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Expert Reviews 1 of 4
By Jim Flammang
May 7, 2003
Vehicle Overview Mercedes-Benzs lowest-priced sedans get several enhancements for the 2003 model year, but full details have not yet been released. A C320 wagon joined the C-Class lineup for 2002. Later came a new high-performance C32 AMG sedan that is equipped with a supercharged 349-horsepower V-6 engine and AMGs SpeedShift transmission.
When they were redesigned for 2001, C-Class sedans gained two new engines, more youthful styling and more interior space. A perennial rival to the BMW 325 and 330 models, the regular C-Class sedan comes in C240 and C320 forms.
Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benzs lowest-priced wagons get a few modest enhancements for the 2003 model year. The C320 wagon joined the C-Class lineup for 2002, and the automaker has added the C240 wagon for 2003. The C240 wagon is equipped with a smaller engine. Redesigned for 2001, the C-Class group also includes sedans and a Sport Coupe.
Both wagons are available with either rear-wheel drive or Mercedes-Benzs 4Matic all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. Operating with a basic 35 front/65 rear torque split, the 4Matic system can direct power to a specific wheel in order to keep the wagon rolling. A six-speed-manual transmission is standard, and a Touch Shift five-speed automatic is offered as an option.
On all C-Class models, wedge-shaped styling features a steep rake to the windshield and back window. A familiar Mercedes grille with a three-pointed star insignia atop the sculpted hood sits up front. Headlights and turn signals are integrated into elliptical shapes, and triangular taillights are installed. Gently sloping C-pillars and aggressively slanted D-pillars extend the C240 and C320 wagons roofline to the liftgate, which has a discreetly integrated spoiler at its top.
At 178.3 inches long overall, the C-Class sedan is 2 inches longer than the comparable BMW 3 Series. The C32 AMG features 17-inch tires, and regular C-Class sedans feature 16-inchers. Built on a 106.9-inch wheelbase, the sport wagons basic dimensions are identical to those of the C-Class sedan, and they also feature standard even-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels.
In all C-Class models, five passengers may revel in a sizable wood-trimmed interior with leather and vinyl upholstery. Full leather is available. Powered front seats have ample rearward travel to accommodate tall occupants. Split, folding rear seatbacks are optional. The C-Class sedans trunk capacity is 12.2 cubic feet. In the wagons, cargo volume totals 25.2 cubic feet, and that space grows to 63.6 cubic feet when the split backseat is folded down. The luggage cover includes a netted partition, and the load floor conceals a portable collapsing storage basket.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control. The C320 sedan and wagon get power tilts, telescoping steering columns and Bose stereo systems. A Cockpit Management and Data (COMAND) option operates a navigation system, a sound system and a telephone using voice commands, steering-wheel buttons or controls around a dashboard screen. The Tele Aid emergency communication service is standard.
Under the Hood
A 168-hp 2.6-liter V-6 engine in the C240 sedan and wagon teams with a six-speed-manual gearbox or an optional five-speed driver-adaptive automatic transmission that incorporates Touch Shift. A 215-hp 3.2-liter V-6 has the same transmissions choices in the C320 wagon but matches up with only the automatic transmission in the C320 sedan.
Dual-stage front airbags and door-mounted side-impact airbags for the front and rear seats are standard. Optional curtain-type airbags deploy from above the side windows. 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 and Mercedes-Benzs Electronic Stability Program.
The C320 is a precise, fully capable and rewarding road machine with a couple of irritating features. Rather than a full set of gauges, the driver must click through a sequence of electronic displays. The tachometer is small, and the controls arent the easiest to use.
Ride quality is firm but highly pleasing. If the sedan hits a nasty bump, recovery is nearly instantaneous. The C320 is notably stable on the highway, and it requires minimal correction on straightaways. Extra-precise steering provides response to driver inputs that could hardly be better in a family-size sedan; however, The C320 doesnt feel quite as sure of itself on the road as some rivals.
Performance from the 3.2-liter engine is strong and eager. For passing and merging, the automatic transmission reacts quickly and almost seamlessly. Front occupants get plenty of space.