1997 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

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1997 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Available in 3 styles:  C36 4dr Sedan shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

18–23 city / 23.9–30.1 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 4
1997 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 5.0 1
$ 690-6,450
May 3, 1997
Mercedes-Benz has earned its kudos, consistently building solid, well-engineered automobiles.

Recently, though, the onslaught of high-end competitors has forced Mercedes to rise from its haunches and do some serious updating. The result has been a spectacular year for the German, with U.S. sales expected to exceed 100,000 in 1997 for the first time ever.

The C-class sedans are a perfect example of how Mercedes vaulted to the head of the pack once again. First appearing in the 1994 model year, the midsize cars replaced and eclipsed the venerable 190 series with increased interior space, better handling and sharper performance.

And in the under-$40,000 category, the C sedans pack a full load of value, baby Benzes with the panache of the big boys, including vaultlike security and impeccable road manners.

New for this year is the "Sport" designation, an option package that adds significantly to the appeal of the C-class and bigger E-class sedans, and the SL sports car. It's also a hot bargain: high-performance tires and wheels, firmer suspension and leather Recaro seats, all for a piddling $790 extra.

As a Sport, our C280 test car was tight and fast, maybe too stiff for derriers more accustomed to soft luxury-car suspensions. But for those who dig the quick steering and stable cornering of a German sports sedan, the C280 hits the spot.

The steering is quick and precise, with none of the numbing lightness found in many recent luxury models.

Also new is a five-speed automatic transmission, already on the bigger Benzes, with precise and responsive shifting that helps the midsize sedan stay on top of its game. But with the 2.8-liter engine putting out 194 horsepower, five automatic shifts seems kind of redundant, a lot of extra complexity without a lot of return.

The automatic is "driver-adaptive," which means that it actually adjusts its shifting to the habits of whoever's driving, another miracle of modern electronics. The traditional "gated" Mercedes shifter helps drivers move through the gears manually, if they want.

Still, it's too bad Mercedes sends none of its stick-shift cars to this side of the pond. Their marketeers say not enough U.S. drivers would buy them to make it worthwhile, but I think stick should be available, for image enhancement if nothing else.

The 194-horse six is the midrange C-series engine, with a four-cylinder available for the economy-minded and a highly tweaked, limited-edition 3.6-liter six by AMG that blasts the little sedan along with 276 horsepower. The engine in our tester was plenty, for all practical purposes, accelerating smartly and cruising effortlessly at high speed.

But for those who want that super-sedan experience, get the AMG version. Be forewarned that the price markup is significant. Like $52,000 worth of significance.

As in all Mercedes, the interior environment is pleasant and refined, very businesslike, with supportive leather seating, a good-looking dash t hat functions fairly well (though some of the switches are hard to differentiate while driving) and a terrific stereo system, another nod to U.S. tastes and desires.

One design problem in this and other Benzes is the cruise-control stalk on the upper left of the steering column that's far too easy to mix up with the turn-signal stalk.

Which brings us to another fine piece of Mercedes-Benz engineering: the cup holder. After resisting this affectation for many years (Germanic logic dictates that cars are for driving, not dining), Mercedes had installed a single, retractable cup holder that is simply elegant in its execution. Too bad there's only one for both front-seat passengers to fight over.

The C-series styling is simple and clean, easily identified as a Mercedes from any angle with well-balanced proportions and a handsome profile. The front aspect is kind of staid, however, and would have looked better with the new, wide-eyed look of the bigger E-series.

The hea dlig hts are a new superbright design. And to avoid having anyone drive off in this thing, the remote locking/alarm system works light rays rather than radio signals to keep thieves from breaking the code.

There's a sensor that detects whether a passenger weighing more than 26 pounds is in the front seat, preventing the air bag from going off if no one, or someone little, is sitting there.

The competition in this range is fierce, with some really good-drivingsedans, such as the Volvo 850 turbo, BMW 5-series, Lexus ES300, Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Park Avenue Ultra and the newly arrived Cadillac Catera, ready to grab the ball.

But the Benz is hard to beat, offering the qualities that make Mercedes the most highly regarded maker of high-end automobiles. But in a smaller, sportier, mid-price package.

1997 Mercedes-Benz C280

Vehicle type: Four-passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel-drive. Base price: $35,400. Price as tested: $39,950. Engine: 2.8-liter inline six, 194 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, 199 pound-feet of torque at 3,750 rpm. Transmission: Five-speed automatic. Curb weight: 3,360 pounds. Length: 177.4 inches. Wheelbase: 105.9 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags with passenger-seat sensor, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. Highs: High value. Excellent driveability. Nice interior. Lows: No available stick shift. Poor cruise-control placement. Staid front styling.

    Expert Reviews 2 of 4

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