A C320 sport wagon has joined the C-Class lineup, and a new C32 AMG sedan equipped with a 349-horsepower V-8 engine and AMGs SpeedShift transmission arrives later in the 2002 season. Before the new model year got under way, a smaller C-Class Sports Coupe arrived as an early 2002 model. Otherwise, Mercedes-Benzs smallest sedan carries on with minimal changes for 2002.
The redesigned C-Class sedans of 2001 received two new engines, more youthful styling and more interior space. The C-Class sedan is a perennial rival to the BMW 3 Series, and it comes in two forms. The C240 has a 168-hp, 2.6-liter V-6 engine with a six-speed-manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic. A 215-hp, 3.2-liter V-6, offered only with the automatic gearbox, goes into the C320 sedan.
Wedge-shaped styling features a steep rake to the windshield and back window. A familiar Mercedes grille with a three-pointed star insignia on the hood sits up front. Headlights and turn signals are integrated into elliptical shapes.
At 178.3 inches long overall, the C-Class sedan is 2 inches longer than the comparable BMW 3 Series. The wheelbase is 106.9 inches long, and the sedan measures 68 inches wide.
Five passengers can luxuriate in a sizable wood-trimmed interior. Power front seats have ample rearward travel to accommodate tall people. Split, folding rear seatbacks are optional.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt/telescoping steering column, remote keyless entry and a cassette player. Occupants of the C320 get to enjoy leather upholstery and a Bose sound system. Steering-wheel controls can adjust the stereo, change dashboard information displays and place calls with the optional cellular phone. Trunk capacity is 12 cubic feet.
A Cockpit Management and Data (COMAND) option operates a satellite-based navigation system, the sound system and a telephone using voice commands, buttons on the steering wheel or controls arranged around a dashboard screen. Tele Aid emergency communication service is standard. Using its own cellular system, Tele Aid can summon emergency help (automatically if an airbag deploys), track a stolen vehicle or call Mercedes roadside assistance center.
Under the Hood
Two V-6 engines are available. The C240 uses a 168-hp 2.6-liter engine that teams with a standard six-speed-manual gearbox or optional five-speed driver-adaptive automatic transmission, which incorporates Touch Shift. The 215-hp 3.2-liter that powers the C320 comes only with the automatic transmission.
Dual-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags for the front seats and door-mounted rear side airbags are standard. Curtain-type airbags that deploy from above the side windows to protect the heads of occupants are optional. With Mercedes BabySmart technology, sensors in the front passenger seat disable the airbags if they detect a child-safety seat in position. All C-Class sedans have antilock brakes. Mercedes-Benzs Electronic Stability Program also is standard on the C240 and C320 models.
The C320 is a precise, fully capable and rewarding road machine, but it has a few irritating features. Rather than a full set of gauges, for instance, the driver must click through a sequence of electronic displays to get such information as coolant temperature. The tachometer is small, and controls leave something to be desired in terms of easy use.
Ride quality is firm but highly pleasing. The C-Class sedan can hit a nasty bump, but recovery is invariably close to instantaneous. The sedan is notably stable on the highway, and it requires minimal correction on straightaways. Steering is extra-precise, which provides response to driver inputs that could hardly be better in a family-size sedan. But the C320 doesnt feel quite as sure of itself on the road as some of its rivals.
Performance from the 3.2-liter engine is strong and eager. For passing and merging, the automatic transmission reacts quickly and almost seamlessly. Premium fuel is required.
Front occupants get plenty of space, though seats are a bit on the hard side. Despite multiple adjustments, theyre not necessarily the most comfortable for long drives.