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Expert Reviews 3 of 3
By Warren Brown
November 26, 1993
IT WAS A squeeze play. Heavy-duty truck moving in from the right, sports-car jockey closing from the left. A moment of disbelief -- these people couldn't be doing this, could they? But they were, as if I wasn't there. The choice was to try to outrun
them, to squeeze through the middle or to hit the brakes. Years ago, I would've smacked the accelerator. Man against man, machine against machine and all of that. Years ago, I was a fool. Now, getting older, I want to live longer. I stomped the brake
pedal of the 1994 Mercedes-Benz C280. There was a slight pedal vibration as the anti-lock system did its work, automatically pumping the brakes, halting the car without sacrificing critical traction, avoiding a potentially ruinous skid. The cowboys
in the truck and sports car sped forward, with the black sports job -- a Porsche 968 -- zooming in just ahead of the truck. It happened so fast, another mad bit of choreography on the New Jersey Turnpike. I regained speed and moved to the right lane, and
stayed there for a while, until I stopped for breakfast at a service plaza near the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Background: The Mercedes-Benz C280 probably could've outrun the truck and the Porsche. It has decent enough acceleration, 0 to 60 miles per
hour in about 8 seconds. It has an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph, and it felt as if it could hit that number with little effort. But the C280 is as much about common sense as it is about speed, which is why its anti-lock brakes worked so
well. Common sense, in fact, now rules the day at Mercedes-Benz, which appeared to have abandoned that virtue several years ago with the introductions of ever bigger cars with ever bigger engines and prices. The company's new C-class cars, the
six-cylinder 280 and four-cylinder 220, are designed to put an end to that silliness. The C cars replace the Mercedes-Benz 190 models but the Cs are far better than those original Baby Benz cars. Exterior design is more appealing on the new models,
with their flush headlamps and slightly flippant rear ends. There are scads more standard equipment items, including anti-lock brakes, dual air bags, electric sunroof, digital electronic climate control that's a heck of a lot easier to use than the old
system, cruise control, power windows and a central locking system that locks everything -- including the sunroof, closing it if it's left open. The inline, six-cylinder, 24-valve, 2.8-liter engine in the tested C280 is rated 194 horsepower at 5,500
rpm with a maximum torque of 199 foot-pounds at 3,750 rpm. The 2.2-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine in the C220 is rated 148 horsepower at 5,500 rpm with a maximum torque of 155 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm. Both cars are rear-drive, four-seat
sedans equipped with standard, four-speed automatic transmissions. Complaints: The sideview mirrors. They're angled too closely to the car's body, making part of
each mirror useless. Praise: An excellently crafted, well-presented, superbly engineered car (with the exception of the mirrors). Add to that sensible, competitive pricing, and you get a Mercedes-Benz that's going to blow the wheels off the more
expensive Infiniti J30t and give the excellent BMW 325i a hot run for the money. Head-turning quotient: Makes a statement, but not a fashion statement. It's the essence of presence, a kind of a royal thing. Ride, acceleration and handling: Tops
almost everything in the luxury mid-size class in all three categories. I really like the braking in this car. Mileage: Very decent. Easily 26 miles to the gallon (16.4-gallon, estimated 325-mile range on usable volume of required premium unleaded),
running mostly highway and driver only. Sound system: Finally! Somebody got enough common sense to dump the Becker sound system that too often proved an insult to Mercedes-Benz cars. Becker was improving, but not fast
enough. The new system is by Bose -- 200-watt, eight-speaker, AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with trunk-mounted compact disc changer. Yesss. Price: Base price on the six-cylinder C280 is $34,900. Dealer's invoice is $29,690. Price as tested is
$36,185, including $320 in options, a $490 luxury tax charge and a $475 destination fee. Purse-strings note: Let's assume that you're past the stage where you measure your worth in cylinders. Get the equally competent and enjoyable four-cylinder C220
and save $5,000.