AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.I’ll take “The Philadelphia Story,” but I might choose a different movie if you asked me again tomorrow. But cars aren’t movies, and most of us don’t get to choose another one tomorrow. If I had to pick a sport sedan for a 36-month lease, the C350 Sport would come in just behind the 335i and CTS. I loved driving the C350. I look forward to driving it again. But the 335i and CTS are just a little better in key areas. The deciding factors are fuel cost, a couple of unattractively wide gaps between exterior panels and the lack of a manual transmission with the C-class’ top engine. (In case you’re wondering, the clinchers for “The Philadelphia Story” are co-stars Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, who just edge Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy’s wonderful work in “His Girl Friday.”) Prices for the Mercedes C-class start at $31,200 for a C300 Sport model with a 228-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 and a six-speed manual transmission. The lowest-priced model with an automatic transmission is a $32,640 C300 Sport with Mercedes’ marvelous seven-speed gearbox. The C300 Luxury model offers the same engine, adds standard equipment including the automatic transmission and starts at $32,900. The top C350 Sport model starts at $36,500 and comes with a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and the seven-speed automatic, a marvelously smooth and precise gearbox. I tested a well-equipped C350 Sport with a $46,860 sticker price. All prices exclude destination charges. The omission of a manual transmission with the 3.5-liter will scratch the C-class from enthusiasts’ shopping lists. The 335i and CTS both offer six-speed manuals for drivers who want to maximize control and enjoyment. Neither of those sedans – nor lesser competitors like the Acura TL, Audi A4, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-type and Lexus IS 350 – can match the automatic’s seven speeds, however. The Mercedes goes them all one gear better, but that advantage doesn’t translate into leading fuel economy or acceleration for the C-class. The C-class’ EPA fuel economy ratings of 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway plant it in the middle of the pack. That’s about the same as CTS with Cadillac’s 304-horsepower direct-injection V6, but the Cadillac has a clear advantage over the Mercedes and the rest of the class because it’s the only engine that recommends regular gasoline. The C350’s 6.3-second 0-60 mph time also falls around midpack, trailing the 335i, CTS and IS 350. Those figures notwithstanding, the C350 is an enjoyable car to drive, thanks to lightweight construction, a supple suspension, and confident steering and brakes. The 3.5-liter engine produces its maximum 258 pound-feet of torque at all engine speeds from 2,700 to 5,000 rpm, providing plenty of power for jaunts around town, racing through the countryside or high-speed passes on the highway. For a brand that’s traditionally described by words like solid and substantial – adjectives better suited to a bank vault than a sporty car – the C350 feels lithe and eager as it gobbles up highway miles and country curves. The C350 tips the scales at 3,615 pounds; nearly 270 less than the CTS and just 20 more than the lean and mean 335i. The C350 is also an exceptionally quiet and comfortable car. Road and wind noise are minimal, front-seat room is excellent, rear room is good and cargo space is about average, thanks to a 3.9-inch increase in length and a 1.7-inch boost in width. For all the passenger compartment’s comfort, it’s not an especially welcoming place. The materials trimming the doors and dash are high-quality and well-fitted, but less pleasant to the touch than the CTS’s soft curves. The color scheme in the C350 I tested was also rather somber: two shades of charcoal that were more reminiscent of an abandoned campfire than a warm, firelit reading room. The instrument panel is strikingly lovely though, with big, legible gauges displayed in a setting that looks like brushed steel. The exterior was a similar study in contrast. The front is simply gorgeous. The C-class’ wide stance, with big tires filling flared fenders, flows into a low, wide grille and a sculpted hood. The visual impact is that this is not a car to be delayed when it fills your rearview mirror. The C-class’ profile is not as strong. A beveled ridge flows diagonally from the front wheelwells to the rear fenders. It’s not objectively unattractive, but it reminded me of unfortunate cars like the Saturn Ion and Chrysler Sebring every time I approached the C-class. On the plus side of the ledger, the C-class gets the latest version of Mercedes’ Comand system, which eliminates dozens of buttons with an intuitive control system that uses a console-mounted wheel to run audio, navigation, mobile phone and other features. Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side air bags and curtain air bags. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350 is easily the best small sport sedan the world’s most revered luxury brand has ever built. It’s a tribute to how stunningly good today’s sport sedans are that that’s not enough to make the C-class the pre-emptive first choice in its class. With models that include the BMW 335i and Cadillac CTS, picking a sport sedan is like renting a Cary Grant movie: There aren’t many bad ones, just different degrees of good. “The Philadelphia Story”? “North by Northwest”? “His Girl Friday”? “Gunga Din”?