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The Mercedes-Benz C-Class brings the three-pointed star to the rest of us, with sedans starting at less than $30,000. The C-Class brings more than the three-pointed star to the table, however.
The C320 sedan, for example, is a delight to drive with its sporty engine, responsive transmission, and perfect balance of ride quality and handling. Inside, it looks and feels like a Mercedes with high-quality materials and firm, supportive seats. Meanwhile, the price-leading C230 sport coupe continues to attract first-time Mercedes buyers with its combination of style, space, and features.
For 2003, the C-Class has been expanded to nine models, which includes sedans, wagons, and sport coupes. Two new sports sedans join the 2003 line, along with a new high-powered sport coupe, and a value-priced wagon. 2003 C240 and C320 sedans and wagons are available with 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Also, the supercharged four-cylinder engine that powers the C230 sport coupe has been redesigned for better efficiency and lower emissions.
C-Class has good bones, with exterior styling inspired by the big, luxurious S-Class sedan, technology shared with the latest E-Class, and an interior design all its own. Redesigned for model year 2002, the C-Class has been enjoying strong sales, particularly in the United States.
Neat and tidy, the C-Class sedans look like a Mercedes-Benz. The C-Class is among the boldest of any of the small European sedan designs, and it's among the slickest in the Mercedes-Benz family. The sedans boast a coefficient of drag of only 0.27 Cd, lowering wind noise, improving fuel efficiency, and increasing speed. C-Class sedans and wagons wear the horizontal-bar grille flanked by huge headlamp assemblies that are part of the new Mercedes look.
Sport coupes use the Mercedes star-grille instead of the bar-grille, plus their own double-elliptical headlights, a swooping roofline, and a shortened rear end with a functional spoiler that adds downforce on the rear tires at high speeds. Compared to the sedan, the sport coupe is seven inches shorter overall. In fact, not a single exterior panel is shared between the sedan and the sport coupe. Although the sport coupe is not as aerodynamic as the C-Class sedan, with a Cd of 0.29, it's still one of the slickest cars in the industry, and it looks twice as mean and twice as slick as the sedan, with nothing there that doesn't need to be there. The coupe's long doors make for easy ingress and egress, especially to the rear seats. Nice touches include turn signal repeaters built into the outside mirrors, and the extra pane of glass underneath the spoiler that enhances rearward vision. The standard ten-spoke alloy wheels are especially handsome.
Trimmed with high-quality interior materials, the C-Class interiors look and feel like Mercedes-Benz. Their firm, supportive seats are supremely comfortable.
The Mercedes switchgear is easy to use and understand. The stalk controls have a nice, beefy feel with positive detents. The deeply hooded instrument panel is shared among the coupe, sedan and wagon with minor variations. We like the layout and decor of the center stack, with its wood or aluminum trim and large controls for the audio system and climate controls.
The glovebox is a good size unless you order the CD player, in which case you lose most of it, although you'll still have the center console and big door pockets. Still, we'd like more places to stash things. Overhead is a console with nice map lights.
Sedans get leather interior trim. The C32 AMG has its own special sport seats and premium leather upholstery. The sport coupe comes standard with cloth seats with individual manual adjusters.
The rear seats in the C-Class sedans are generous in space and comfort. A power rear sunshade makes this feel like a real Benz. Hit the trunk button and the lid pops all the way open, something most trunk lids do not do. A C-Class sedan offers 12.2 cubic feet of cargo space, significantly more than a BMW 3 Series sedan.
Wagons have exactly the same interior and exterior dimensions as the sedans, save for that wonderful extra space behind the second seat. With the seats in place, it offers 25.2 cubic feet of flat-floor load space. Folding the seats down reveals more than 63 cubic feet of space, slightly more than an Audi A4 Avant. Tie-downs and lights are provided for convenient cargo carrying.
The rear seats in the coupes are comfortable for most people, but the rear roof slopes down quite a bit, restricting headroom. The two-door's rear seats feature a release system that automatically slides the whole seat forward when the seatback is pulled forward, opening up the rear compartment for entry. For carrying cargo, the 60/40 rear seat folds down effortlessly, either with the bottom sections folded forward or left in place, depending on how much cargo room you need. With the rear seats in place, the trunk offers 10.2 cubic feet of space. Folding the rear seats down reveals a 38.1 cubic-foot cargo bay that can hold large items. The cargo bay is as nicely detailed as the rest of the interior.
The Mercedes C-Class cars offer a perfect balance between ride and handling, nice steering and excellent brakes.
We found the C320 sedan smooth and quiet in normal driving. Step on it and the engine growls to life. The 3.2-liter V6 works great in this car, with 221 foot-pounds of torque available from 3000 to 4600 rpm. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections and the C320 has a healthy supply.
C320's suspension is a perfect balance of ride and handling. Damping is excellent. There's no bouncing after hitting a dip in the road. The C240 sedan is priced attractively, but it's the weakest engine in the line and feels short on power. The C320 is a much more satisfying ride.
The C320 wagon weighs little more than the sedan with the same engine, and is a high-style, high-function piece.
The specifications for the C230 sport coupe (189 horsepower and 192 pounds-feet of torque) don't sound exciting by today's standards, but the performance of the supercharged engine is impressive. Mercedes-Benz claims the C230 coupe can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.2 seconds with the six-speed manual transmission, and 7.5 seconds with the adaptive five-speed automatic. That's reasonably quick. The supercharged, intercooled four-cylinder engine makes pleasant mechanical and exhaust sounds (as opposed to noises), and it looks like mechanical sculpture under the hood. The supercharger is nearly transparent in its operation.
The Touch Shift automatic that comes on the C-Class cars shifts crisply, adding to the sporty driving experience. There's no need to use the manual feature at all because the automatic works so well, responsive and very smooth. It's adaptive, which means, if you drive it gently, it will upshift more quickly and reward you with excellent gas mileage (up from 22/29 mpg city/highway last year to 23/32 for 2003). If you're constantly on the throttle, it will learn that you like to drive quickly and will hold itself in each gear for more sprightly acceleration.
Moving the transmission lever into the manual mode allows the driver to shift down or up one gear with each movement of the lever. Hold the lever to left for more than a second and it shifts all the way down to the lowest appropriate gear for the speed you're traveling. Hold it to the right and it shifts back up to Drive. Stop and it automatically shifts down to first. Accelerate away and it shifts back up to the highest gear selected, a good strategy for using third gear when driving around town.
The substantial weight of the C230 sport coupe shows up in its handling, where it feels heavy compared to a BMW. The rack-and-pinion power steering, the sports seats, and the beefy steering wheel make you feel like you're in command, and if you start to lose your command of the situation, the standard ESP stability control system will put things right in a trice. The standard tilt and telescope steering column provides an extra measure of adjustability that some cars in this class don't even offer.
The P205/55R16 tires that come standard on most C-Class models are relatively grippy and very quiet at highway speeds. (Optional 17-inch wheels with low-profile 225/45R17 tires are available.) All in all, the sport coupe is good fun to drive.
Mercedes-Benz puts as much effort into its braking systems as some makers put into their whole cars, and it shows immediately in the driving. All C-Class models use large 11.8-inch discs up front and 11.4-inch discs in the rear (except the C32 AMG, whose brakes are even larger), with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA) that senses when you are having a panic attack, provides extra braking, and then switches automatically into ABS mode if conditions warrant. The brakes are progressive in pedal feel, and enormously powerful in bad situations.
Once a driver learns how to use the steering-wheel-mounted controls for the driver information, audio and telephone systems, there'
The C-Class cars offer Mercedes quality and engineering at Acura prices. The sedans feel as upmarket and classy as mid-scale Mercedes sedans felt just a few years back. Smooth and sophisticated, the C-Class sedans deliver strong performance and comfortable accommodations. We dig the C320 sedan.
The Mercedes-Benz C230 sport coupe offers a nearly unbeatable combination of price, visual impact, and utility (38.1 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats folded down). Wagons drive just like the sedans and offer 63 cubic feet of cargo space.
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