2005 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The new Mercedes-Benz entry level C-Class cars show that the world's oldest automaker is trying hard to be king of the hill again, although fairly recent marginal quality ratings and lots of competition won't make that an easy task.
The 2005 C-Class versions get a sportier and more luxurious feel, with revised styling and redone interiors. They're offered in enough trim levels to satisfy just about anyone in the market for a near-luxury four-seat European auto with a prestigious nameplate.
Lots of Choices
There's also a new limited-production C55 hot rod sedan from Mercedes' high-performance AMG division. It costs about $55,000 with a gas-guzzler tax. That's a lot for a C-Class Mercedes, but its 362-horsepower V8 lets it hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. It replaces the supercharged 349-horsepower V6 C32 AMG sedan and has distinct front styling and such items as stronger brakes.
No C-Class version is lazy. Even the base C230 Kompressor Sport Sedan and Sport Coupe do 0-60 mph in 7.2 to 7.5 seconds.
Lots of Safety
The more trim levels, the more choices for C-Class buyers. But it's almost reached the point where you can't tell the C-Class players without a scorecard.
Just the numerous engine choices can give pause. For example, the C230 Kompressor Sport Sedan and Sport Coupe have a 189-horsepower supercharged 4-cylinder engine. The C240s get a 168-horsepower V6 and come as Luxury sedans and wagons. The C320s have a 215-horsepower V6 and are offered as a Sport Coupe and Sport Sedan—and also as a Luxury sedan and wagon. Then there's the white-hot AMG V8.
Decent Fuel Economy
A 6-speed manual gearbox with shorter gear throws and modifications for quicker off-the-line acceleration are standard for the C230 Sport and C320 Sport versions. They also can be had with a 5-speed automatic transmission, which is standard on other C-Class trim levels.
Standard on C240 and C320 Luxury sedans as well as the C240 Luxury Wagon (and optional on Sport Sedans and Sport Coupes) is a manual shift feature for the automatic transmission. A driver can select forward speeds by tapping the gear lever to the right to upshift and to the left to downshift.
When not manually shifted, this electronic transmission adapts to changes in road grade and an individual's driving style in fully automatic mode.
The Sport versions come with sport-tuned suspensions and 17-inch wheels, while other versions have 16-inch wheels. All new C-Class versions feature increased track width and suspension enhancements that improve handling.
Available All-Wheel Drive
The 2005 Luxury sedans and wagons have newly styled wheels and body trim. Sport Sedans get AMG body trim, and a perforated grille is on Sport Coupes.
Revised Inside and Out
The Sport Sedan and Sport Coupe have aluminum trim throughout their interiors for a sportier look, while Luxury versions get richer wood trim with multi-contour front seats that have a new adjustable lumbar support for the driver.
The Sport Sedan has new 17-inch, 5-spoke wheels, while the Sport Coupe has staggered-width wheels for a more aggressive stance.
My test car had the responsive automatic transmission and a smooth engine that provided strong acceleration in town and on the open road. Its 215-horsepower V6 provides an estimated 19 mpg in the city and 26 on highways.
The quick steering felt good, and the supple suspension shrugged off bad bumps while providing a comfortable ride. There was plenty of stopping power, with good brake pedal feel.
Gauges could be read at a glance, although their metal rings seemed superfluous. Radio and climate controls were moderately large. The glove compartment was roomy, and the console's covered bin was pretty deep. But the plastic cupholders in the fold-down rear armrest were narrow and felt cheap.
The trunk was large and usefully shaped, with a low, fairly wide opening.
My test C320 is one of the best buys in the new C-Class line, which should be especially attractive to those in snow-belt areas with the all-wheel-drive system.