2003 Mercedes-Benz C320 Sedan
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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.
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 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
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.
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 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
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.
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.