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Mercedes C-Class sales have increased four fold over the past decade, and it doesn't take a degree in marketing to understand why. The C-Class appeals to buyers because it offers a range of models at attractive prices.
The C-Class brings the three-pointed Mercedes star to the rest of us, with coupes starting below $27,000 and sedans below $30,000. The C-Class delivers Mercedes engineering and safety technology. The model line includes hatchbacks, four-door sedans, and wagons. Sport models are available for those who want a sportier driving experience. And full-time all-wheel drive is available for some models, improving safety and traction in slippery conditions.
The C230 coupe is the least expensive Mercedes sold in the United States, offering sporting character in a practical package geared toward first-time Mercedes buyers. But we think the C-Class is best represented by the C320 sedan, with its smooth, powerful V6 engine, responsive transmission and classic Mercedes balance of ride quality and handling. Climb in and the C320 looks and feels like a Mercedes-Benz, featuring firm, supportive seats and mostly high-quality materials.
All C-Class models feature redesigned interiors and freshened exterior styling for 2005. New paint technology imbeds microscopic ceramic flakes in the clear coat finish, increasing its resistance to chipping and degradation over time. Every model comes standard with a full-complement of airbags and an Electronic Stability Program, the latter designed to prevent skidding in corners.
Mercedes has also further distinguished the sport models from the standard luxury sedans for the 2005 model year. The sport models, which now account for more than half of C-Class sales, come with a new six-speed manual transmission that greatly improves shift action. At the top of the C-Class is the new C55 AMG, an extreme sports sedan that can knock your socks off when you floor the accelerator then pull them back up when you hit the brakes. (Or is it the other way around?)
In spite of improvements to the entire C-Class lineup, Mercedes has held the line on price increases. Nearly all the 2005 C-Class cars are priced identically to the last 2004 models. In short, the C-Class is more appealing for 2005. Buyers will still pay a slight premium for the three-pointed star when compared with a similarly equipped BMW 3 Series or Audi A4. But for those seeking Mercedes-Benz engineering, design strengths and mystique in a mainstream sedan, it doesn't get any easier than the C-Class.
The least-expensive C-Class models are the sport coupes, or two-door hatchbacks. The C230 Kompressor ($25,850) is powered by a 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine pumped up to 189 horsepower by a supercharger (the Kompressor). The C320 coupe ($29,250) comes with a 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6 and amenity upgrades, including leather-faced seats and a ten-way power seat for the driver. For 2005, the coupes come with a redesigned six-speed manual transmission with greatly improved shift action. Standard equipment includes one-touch power windows, automatic climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels and high-performance tires. The C-Class coupe's sporty ambience is enhanced by a three-spoke multifunction sport steering wheel with raised thumb-grips, leather-covered sport shift knob, rubber-studded aluminum pedals, body-colored door handles and aluminum door sills.
The most familiar C-Class models are the sedans. Most popular among those is the C240 sedan ($32,650), powered by a 168-horsepower 2.6-liter V6 with three valves per cylinder and a standard five-speed Touch Shift automatic transmission with manual shift mode. C240 is well-equipped, with leather seat inserts, front seats with power height and backrest adjustment, power windows, cruise control, a seven-speaker audio system with weatherband, laurel-wood trim, and 16-inch aluminum wheels with all-season tires. The C320 sedan ($37,950) upgrades to the 215-horsepower 3.2-liter version of the V6 and a higher level of luxury amenities, including dual-zone automatic climate control, a Bose 10-speaker stereo, reading lamps, 10-way power front seats with memory and a power-adjustable steering column.
The C240 wagon ($34,150) is the identical counterpart to the C240 sedan. (The C320 wagon has been dropped for 2005). This is the smallest wagon Mercedes has offered in the United States, and it successfully combines sporty styling with good cargo room or accommodations for a big dog (with the optional dog fence, of course).
All-wheel drive ($1,200), which Mercedes confusingly calls 4MATIC, is available on the C320 sedan and on the C240 sedan and wagon. This fulltime system comes packaged with heated front seats and is priced much lower than it is with other Mercedes models. We consider it a valuable asset in the rainy Northwest or for the harsh winters of the Midwest and Northeast.
The C-Class sport sedans have firmer suspensions, lower ride height and more powerful brakes than the standard models. The C230 Kompressor sedan ($29,250) is powered by the same supercharged inline-4 as the C230 coupe, while the C320 sport sedan ($37,350) uses the 3.2-liter V6. The sport sedans have the thick, three-spoke steering wheel and other sporty interior tweaks used in the C-Class coupes, along with thickly bolstered front sport seats and aluminum interior trim. For 2005, the sport sedans come standard with the improved six-speed manual transmission and aggressive lower body cladding previously reserved for expensive AMG models.
Speaking of which, the C55 AMG sedan is new for 2005. Powered by a hand-built 5.5-liter 376-horsepower V8 (as opposed to the supercharged V6 that came in the 2004 C32), this is the hottest hot rod in the C-Class family, traveling from 0-60 mph in an exotic-grade 4.9 seconds. The C55's SpeedShift five-speed automatic, brakes and suspension are improved to match its prodigious horsepower. Price is pending at this time, but the C55 is intended to be rare, and its retail price is expected to be in mid-$50,000 range.
Every C-Class offers a number of options priced i
All C-Class cars have been freshened with new exterior styling cues for 2005, including wider set quad-ovoid headlights and revised taillights. The changes are subtle and most people won't notice. But everyone will quickly identify any C-Class as a Mercedes-Benz. The sedans share styling themes with the larger E-Class and S-Class cars, but retain a tight look all their own. Aerodynamically, they're among the best cars in the Mercedes-Benz family. The C-Class sedans boast a drag coefficient of 0.27, lowering wind noise and improving fuel efficiency.
For 2005, the sedans are trimmed with lower sills and more pronounced fender lips previously reserved for the sport sedans. The sport models, in turn, get still more aggressive lower cladding previously used only on the company's exotic AMG models and a sportier air dam. Sport sedans are further distinguished by a unique grille with three horizontal bars and darker, blue-tinted glass. All C-Class sedans get the traditional Mercedes three-pointed star as a standup hood ornament, a symbol that it's owner wants the best.
The sport coupes feature a bar-grille with the Mercedes badge embedded in the grille work rather than mounted above it. The coupes also have their own double-elliptical headlights, a swooping roofline and a shortened rear end with a functional spoiler that adds downforce on the rear tires. The coupe is seven inches shorter than the sedan, and all its body panels are different. These hatchback coupes are handsome and unique in the Mercedes line around the world. The rear has its critics, though the extra pane of glass underneath the spoiler enhances rearward vision. Their long doors make getting in and out of the coupes easy.
The C-Class sedan provides the foundation for an elegant wagon, and some consider the wagon the neatest of all C-Class models. Its roof sweeps teardrop style into the rear gate, creating a sleek profile that minimizes the stodginess inherent in a station wagon's utilitarian design. The look makes the wagon's practical benefits even easier to embrace.
The C55 AMG sedan is another beast altogether. Its body work from the windshield pillars forward was borrowed from Mercedes' larger CLK coupe in order to widen the front track and make room for a big V8 engine. The C55's rearview is dominated by a two pairs of chromed, oversize exhaust tips, and it's equipped with extra-wide 18-inch alloy wheels.
Mercedes focused its attention on improving the interior of the 2005 C-Class models. The dashboard, instruments and seats have been redesigned, and materials have been revised throughout.
The C-Class interiors continue to look like a Mercedes-Benz should, and for the most part, they feel that way, too. The firm, supportive seats are excellent: neither so hard that they numb the backside nor so soft that they leave occupants tired or aching. The seats in the standard luxury sedans are more traditional, perhaps richer in appearance, than those in the sport models. Adjustable lumbar support has been added for 2005, providing more comfort for the lower back. By comparison, the seats in the sport sedans look stark, but provide significantly more side bolstering for spirited driving.
Seats in the sedans and C320 coupe come standard with leather facings. The C230 coupe comes with cloth seats with manual fore-aft adjusters. The C55 AMG has its own special sport seats and premium leather upholstery.
In general, all C-Class models are trimmed with good-quality interior materials, but there are some exceptions, particularly in the coupes. Some of the hard plastics and textiles don't match Mercedes' best. Apparently the company had to account for lower prices somewhere. The sport coupes and sport sedans feature aluminum trim throughout the cabin, though the coupes have a lot more ordinary black plastic. The standard sedans and wagon feature wood trim.
The 2005 C-Class models benefit from a new instrument cluster with four gauges, replacing the three-gauge instrument cluster in previous models. A chromed-ringed tach and speedometer of identical size sit front and center. To the left and right of these are smaller fuel and temperature gauges. In the middle sits an LCD display with various system and trip functions. Fashioned in the mold of the E-Class, the new instrument cluster is shared among the coupe, sedan and wagon with minor variations. The cluster is deeply hooded and virtually eliminates glare on the dials. The backlit script is clear and easy to read.
We like the redesigned layout and style of the center stack, which looks more modern than before. Audio controls are now located in what we consider the optimal spot: above the climate control switches, which sit at the bottom of the stack. Both audio and climate knobs are large and easy to locate. The lack of some of the complicated systems found on more expensive Mercedes models simplifies things.
Overall, the C-Class switchgear is easy to use and understand, though there are a few exceptions. The stalk controls have a beefy feel with positive detents, but the stalk-mounted cruise control remains problematic. It takes time to master the system. And it's easy to engage the cruise control by mistake when trying to use the turn signals, a complaint we have with every modern Mercedes that comes to mind. On the positive side, buttons on the steering wheel spokes allow the driver to operate the audio and telephone systems and other functions without removing a hand from the wheel. The dash vents have been enlarged for 2005, improving airflow in the cabin, important on hot days.
Lighting inside the C-Class is effective, with good illumination for entry in the dark and excellent map lights for reading. The glovebox is a good size, unless you order the CD changer, in which case you lose most of it. You'll still have the center console and door pockets, but we'd like more places to stash things. Mercedes (like German automakers in general) still seems to be adjusting to the idea that people (at least Americans) tend to carry stuff in their cars. At least they've added a new pop-up cupholder in the center console.
The rear seats in the sedans and wagon offer generous space and comfort. They're installed theater style, and sit slightly higher than those in front, giving back-seat riders a better view forward without significantly compromisin
All of the Mercedes C-Class cars offer nice steering, excellent brakes and a good balance between ride and handling. However, C-Class buyers should consider whether a plush ride or sharper handling is preferred because the trade-off between comfort and response changes with the model. The coupes and sport sedans are more firmly sprung than the standard sedans and wagon. The latter are cast in the Mercedes tradition of a smooth ride and responsive steering with good transitional feel, making them utterly competent through the bends.
Engine response and smoothness also vary by model. The C320 sedan is smooth and quiet for casual driving, but when you step on it the engine growls to life. The 3.2-liter V6 serves up 215 horsepower, but more important is its torque. Torque is the force that propels you away stoplights and down freeway ramps, and the C320 has a healthy supply for a car its size. With 221 pound-feet of torque available from 3000 to 4600 rpm, there's more than enough grunt when you need it, and it's served up with minimal vibration and no ruckus inside the car. The 3.2-liter V6 is our first choice for the C-Class for its power and overall smoothness. Both the C320s and C240s are flex-fuel vehicles, meaning they are capable of running on E85 ethanol, a popular fuel in the Corn Belt.
The C240 sedan is priced more attractively than the C320 and for that reason it's a big seller. But the 2.6-liter V6 is the weakest engine in the C-Class line, producing just 168 horsepower, and it feels short on power. The C320 is a much more satisfying car.
We prefer the 1.8-liter four-cylinder found in the C230 sport sedan and coupe over the 2.6-liter V6 found in the C240 sedan and wagon. Specifications for the 1.8-liter (189 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque) surpass those for the 2.6-liter because the four-cylinder engine is supercharged, and its performance is impressive. Mercedes 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 C230 sport sedan should offer similar performance because it weighs the same as the C230 coupe.) Better still, the engine is very responsive to throttle commands. It torques up better than just about any four cylinder on the market, and its powerband is nicely suited to a small sporting car. But beware. The supercharged four-cylinder in the C230s is the roughest engine in the C-Class line, producing more vibration than the small V6 both at idle and at higher revs. The V6 is much smoother. The supercharger itself makes pleasant mechanical sounds, but one driver's mechanical music is another's noise. And we can't recommend the C230 models with the automatic transmission, which zaps the four-cylinder's zest, leaving only the coarser qualities.
The automatic works very well in the C320 models, however. It suits the wide power band and extra torque of the bigger V6. The C320's automatic shifts crisply, adding to the sporty driving experience. It comes with a manual-shift feature, but there's no real need to use it because the five-speed automatic is adaptive: Drive it gently, and it will shift up sooner, rewarding you with smooth acceleration and good gas mileage (20/26 mpg EPA City/Highway). If you're constantly on the throttle, the transmission learns that you like to drive quickly and will hold itself in each gear for more sprightly acceleration. Still, moving the Touch Shift transmission lever into the manual mode allows the driver to manually shift down or up one gear with each click. Hold the lever to the 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 s
The C-Class delivers Mercedes engineering and design for the price of mass-market, up-level mid-size sedans.
The C230 coupe offers a good balance of utility, visual impact and advanced safety technology at an attractive price. The C240 wagon drives like a sedan and provides 63 cubic feet of cargo space. The C320 sedan is smooth, powerful and comfortable, and arguably represents the best of the line.
Of course, when you move to the more powerful, more substantially equipped C320s, you're moving away from mass-market sedan pricing. At this level, you pay at least a small price premium for the three-pointed Mercedes star, compared to comparably equipped "entry luxury'' competitors, such as the Lexus ES 330. Nonetheless, the strengths of the Mercedes brand get no more accessible than the C-Class.