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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
April 7, 2004
Vehicle Overview Mercedes-Benz’s smallest, lowest-priced sedan earned some enhancements for 2003, including newly available 4Matic four-wheel drive that is an alternative to standard rear-wheel drive. A C320 sport wagon joined the C-Class lineup for the 2002 model year, and a C240 wagon followed later. A C32 AMG sedan that is equipped with a 349-horsepower V-6 engine and AMG’s SpeedShift transmission is also available.
Sport versions of the C-Class that target younger buyers joined the group during 2003. The C230 Kompressor (supercharged) four-cylinder sport sedan and the C320 sport sedan have a sport-tuned suspension and a standard six-speed close-ratio manual transmission. The 2004 4Matic sedans and wagons with heated seats are priced lower than last year’s models. (Skip to details on the: C-Class Sports Coupe)
Exterior Wedge-shaped styling features a steep rake to the windshield and back window. A familiar Mercedes-Benz grille with a three-pointed star insignia atop the sculpted hood sits up front. The headlights and turn signals are integrated into elliptical shapes, and triangular taillights are installed.
At 178.3 inches long overall, the C-Class sedan is 2 inches longer than the comparable BMW 3 Series. The high-performance C32 AMG rides on 17-inch tires, while regular C-Class sedans and wagons feature 16-inchers.
Interior Five people 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 sedan’s trunk capacity is 12.2 cubic feet, and wagons hold 25.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat. Tele Aid emergency communication service is standard.
Under the Hood A 168-hp, 2.6-liter V-6 engine in the C240 teams with a six-speed-manual gearbox or an optional five-speed driver-adaptive automatic transmission. A SpeedShift feature can determine the best possible gear. The 215-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 in the C320 mates only with the automatic transmission. A supercharged 3.2-liter V-6 in the C32 AMG produces 349 hp and teams with the automatic. A 189-hp supercharged four-cylinder engine goes into the C230 Kompressor model.
Safety Dual-stage front airbags and door-mounted side-impact airbags for the front and rear seats are standard. Curtain-type airbags deploy from above the side windows. With Mercedes-Benz’s BabySmart technology, sensors disable the airbags if they detect a child-safety seat. All C-Class sedans have antilock brakes and the automaker’s Electronic Stability Program.
Driving Impressions 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 aren’t 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 doesn’t feel quite as sure of itself on the road as some rivals.
Performance from the 3.2-liter engine is strong and eager. The automatic transmission reacts quickly and almost seamlessly for passing and merging. Front occupants get plenty of space.
Related Model: C-Class Sports Coupe A new three-spoke sport steering wheel, an enlarged chrome exhaust tip and body-colored door handles go into 2004 models of the C-Class Sports Coupe. Satellite radio systems can now be installed at the dealership.
No sheet metal is shared between the C-Class Sports Coupe and the sedan. At 171 inches long overall, the wedge-shaped two-door is 7.3 inches shorter than the sedan, but other dimensions are similar. A sport-tuned suspension helps deliver a more enthusiast-oriented experience.
The C230’s supercharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine develops 189 hp and 192 pounds-feet of torque. A 3.2-liter V-6 in the C320 produces 215 hp and 221 pounds-feet. A six-speed-manual transmission is standard, and a five-speed automatic is optional.
Except for a slight floating sensation on certain surfaces, the C230 Sports Coupe exhibits expert handling skills. It dives into tight curves with glee and behaves admirably even when the pavement gets rough. Even though the back end occasionally seems like it’s on the verge of breaking loose during rapid maneuvers, the Coupe remains quite well planted.
When equipped with an automatic transmission, the Coupe lacks the zip and personality that the well-matched six-speed manual provides. Acceleration is suitably swift, and the supercharger’s presence is hardly noticeable in ordinary driving. The manual gearbox shifts easily with short throws between gears, but it is slightly vague. Back to top
Expert Reviews 1 of 2
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