What a car. Makes you forget the German automaker ever foisted on the public the 190 series sedan-a tiny, cramped, underpowered, rough-riding imitation of a luxury sedan that remained virtually unchanged for 10 years but felt like a century.A fashion may come back in style if you wait long enough, but with cars you get one chance to make the most of it. The 190 wore out its welcome about as quickly as the leisure suit. Unfortunately, it stayed around for nine more years-the 190, not the leisure suit. But all is forgiven now that the C-Class sedan has graced the 1994 model year. The C-Class is offered in two versions-the C280 and the C220. The difference as hinted at by the names is that the C280 is powered by a 2.8-liter, 194-horsepower, 24-valve, in-line 6-cylinder engine and the C220 by a 2.2-liter, 148-h.p., 16-valve, 4-cylinder. That's it. Same body, different soul. Identical twins that you can tell apart by the "280" on one deck lid, and "220" on the other. Step on the accelerator and you'll know in an instant which one you are nestled in. We tested the 1994 C220 sedan and found it offers all the goodies of the 280, the car we chose as import of the year in last year's "North American Car of the Year" competition judged by the automotive media. The C220 sports styling is very similar to the larger and $13,000 more expensive E-Class sedan. With the new sheet metal came an inch longer wheelbase that feels like a foot in improved ride and handling and two inches more length, two inches more height and one inch more width, all of which feels more like yards in terms of spaciousness. The suspension holds you in place without jostling, a considerable feat considering the leather seats are rather stiff-too much so, in fact. Dual air bags are standard, as are anti-lock brakes. Traction control is available, though it's part of a $1,605 package that includes headlamp washers and heated seats. That's unfortunate because heated seats implies that traction control is needed only in Snow Belt climates to ensure you move from the light without slipping and keep from skidding in turns and corners packed with the white stuff. Traction control does the same when motorists overdrive their cars on rain-soaked roads or ones partially covered by loose gravel. As we said, same body, different soul. Step on the pedal and the message is clear that the 220 is 46 horses shy of pulling the same load as quickly as the 280. Whereas the C280 is aimed at luxury sedan buyers concerned with stepping away from the light, merging into traffic and pulling out to pass to avoid congestion, the C220 is designed for the luxury sedan buyer concerned with enjoying the finery while others scoot from the light, down the ramp or into the passing lane ahead of it. The 2.8-liter, 6 feels almost V-8 like. The 2.2 feels, well, like a 4-cyl inder. The fuel economy rating is 22 miles per gallon city/28 m.p.g. highway or 2 m.p.g. better in city and highway driving than with the 2.8. The 220 is a luxury car that provides excellent mileage for those who can afford to stop at the pump but want to arrive at the weekend retreat on a single tank. Of course, you could stop at the parts counter of your favorite Mercedes dealership and pick up an "8" to substitute for a "2" on the deck lid to make others think you have the more powerful 280 version. That's a California trick, by the way. They do the same with SL roadster models, buying a "cheapo" SL320 for $78,300 and then purchasing a "50" or "60" to convert the SL320 into an $89,900 SL500 or a $120,100 SL600. Though the C280 is outselling the C220 nationally by about 2 to 1, Bill Knauz, a Lake Forest Mercedes-Benz dealer, said consumers here aren't using the number-switching ruse because the C220 is in good demand. "There are a lot o people to whom the difference in performance between the 220 and 280 doesn't mean all that much," said Knauz, who pointed out that the C220 attraction is a $29,900 base price versus $34,000 plus change for the 280 and roughly $5,000 to $6,000 more than that for a Japanese luxury car. Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering, 4-speed automatic transmission, cruise control, power locks, power windows with express down, power sunroof, power driver's seat, automatic climate control, AM/FM radio with cassette, cellular phone/compact disc player wiring; and leather-wrapped steering wheel/gearshift lever. Our test car added metallic paint for $565, split folding rear seats with ski pass through for $320 and power front passenger seat for $560. Add $475 for freight. A few features worth mentioning are the split-second rear window defroster, cassette holders in the lower dash, built-in knee bolster in the lower dash to keep you from submarining in a frontal impact though the suspension has built in anti-dive geometry, which keeps the car level in a panic stop, and shoulder belt height adjusters in the door pillars. When Mercedes softens the leather seats, we hope it also will enlarge the minuscule glove box under the passenger-side air bag and go back to dual windshield wipers instead of the single Freddie Krueger-like claw it now employs.
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