2001 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

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2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Sports Coupe

This 2002 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2007.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

An under-$25,000 Mercedes that looks and drives like a costlier car.
Pros:
  • Affordable
  • Fairly fast
  • Comfortable
Cons:
  • Rather slow, numb steering
  • Rubbery shifter
  • Poor seatback adjustment controls

How many people thought they would see a Mercedes-Benz with an under-$25,000 list price again—let alone an alluring, sporty one?

Here's betting few, if any, did. After all, the lowest-priced Mercedes—the C-Class sedan—starts at $29,950. True, Mercedes once offered its small 190 sedan for $22,850. But that was back in 1984, when you could buy a Cadillac DeVille sedan for $17,625.

The price of the new $24,950 Mercedes C230 sports coupe took a lot of people by surprise. Mercedes predicts it "will be a first-time car purchase for many people, where before we wouldn't have been on their radar screen, let alone on their shopping lists."

Distinctive Body
The fun-to-drive 2002 model shares components with the C-Class sedan and has the same 106.9-inch wheelbase. While the C-Class sedan looks conservative, the coupe looks zoomy.

A downward-sloping hood and longer front overhang create a wedge-shaped profile (popular with 1970s exotic Italian sports cars) that imparts forward motion even when the C230 is parked.

No body panels are interchangeable between the C-Class sedan and coupe. One of few shared items are sideview mirrors with turn signal repeaters. Also, the C230 is 7.3 inches shorter overall, with almost all the curtailed length coming from the coupe's shorter rear overhang. Thus, little passenger room is sacrificed.

In fact, the rear-wheel-drive C230 easily seats four 6-footers. Front seats slide back to allow good access to the rear, although some passengers back there may complain that seatbacks cause them to recline too much. The roomy cargo area has a low, wide opening and can be greatly enlarged by flipping the rear seatbacks forward.

The C-Class sedan has a conventional trunk, but the C230 is a 2-door hatchback, which is an odd Mercedes body style to Americans; they've never had a Mercedes here without a conventional trunk.

Taking a Chance
Mercedes is taking a chance by offering the C230 as a hatchback because most Americans associate such a body style with the low-priced entry-level economy cars sold here years ago. Luxury hatchbacks just haven't been on the menu in America.

But it's a different auto world these days, with all the new makes and models offered. And Mercedes is hoping younger buyers will be very open to the practicality of a hatchback design, which is popular in Europe because it adds versatility to cars.

To add spice, Mercedes offers the C230 with a panorama sunroof option that uses two expansive glass panels that provide an almost uninterrupted view of the sky from the windshield to the rear seat. A large glass panel slides rearward over the roof when opened.

The solid C230 drives like a bigger Mercedes and has been cleverly designed. For instance, it has a high tail with an integrated rear spoiler that normally would block some rear vision. But a tinted polycarbonate panel below the spoiler and between the taillights allows extra vision to help in maneuvering and parking. The racy 1970s Lamborghini Espada and Maserati Khamsin had similar rear glass areas. Anything new under the sun?

Younger Buyers Targeted
Mercedes definitely is after younger buyers with the C230. And, come to think of it, versatility is a major reason why trucks are being bought by people of all ages and capturing nearly half the total vehicle market here. That being the case, the C230 may attract more older buyers than Mercedes expects.

Besides, everyone loves a bargain, which is precisely what the C230 appears to be. For instance, it has a fine amount of standard equipment, including dual-zone climate control with rear-seat outlets, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, supportive sports seats, an AM/FM/cassette, aluminum interior trim and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Safety features include side-curtain airbags that span front and rear passenger compartments, anti-skid stability control system, and anti-lock brakes with an assist feature that reduces braking distances during emergency stops.

However, you can quickly run up the price with seductive options such as $1,225 power front "memory" seats, $2,190 integrated digital telephone and CD changer with voice control, and a $2,700 premium package that contains the panorama sunroof feature with rain sensor, Bose sound system and leather upholstery.

Mercedes Sports Car Engine
Here's another reason why the C230 has bargain status: While the $29,950 C-Class sedan has a 168-horsepower engine, the C230 has the supercharged, 192-horsepower 4-cylinder from the sexy $38,900 Mercedes SLK roadster. Too bad the exhaust sounds bland.

The smooth engine lets the C230 reach an electronically limited 130-mph and whisks it to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds with the standard 6-speed manual transmission. But, while quiet, the engine isn't as refined as a BMW 3-Series 6-cylinder.

Manual vs. Automatic Transmission
The engine works best with the manual gearbox because the $1,300 five-speed automatic transmission emphasizes supercharger lag that is hardly felt with the manual. On the other hand, the manual shifter has a rubbery, uncertain feel and the clutch doesn't allow smooth takeoffs unless a driver is careful about coordinating throttle-clutch action.

Still, acceleration is virtually the same with either the manual or automatic, which has a manual shift feature.

Fairly Heavy
Estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway with the manual and 20 and 26 with the automatic. The coupe has low aerodynamic drag, which enhances fuel economy, but is fairly heavy at 3,307-3,401 pounds—and that lowers mpg figures.

Large outside door handles are easily gripped, but inside handles are too small. The quiet interior has a good number of large controls, but climate controls are rather small. The steering wheel is nicely sized, and gauges can be read at a glance. The glove compartment has a clever, two-tier design.

But front seatback adjustment controls are difficult to reach and operate. And the big inside rearview mirror hinders visibility, as do thick rear roof pillars.

The big, heavy hatch smoothly raises well out of the way on hydraulic struts and has an interior indentation so it can be pulled down without getting hands dirty on outside sheet metal.

Numb Steering
Steering is rather slow and has a numb feel. The ride is supple, but is almost too soft for such a sporty car. The brake pedal has a satisfyingly linear feel.

While handling is reassuring, the C230 has noticeable understeer—or front-end "plow"—when making sharp turns even at fairly low speeds with the standard 55-series tires and.16-inch wheels. Higher tire inflation may erase some understeer and eliminate accompanying tire squeal in that situation, because recommended front pressures seem too low at 28 psi. Optional 45-series tires on bigger 17-inch wheels sharpen handling.

If you're on a fairly limited budget and want a sporty, prestigious coupe, the Mercedes-Benz C230 may well be your car.

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BB05 - 8/27/2014 2:13:58 PM