sage advice to me in the early stages of my three year camera search! I bought and sold too much gear to even count up. I finally ended up where I probably could have been in the very beginning.. a nice old M6, a 35mm lens, and my trusty Nikon FE2.

Lower left corner of the Cobalt pic says © 2008 ERIC HEALEY

A Benz? Ken Rockwell has gotten to you, hasn't he? What's next, JPEG's on super saturation mode?


P.S. Lucky Zander

good choice. I LOVE my CLK320 (much older).

Isn't that the one they just recalled?

Wow, now you've really gone around the Benz Mike. :-)

Wow. We have one of those. (The Benz.) Picked it up at the factory in Stuttgart in 2001 and drove it around Europe for a couple weeks before having it shipped to our Chicago dealer, where we got to pick it up again. Still has the Swiss toll sticker on the windshield. Nice car.

Alas, it became our backup ride a couple years ago when we decided to work on reducing our piece of the climate change matrix with a new Prius, which we calculate produces just about half as much CO2 as either the Benz or the other 6-cylinder sports sedan we'd been driving.

Still, though, nice car.

Congratulations Mike. You've earned it!

"The M3 has an in-line 6. I don't think BMW has ever made a V6."

Of course. My bad. Fixed now.


"and if you ask me, I'll even tell you how I know, it's quite a story..."




congratulations on the new wheels!!!

But calling the C-class "Baby Benz" is a little funny to an European. What would you call these: Smart, A class, B class ?

Good luck with the car!

"BTW: it's actually 'Nürburgring'."

Thanks, Wolfgang. Fixed now.


The Cobalt picture says "Copyright 2008 Eric Healey" on the lower left corner... But I think you've already got this comment.

"Lower left corner of the Cobalt pic says © 2008 ERIC HEALEY"

Darn, I completely missed that.


Good Choice. Solid car, good engineering. I'm a volvo guy from the old rally days, but have also considered the smaller versions of these.

Complementi! When I moved from the States to Switzerland, I gave up yhe most awesome and reliable car ever: a '91 Civic Si with 240,00 trouble-free miles. I drove my father-in-law's '98 Range Rover for awhile with disgust. Then we needed a proper company car: enter the '07 E-320 CDI 4-Matic. In my opinion, if everyone drove a Mercedes, road-rage would disappear. No, they're not fun, although the 4-Matic is a blast when the snow gets deep. The C-280 won't get you in trouble until you're on the highway: Mercedes love the log haul and coddle you while wish for a 175mph speed limit.
About a month ago, my 6 months pregnant wife rear-ended a Mazda 3 at 20mph. The Mazda was totalled ,although the rear bumper was only pushed in about 3 inches all the airbags deployed. In the Merc, none of the airbags deployed, but the front bumper was pushed in 2 inches. Mercedes-Benzs are safe cars.
I'm from rural upstate New York where everyone drives either mini-vans or the snowplows. All but of one of my friends think that a Mercedes is an exorbitant extravagance. After my wife's accident, I'm now reminding them that the peace of mind that comes from driving a Mercedes is not because one feels all high-falutin in the seat, but from the benefits it offers to the occupants of the vehicle.
Mike, as an religious reader of TOP, and I as a dad-to-be, I thank you for choosing, and by your example, promoting, safety and security in your choice of automobile.
Now, go turn off the traction control and have fun!

Okay, I've now tried three different ways to contact Erich Healey and ask permission to use his picture, and offering to take it down if he has any objection. I hope I'll hear from him.


Oh Lord, won't you buy me...

My ex wife and I had his and her's Benz's. Great cars. Now they are her's and her's.

"Now they are her's and her's."

That doesn't seem fair. What's the old joke about marriage, "what's yours is yours and what's mine is ours"?


Um, I, um, uh-oh. You can't be that old.

We all warned you, get the Ferrari 599.

I grew up as a total boy racer and a petrol head and did my share of race-car driving on public roads (with predictable results) but was also an ardent reader of the late LJK Setright's writing on automatic transmissions.

It was Leonard Setright who once wrote casually in CAR magazine of "doing 140 in bendy Berkshire" (he was talking mph, not km/h, and country roads, not highways—leading to some alarmed readers' letters the following month) and who would routinely outpace all other road testers during car launches. A very fast driver, a true car enthusiast in every sense and an excellent writer whose words were as provocative as they were evocative, he championed the automatic transmission, encouraging drivers to use both feet, wind up the torque converters, use the gear lever manually and much more. He changed the way I thought of automatic gearboxes, acceleration tests, fast driving and a lot more besides.

That was a long way of saying that I was secretly hoping you'd chose an automatic and I think you made an excellent choice!

Oh no! Not silver! Don't you know the pros use black?

Intelligent people can rationalize ANYTHING. Just ask my psychiatric social worker friend Smitty.

You never mentioned the crash test ratings at the real testing agency, www.iihs.org/. Or, their driver deaths per mile per model charts, injury ratings in accident statistics, relative collision costs experiences per mile driven, etc. You surely would not like what you saw for Cobalts. And, I gotta say that 100K Mi. for an eleven year old car ain't much at all. If maintained, almost any modern car should be expected to go much, much further; real Saabs were engineered for, they say, 300K. I think you'll find the Benz will weather the years better than the Ford, especially when you consider its both-sides galvanized body panels and the extra winter baths you will surely give this baby for road salt.

There is one cheap, old paperback book you may want. I gave my copy away, so this is a guess at the title: "Drive it Til it Drops: How to Keep Your Car Running Forever." I predict that you will now be parking at the back of the supermarket parking lot, away from two door car models, rolling heaps with rust and dents, away from cars full of kids, and parking uphill away from possible loose gravity or wind driven shopping carts, etc., all for avoiding dings and, oh yeah, because you need the exercise. Keep it long enough, and it's cheaper than a Ford.

I look forward to your reports on how you react when your son wants the family wheels for Friday and Saturday night outings.

So, once again, if it is not obvious to the author himself, buying a car is a totally emotional choice at some point. Especially for us guys who even halfway imagine themselves as gear heads or involved drivers.

Just my totally rational $.02.

Congratulations !!!!

Rock ON, Mike Johnston !!

That was a total surprise, but, hey, Safe is Good.
And Safe in silver-grey with a touch o' the lux is Really Good.

You will probably get used to the automatic eventually......


Now that you and Zander have the machine, do check out the Tire Racks street survival program, http://www.streetsurvival.org/

I notice they have one in Madison soon.

I'm a former "car guy", sunk to wanting the Lord to buy him a Benz, diesel station wagon. Sheesh!


"is thoroughly engineered for crashworthiness and has about every safety feature known to Man"

Only three midsize cars got top safety ratings from the IIHS in 2007:

Audi A4
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy



Seems like a very good choice though. All wheel drive on a rear-drive platform has the best of both worlds. The Audi and Subaru all wheel drive systems are on front-drive platforms.


Do your friends all drive Porsches?

Janis J.

Is this for real?

I must make amends.


If buying American was your first
priority, you could have bought
one as good or better than MB.

Jesus Mike, I hope you can afford the maintenance on it, especially after the warranty expires. (it IS a certified pre-owned with a remaining warrant, right?) German cars are FABULOUS...
till they break...

Glad you made a good choice. The Hyundai struck me as similar to considering buying a Samsung instead of a Leica or Nikon - just not in the same league as VW or Mercedes.

The high cost of maintenance is a myth. I had Benz's for years and they cost me way less than any American steel I have ever driven.

Great choice, Mike, I'm happy for you and Zander. I despaired of recommending a Mercedes to you because you seemed so attached to a manual transmission, but these cars are super: quiet, smooth, competent handling, excellent straight-line stability, I could go on and on.

Over the years I have bought a number of used Mercedes (twelve, in fact) instead of a brand new some-other-kind-of-car. (I never bought a new one.) The car you bought represents one of the best automotive value propositions in so many ways: comfort, safety, reliability and fun at a great price. Enjoy! I'm sure you will never be sorry for this purchase.

BTW- Have Zander practice running off the right side of the road and recovering smoothly without over-correcting. Those over-correcting accidents kill so many inexperienced drivers. Just a little practice could save his life.

And all of a sudden, Zander became the most popular boy amongst the girls in his school. Have you bought him a stick to fend them off with? ;-)

Get out!! I was going to suggest an Audi A4, but I thought maybe too pricey. ( In the interests of full disclosure, I have 2 Audis ). Anyway, congrats and be safe out there.

When my best friend's dad was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour, the first thing he did after setting his will straight was go out and buy his wife a Mercedes because he wanted her to be safe. This was back in 1993.

She's still driving it.

Welcome to the Benz family my wife has a 2006 red CLK350 and I drive a 2008 E350. We love them and you will too.
I would recommend a Pre-owned MB anytime.

Gorgeous car, Mike. I'm sure you will love it!

Used Benzes are such a good value for what you are getting, it's almost a crime... :)

Great choice!

I have 2 relevant stories:

1. Both of my kids, who were pretty responsible teenagers, had serious auto accidents in their first year of driving. (No injuries, but major damage.) Both were in daylight, in good weather, at relatively slow speeds. Both claimed never to have seen the other car before it was too late. (I've always assumed that they were playing with the radio at the crucial moment) My son managed to bend in both left wheels to roughly a 45 degree angle. I wouldn't have thought that possible short of sliding into a curb sideways at speed. So anyway, the friend who warned you about young drivers did you a huge favor.

2. We owned a late 90's 320-something Mercedes sedan. It was stolen from our garage (that's a longer story by itself). The perp got about half a mile, then spun it on wet leaves and hit a tree head-on, fast enough to move the engine back about 6 inches. The car was totaled, but the perp walked away.

I have mixed feelings about that.

Congrats Mike! Quite a surprise....

"If buying American was your first priority, you could have bought one as good or better than MB"

As I say, safety was my first priority this time around, while my son is a new driver.

Many Mercedes-Benzes are built in Vance, Alabama, but I don't think the one I bought is one of them. The Cobalt SS I coveted is built in Lordstown, Ohio.

I think the Cobalt SS will be one of those cars I'll always remember, like the 1956 M-B 190 W121 I let slip away, the 1973 BMW 2002 Tii, and the MGB.


Mike, what did I say about the Leica -er Mercedes?

Woo hoo!

That's a surprise! I am deeply offended you didn't snap up my GTI but this is neat! It's a really nice solution to the full range of what you were looking for and I think you'll find that driving a Mercedes is pleasing. Not for the obvious things that people mention off the bat but a curious quality of springy solidity both in the driving and the driver's compartment.

Have fun!


I'm a photographer and work from a 1995 Mercedes Benz E-320 wagon that I purchased used (160K miles). I paused for a day before purchasing a car with the star on the hood, but I've never looked back. It is a truly great car.

Well its no 599... ;)

The M3 has an in-line 6. I don't think BMW has ever made a V6.

My M3 has 12 speeds (not counting intermediate settings) and it's a manual... ;-)

"(He'll be more careful of it than he'd be of a beat-up elderly Ford, too.)"

Yeah. Right. :-)

My brother - a driving instructor - tells me that the going rate for car insurance for a 17 year old on a cheap, old, small car (around 1.2 litres/60bhp) can be £2500 a year!

Peter, I watched a pretty recent episode of Top Gear where they were trying to do something like that - insure a car for an imaginary 17-year old. An insurance company asked more than £7000 for a car worth £2000.

In 2 years, you'll be very glad you didn't get the Cobalt SS. It's a junker with nice specs, not a particularly good car.

The Cobalt is one in a long line of GM's screwed up small car designs, in this case, an Opel platform they ruined.

And it's made at Lordstown to boot, which is pretty much the curse of death for reliability.

So the answer to "Canon or Nikon?" is Leica.

You are lucky in USA, here in Oz the price of a 07 Benz C280 is 150% the price of a new Golf GTI. Just to increase your shock, that is (in US dollars) $55,000 to $37,000.

May I say a shy(ish) "who cares", perhaps with a touch of envy, seen my 2002 green Ford Fiesta?

Time to get yourself some matching Pentax Limited glass! :)
Nice choice Mike. Lucky Zander!

I do not care about maintenance costs and, like you did now, buy and will always buy second hand only. You get much more for the same price. No matter how much you can afford, even £100,000 will buy you a much more gorgeous 2nd-hand car than a new one.
I went for a £5000 BMW 318Ci and I have spent £3500 in maintenance in 1.5 years so far, but I do not regret it.

I'm sorry I didn't offer you my clapped-out 72 MGB.

The good M3's had only four cylinder engines...

Good choice. I can't imagine myself driving a Merc, but otherwise they are a sound bet, bought secondhand at reasonable price as they go on and on forever. Can't imagine how it feels to drive one when you're just 17, though...

"I watched a pretty recent episode of Top Gear where they were trying to do something like that - insure a car for an imaginary 17-year old. An insurance company asked more than £7000 for a car worth £2000."

My insurance on the car--standard policy--is less than $800/yr. It will cost an additional $1200/yr. when Zander gets his license and is added to the policy.


I identified with your comment concerning a seventeen year old driving a Cobalt SS. I was looking for a new car last year and the Camaro with a 425HP and a stick came up in conversation (actually I mentioned it, as I recall; it wasn't on my wife's short list, at all :) ) With 3 girls of driving age, every car in the family has the potential of being driven by anyone. My wife's telling counter argument was, "Do you really want your seventeen year old daughter driving a 425HP car?" She had a point.

I bought a Pontiac G8 GT at zero percent interest for 72 months. And the insurance wasn't bad, considering. I miss not having a stick shift, but the way manufacturers combine options, it would have cost an extra $8,000 to get one.

I'm very happy with my choice and I wish you the best of luck with yours. Let's compare notes in 15 years and see how we did.

take care,

Further to your previous rant on how all Acuras look the same, I believe the current C-class Mercedes is possibly the only car out there that offers a choice of two different front end stylings -- one more "aggressive" and the other more "conservative".

BTW I'm with you on the ugliness of the Acura grilles. I'm just thinking if you wanted Mercedes, there's the Chrysler 300 to consider which is essentially a Mercedes E-class in an American body. But I know one can go with shopping endlessly.

It would be interesting to have you elaborate more on what was so special about the Mercedes sales experience.

Owning a Benz is a bit like owning a Leica, they are a little idiosyncratic at first but then make perfect sense.
The only trouble is they are a little difficult to give up - I'm on my third (merc) each having done monster mileages.


Good choice, Mike. I'm certain you have probably stopped having those nightmares about careening through the mountains in my Blazer by now, but think how fun it would have been in my current car, a reclaimed MB 190e. I think you'll enjoy your new car as much as I enjoy this one.

Congratualtions Mike. Great car! I do wonder what the maintenance costs will be? Maybe its a misconception, but I thought the Benz's cost a few arms and legs to maintain.

Always imagined you as the kind of proud dad who had a rusty American classic car hidden in a garden shed somewhere. Waiting there for a family member to contact Chip Foose someday.

Jeremy Clarkson couldn't have made made a better choice though.

Hmm somehow am not surprised, had you thought of buying a Pacer, maybe?

My first car was a much abused Volvo PV544 with a long throw manual transmission, and my next car was one of the first Volvo 144S models in Canada, manual again. Then I got wise and bought junkers thereafter due to an altercation with a dumb-ass who ran a red light, the 144 hit him square in the driver's side, killed him and his wife and his one child in mother's arms later died. Wipeout. The Volvo hit them at about 60 mph, and afterwards I was shaken but like a Merc could open all the doors and get out, before I collapsed. The police charged me with exceeding the posted 60 mph speed limit.

In those days in Ontario anybody driving a car
and not married and under 25 got the book thrown at them. My insurance company covered me up until after the trial and then cancelled my insurance. For me to replace the car it would have cost me $15,000. insurance was now going to be about the same. I walked for three years, then bought a used Datsun 510 which cost me $1500.00 which was half my insurance as I was a new driver three years later; it didn't help. The Datsun died of toronto cancer, rust...the floor rotted out and over time the body collapsed around it.
. These days I drive a well-maintained ancient Honda
Civic approaching its 14th birthday. I don't
need anything else. Mind I go on the rationale that a male child that wants to drive gets a job and pays for his own insurance. I did, and rarely drove my parent's
Buick or Dodge cars. Which is why I saved my money and bought a Volvo.

Mind you could have bought a Smart car, Mercedes Canada sells and services them here.

"Always imagined you as the kind of proud dad who had a rusty American classic car hidden in a garden shed somewhere."

My mom has a 1969 M-B 350SEL literally in a barn in Maine. Does that count?


I see you can get a new M-B C-class with a manual transmission, in Canada at least!

Mike you'll have to report periodically on how life is going with the new ride. We'll be eager to learn!

So since you're mom has an M-B, this is not so much of a departure from family tradition, I guess.

Bought a Cobalt SS and havin' a ball.

"So since you're mom has an M-B, this is not so much of a departure from family tradition, I guess."

The M-B was my grandfather's, actually. And it was his first M-B--he was a Lincoln Continental man as far as I know. When he died he left the Benz and a 1961 Lincoln Continental, Elwood Engel's masterpiece, the kind with the back doors that opened backwards (hinged from the rear). It sold for $6k at his estate sale, and please don't ask me if I wish we had it back.


"you can get a new M-B C-class with a manual transmission"

Right, but only with RWD. The "4MATIC" (all-wheel drive) models are automatic only.


What a terrible story, Bryce--I feel for you, both ways--both for the outcome of the accident and the price you had to pay for it.

I encountered a terrible accident driving to Michigan. An older man had fallen asleep at the wheel and veered into an oncoming truck. The old man was still alive but it seemed fairly certain not for long. The truck driver (who was uninjured) was just upset to distraction--he was very agitated and kept saying "he came right at me, he came right at me, there was nothing I could do!" No one was paying much attention to him. Everybody who had stopped to help was preoccupied with the family in the van. I also felt for the truck driver, who was a victim too, just in a different way.


"Bought a Cobalt SS and havin' a ball."

You dawg you, you dawg, you dawg!

Have enough fun for both of us...and be careful in that thang.


P.S. I don't really understand what people meant with those "rationalization" comments. If I'd been in rationalizing mode, I'd be driving a Cobalt SS too.

The bottom line for me was, if I gave my son the ZX2, and he was killed or injured driving it, how would I feel? The answer I guess is obvious.

I grew up in a Mercedes family (1958 180 and 1966 200, both picked up at the factory in Stuttgart; the 200 was sold on in 1984 finally), and I do find the C-class ugly little econo-boxes. But how they drive is more important, and I haven't driven them.

I'm on my own first automatic transmission car, and it's doing exactly what I wanted (making me hate commuting less), and on the weekend's road trip down to Tennessee we averaged over 30MPG, with one tank reaching 34. (2010 Camry LE).

The Cobalt was my least-favored rental car when I was in California a week a month. I forget how much model variance some manufacturers put in, the concept of a high-performance Cobalt seems just weird.

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