1994 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

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1994 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Available in 2 styles:  C220 4dr Sedan shown
Asking Price Range
$14–$8,062
Estimated MPG

20–22 city / 26–28 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 3

By 

Los Angeles Times

With one car and a single decision to banish arrant aloofness and damn-the-expense engineering, Mercedes-Benz is again at the velvet jugular of the world's luxury car makers.

Stuttgart wants to recapture Teutonists who transferred allegiances to BMW when Mercedes became a metaphor for pointless, extravagant prestige. It is bent on a better image and on revising the public concept of automotive value that was redefined four years ago by upstarts Lexus and Infiniti.

In its recovery, however, Mercedes might well tick off anyone who ever paid $80,000 for an upper-echelon panzerwagen--because at half the price, the 1994 C-Class is just about all the Mercedes anyone could want.

For a market-driven $29,900--only $150 more than the entry-level 190 it replaces--the mid-size C220sports sedan is not only admission to the Mercedes-Benz club, but full membership in high standing.

Granted, this primer doesn't have much power worth swaggering about. As with yesterday's 2.3-liter 190, we're still dealing with a four-cylinder engine working hard to propel 3,150 pounds of less than aerodynamic supremacy.

But the larger size, interior elegance and substantial heft so uniquely Mercedes is there. So is the obvious quality of interior linings and furnishings. Also the considerable value of such standard equipment as dual air bags, anti-lock disc brakes, cruise control, automatic air, power windows and locks, electric sunroof and automatic transmission.

In short, the C220 is smooth, quiet, confident without being snooty--a lot of dash for your deutsche mark.

Then there's the six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz C280.

This is the winner, a very adult Baby Benz, certainly a lesser model yet one that guarantees no owner need fear condescending doormen, clients or in-laws impressed by apparent wealth. It feels unmistakably rich, sturdy, well assembled, and is a definite candidate for commercials about cars that travel 500,000 miles with only two changes of spouse.

With a base price of $34,900, the C280 is $2,000 less than Infiniti's J30, but $4,000 pricier than archrival BMW's 325i and the Lexus ES300.

Yet a Mercedes is a Mercedes is a Mercedes.

Lexus and Infiniti may need another 90 years before catching Mercedes' subtleties: cachet, heritage and over-engineering. And a BMW--despite huge improvements in quality, performance and popularity--remains, deep down, the car one buys if one can't afford to cash out for a Mercedes.

The C280's six develops 194 horsepower, and the car accelerates 20% faster than the 148-horsepower C220. And that performance is genuinely understated with broad, comfortable margins of power should anyone decide to pour on the unleaded.

The engine is a short stroke version of the inline six bolted into Mercedes' recently revised E320.

And therein the potential for much irritation among E-Class buyers. E320 prices start at $42,5 00, and you're really getting only a leather interior and traction control for the additional $7,000.

*

Mercedes, of course, had no choice but to remount sensibly and very deliberately after tumbling from its high horse as the decade turned.

That's when the life of Mercedes was building everything to the lofty dictates of engineers and limitless budgets. Nobody listened to customers. High price and excess, in fact, became the very essence and lure of the cars.

Mercedes' peak of arrogance was the 1991 flagship S-Class cars. They were priced up to 25% more than the previous family. And those stickers ranged from $70,000 for a six-cylinder S320 sedan to $133,000 for a V-12 S600 dinosaur coupe.

By then, Lexus and Infiniti were really storming the market, seducing buyers galore with big, beautiful, V-8 powered luxury cars for $36,000. Despite a stronger yen that has forced price increases of 25% and higher, Lexus and Infiniti both outsell Merced s in the United States. So does BMW.

As Michael Jackson, executive vice president of Mercedes-Benz of North America, puts it: "The market dynamics changed totally and forever." Adds Al Weiss, general manager of marketing: "We had to change the perception that if you want a Mercedes-Benz, you have to spend $80,000." If the front-engine, rear-drive C-Class doesn't change that cognizance, it certainly will soften it some.

Here, amazingly, is a base model that will debase neither builder's reputation nor buyers' wisdom.

Unlike the least expensive of competing lines, this four-door doesn't reveal whatever corners were cut to reduce costs. It's also a bigger, better equipped, higher performing, more elegant, safer automobile with next year's styling at close to last year's prices.

There is nothing drastic about the familiar, blocky lines beyond a pair of triangular rear lights, reminiscent of Honda's Prelude, which are similar to a Halloween pumpkin. Distinction or detriment will be a judgment for individual eyeballs.

*

Internally, the feel is Mercedes impeccable. Seats are large without being soft, overstuffed or too cushy. The car is two inches taller, wider and longer, which translates to a skosh more room for rear-seat riders. The simulated leather, the wood, the attention to muffling outside noise, and dedication to fit of seams and movement of controls impart an elegance to driver and passengers.

It's the difference between Ritz-Carlton and Motel Hell, and a standard of quality virtually owned by Mercedes. BMW is more dashing, a little sparse. Lexus and Infiniti have a velvet brawniness. Mercedes is deliberate performance and solid as a safe.

Only ergonomically does Mercedes falter. A much-demanded cup-holder appears to be an afterthought; a small, square drawer in the center console doesn't hold coffee mugs or small Dixie cups and will have no practical purpose until Coca-Cola marketssquare cans.

Mercedes must also separate the windshield wiper function from the turn-signal stalk. It's too easy to signal left, then turn unannounced across traffic with the wiper flapping. Same to you, fella.

While the 24-valve, twin-cam C280 engine is a beauty, the automatic transmission that goes with it is, oddly, absent-minded. It jerks when kicked into downshift, hesitates when pulling away in first, and needs about one-Mississippi to respond if asked to accelerate hard from around 60 m.p.h.

But the suspension is set just right for flat cornering and nimble lane changes. The car looks small but feels large. And steering is a whisker on the heavy side of positive at parking lot speeds, but just right as the scenery starts to blur. And there's much blurred scenery ahead for Mercedes.

It's about all you get to see when playing catch-up.

1994 Mercedes-Benz C280

The Good Mercedes quality, solidness, authority for less than Infiniti. Large car with small-car nimbleness. Higher value for minuscule price increases. Base car that is no pretender.

The Bad Transmission tends to snap and lag. Same tedious wiper/signal stalk.

The Ugly Nein.

Cost Base: $34,900. As tested, $36,472. (Includes two air bags; automatic transmission; cruise control; automatic air; metallic paint; reclining rear headrests; power sunroof, windows and locks; Bose sound system.)

Engine 2.8-liter, 24-valve, inline six developing 194 horsepower.

Type Rear-drive, four-passenger, mid-size sports sedan.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., with automatic, as tested, 8.5 seconds. Top speed,track tested, electronically limited, 130 m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA average city and highway, 20 and 26 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,350 pounds.


    Expert Reviews 2 of 3

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