The interior of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has set new standards for the entry-level luxury market. It is one of The Drive’s favorites, exclusive and sporty in every material and form. But how does it hold up to the scrutiny of a top-notch interior designer?
Young Huh is among the most celebrated stylists working today. Named to Vogue’s “Five Designers on the Rise,” published in glossies like Domino and House Beautiful, and invited to create a room at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House (the Olympics of interior design, basically), Huh is talented and in demand. She was also gracious enough to offer a rolling critique of the Mercedes-AMG C63 cockpit.
“I’m not necessarily a car person,” Huh begins—an admission that will seem preposterous as our drive in the 505-horsepower C63 unfolds. “But I drive a lot. I have to drive to the Hamptons, Jersey, Connecticut. So I spend a lot of time in my car.” (Huh drives a late-model Audi A4.)
The first thing she takes note of is the C63’s two-tone sport seat. “I love the perforated leather detail. I think it gives a sense of texture. This is like what you would see in an old-fashioned car, this kind of saddle stitch, the perforation.”
The unvarnished, black-stained wood veneer covering the center console earns a check mark, too. “This is gorgeous,” she says, rubbing her hand across the grain. “It kind of speaks to that whole bohemian minimalism movement. It’s very modern and very natural, the black with the white cerused detail.”
Cerusing, Huh explains, was a traditional practice whereby lead was used to bring out the pattern in wood grain. (Wax is used now.) She notices the same trim on the door panels. “I really like the fact that they’re calling attention to wood because that’s really been missing. A lot of wood in cars has been looking very plastic.”
Huh moves a hand to the metal air vents. “I love that this is brushed chrome!” She clicks the vent open and shut, moving its blades up and down. “I think with mechanical things, it’s really important to feel the movement, so that if you’re not looking, you can know what you’re doing.”
The knurled buttons for the HVAC controls fall to her fingertips. “Texture is good,” she says. “It gives contrast. It feels like someone cared about the details.”
We open the giant, double-pane sunroof. Huh raises her hands into the balmy air. “Woo hoo!” she shouts to the blurring maple trees.
“A lot of wood in cars has been looking very plastic.”
“People are concerned about skin cancer,” she says, pulling down her wide-brimmed felt vagabond. “But I love the feeling of sun. The more sense of outdoors you can have, the more you feel connected to the road, the more enjoyable driving is.” As holiday traffic thins, we throttle the twin-turbo V8. “This feeling of movement, the outdoors. That’s what driving is about to me.”
Intriguingly, she endorses the controversial practice of isolating the infotainment screen up high on the dashboard, something for which Mercedes has come in for criticism: “It looks like they’re saying, O.K., this is technology. It’s separate. Everyone has it. There’s no reason to hide this, because we’re going to use it all the time. I tell my clients, Don’t hide the TV. It looks stupid when it looks like fake artwork. Let it be what it is.”
It’s not all unalloyed praise, though. Asked how she’d improve the C63’s cabin, Huh immediately singles out the five round air vents dominating the dash’s horizontal centerline. “These try to emulate that retro feel. But it would be nice if they didn’t take up so much visual space.”
She also calls out the expanse of pebbled black material that surrounds the glove box, directly in her line of sight.
“This is, like, nothing,” she says disdainfully. “This is like an entry-level Audi, like I have.” Ouch. But the critique feeds back to Huh’s desire for something less ordinary. “What if they changed this to treated rubber? Sort of like the bottom of a traditional [driving] shoe? That would be really cool. Go with something totally techno, but also connected to the automobile.”
Like a biologist discovering a mutant strand of DNA, however, she reserves her greatest derision for the C63 cabin’s most nondescript feature. Underneath the cerused wood center console cover, behind the large cup holders, next to the 12V accessory outlet, Huh points to a hinged plastic bin that appears to be a kind of vestigial ashtray.
“What is this?” she scolds. “This little lid is kind of useless. And it’s plastic and it looks cheap.” How might Mercedes have done better? “They should have a ceramic tray in there for your change. A little ceramic decorative tray would be killer.”
To emphasize her point, she strokes the door’s metal Burmester speaker grilles, her fingers reading their sunflowered perforations like Braille.
“That’s what I think separates an amazing car from just an ordinary car,” she says. “Detail.”