The Mercedes C-Class sedans have been among our favorite cars since they replaced the old–and we mean old–Mercedes 190 sedan for the 1994 model year.

Roomy, comfortable and very good-looking, the C-Class was a winner in 4-cylinder version for the mileage minded or 6-cylinder version for those who craved a bit more power and performance.

Unfortunately, the C-Class has some warts, little irritants that have been with the car since Day 1 but have gone unnoticed largely because the C-Class was so much better than the 190 and had no competition in the entry-level luxury market.

Thanks to Cadillac and its new rear-wheel-drive Catera, the C-Class has a viable rival.

The annoyances with the C280 Sport sedan we drove were minor and we probably could learn to live with them if Catera weren’t there as an alternative.

The C280, for example, comes with optional ASR, or automatic slip control. The system is supposed to keep you on an even keel when the roads get slippery. Two problems: The button in the dash marked ASR is confusing as to whether it turns ASR on or off, and there still was some slippage.

A light in the dash is supposed to go on and stay on when the system is off. In the test car the light blinked when the system was on and when it was off.

When the roads are slippery, and when we tested the car they were covered with snow, you don’t want to have to look at the button in the dash and wonder whether you should push it or leave it alone. And you don’t want to have to skid to determine whether the blinking light in the dash is a welcome or a warning.

And we have to report that when the roads were wet, slippery and snow-packed, we still had to tiptoe because the C280 didn’t have as solid footing as we would have expected from ASR–on or off.

Then there’s the little cruise-control stalk alongside the turn indicator stalk. Actually, the cruise-control stalk isn’t that little, as we found when patting the stalk to signal the intent to change lanes and found we had just re-engaged cruise control. Innocent enough nuisance except when the roads were snowy and all we wanted to do was move out from behind the car slowing to a crawl to exit the tollway and not appear to be racing him to the turnoff.

Getting the defroster control to work was another adventure. Strike “defrost” and the fan would go to “high” but you couldn’t feel any air come out. We couldn’t self-adjust the defroster, so we cracked the windows.

On the plus side, once the roads were dry, the sports suspension on the C280 Sport model we tested made the sedan a bit more agile than the regular C280. You might feel a bit more of the up-and-down movement over rough roads, but you get more sure-footed response when making lateral moves such as in turns, corners and the long, arcing swing onto or off the expressway.

The C280 starts at $35,400. Add $790 for the sport package with perform ance suspension, tires and wheels and leather upholstery.

Catera feels roomier, more comfortable, a little more solid under foot, and it costs roughly the same. Catera starts at $29,000 plus change, the prices rises to $35,000 when you add leather seats, the most common package.

Catera also is more nimble and more manageable. Finally, Cadillac has come up with a more sensibly sized car with a fairly potent 3-liter, 200-horsepower, 24-valve, V-6 with easy to see, understand and use controls. Cadillac reports that half of the initial buyers hadn’t owned a Cadillac before, a message that should alert Mercedes that it no longer is the only game in town and a few revisions are due for the C-Class sedans.

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