2001 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

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2003 Mercedes-Benz C320 Sedan

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2007.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Top near-luxury sedan is athletic, but lacks sufficient sports sedan feel.
Pros:
  • Fast
  • Solid
  • Nice ride and handling
Cons:
  • No standard automatic transmission
  • Small outside mirrors
  • Manual trunk hinges

There are many versions of the entry Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but the sedan remains the most popular.

The first of the revamped, current-generation C-Class models debuted as a 2001 sedan with sleek, top-line Mercedes S-Class styling. It couldn't help but be a hit and replaced a solid, but boxy C-Class sedan.

There now are a variety of C-Class sedans, coupes and station wagons. Base prices range from $24,950 to $50,400, but all C-Class versions, except the C32 sedan, stop at $36,700; the $50,400 C32 is a 349-horsepower hot rod from Mercedes' elite AMG arm. It's an anomaly, designed to combat the hot rod BMW 3-Series "M" cars.

Near-Luxury Cars
The $37,000 mark isn't topped by other C-Class versions because they are "entry luxury" cars with Mercedes' E-Class versions stepping in as "full-luxury" autos.

There are four C-Class supercharged and non-supercharged engines ranging in horsepower from 189 to 349. The best engine (disregarding the C32's 349-horsepower V6) is the 3.2-liter, 215-horsepower V6. It's in both the standard C320 sedan and new $35,200 C320 Sports Sedan I tested.

Special Sports Sedan
The Sports Sedan has special items including a sport suspension with very wide 45-series tires on big 17-inch spoke alloy wheels and unique aerodynamic body add-ons such as lower body cladding.

The interior has especially supportive power front sport seats, leather seating inserts and textured aluminum trim instead of less sporty wood trim.

The C320 Sports Sedan has the same price as the regular C320 sedan because the aluminum trim costs less than the regular C320's wood trim.

New All-Wheel Drive
The new C-Class sedans and wagons can be had with an advanced $1,800 all-wheel-drive system. It's offered with an automatic transmission for all models except the entry C230 coupe and C32.

That system provides better traction, especially on slippery roads. However, even the rear-drive C-Class models have above-average roadability because they're equipped with standard items such as stability control and brake-assist systems.

My test car's firmer suspension and wider tires provided sharp handling, but it still felt more like a near-luxury sedan than a sporty near-luxury model such as a BMW 3-Series sedan.

Heavy Feel
Sports sedans generally feel light on their feet. The C320 Sports Sedan has such solid construction that it feels heavier than its 3,310-pound curb weight—and thus less sporty.

Happily, the sport suspension allows a smooth ride on bad roads with no jolts. The steering is a bit heavy, but precise, and the car zips through curves with no body lean or unsettling motions. The brake pedal could be firmer, but stopping distances are exceptionally short.

The C320 in regular and sports trim should come with a standard automatic transmission, instead of a 6-speed manual gearbox. The manual is OK as standard equipment for the $24,950 C230 Sports Coupe, but it's out of place in the C320 sedan because the optional $1,325 5-speed automatic transmission better suits the sedan's more luxurious nature. The manual should be optional.

Adaptive Automatic Transmission
The automatic can be shifted manually, but upshifts seamlessly and adapts itself to individual driving styles when in fully automatic mode. For example, a driver who does frequent highway merging will find that the transmission holds each gear longer for faster acceleration.

The C320 Sports Sedan hits 60 mph in only 7.1 seconds and is electronically limited to 130 mph. The smooth engine provides quick 65-75 mph passing times and loafs at 2600 rpm at 70 mph.

Decent Fuel Economy
Fuel economy is decent at an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The heavier all-wheel-drive system drops the figures to 19 mpg and 25 mpg.

There are large, nicely shaped exterior door handles to allow quick entry, but inside door handles should be larger.

Four people 6-feet tall can comfortably fit in the quiet, rich-looking interior, which has easily read gauges and nicely sized controls; however, the console has a pop-out cupholder with a gimmicky design and the outside rear view mirrors are too small.

The roomy trunk has a low opening, but its lid has manual hinges that are found in economy cars. The hood goes up smoothly on hydraulic struts, but the sophisticated engine is hidden by a giant plastic cover.

Safety Features
Mercedes has always been big on safety, and thus gives the C320 features such as side air bags in all doors and side curtain air bags for all outboard occupants.

The C320, especially in Sports Sedan form, provides plenty of comfort and sports sedan performance. It doesn't have the racy image of a BMW, but you can't have everything.

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BB04 - 9/16/2014 8:50:26 AM