Mercedes gives its entry-level model a handful of new standard features for 2000, including free maintenance for the four-year/50,000-mile warranty period. Look for bigger news early in the 2000 calendar year, when Mercedes should unveil a successor to the current model.
The 2001 C-Class lineup is expected to include a station wagon as well as a sedan, matching the rival BMW 3 Series in that department. The current C-Class sedan debuted for the 1994 model year. Mercedes' CLK coupe and convertible are built from the same design but sport different styling.
As the oldest sedan in the Mercedes lineup, the rear-drive C-Class has the most upright, formal styling, with more straight edges than its brethren. At just 177 inches long, the C-Class also is the smallest Mercedes sedan, a foot shorter than the E-Class and midsize family cars such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The C-Class fits into the midsize category by virtue of its 106-inch wheelbase.
The biggest shortcoming of the C-Class is apparent the first time you sample the rear-seat accommodations. Rear legroom is skimpy, unless the front seats are moved well forward, and three people sitting in the back is a tight fit. The rear-drive layout plants a large driveshaft tunnel through the middle. Cargo space is a modest 12.9 cubic feet.
New standard features include a telescoping steering column and TeleAid, a cellular- and satellite-based system that summons help in emergencies and provides a direct link to Mercedes' roadside-assistance program.
Under the Hood
Three engine choices are available. The C230 Kompressor has a supercharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder with 185 horsepower, the same engine used in the SLK roadster. The C280 comes with a 194-horsepower, 2.8-liter V-6. The limited-production C43 packs a 4.3-liter V-8 with 302 horsepower.
All three come with the new Touch Shift five-speed automatic transmission that allows changing gears manually by moving the shift lever left or right.
Door-mounted side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard, but the C-Class sedans do not have the sideguard curtain airbags used in larger Mercedes sedans. The front airbags do not deploy in low-speed collisions if the front occupants are belted, and the passenger-side airbag does not deploy if the seat is empty.
The rear-drive C-Class sedans have standard anti-lock brakes, traction control and EST, an anti-skid system.
The C-Class offers the same quality and most of the features found on larger Mercedes sedans but not nearly the room. Even some small family cars have more interior space. The starting price of $31,750 is in the same range as the Lexus ES300 and comparably equipped BMW 3 Series sedans. Whether that is a good deal may depend on how much space you require.