Mercedes-Benz C-Class Review


2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class C300 Luxury Sedan

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, or the "Baby Benz" as it is affectionately known, has been a favorite of entry-level luxury/sport sedan buyers for years. More than just a small sedan with a few three-pointed stars thrown on it, the C-Class provides the core strengths of the brand, such as cutting-edge safety features, lively performance and a feeling of security. Fans of ultra-high performance have been thrilled by the AMG versions, which boast blistering performance and tenacious handling along with unique, yet tasteful styling accents.

Style plays into the equation of the small Benz's appeal as well, with the C-Class drawing inspiration from bigger Benzes. The crouching stance with its arcing belt line, the elliptical front lights and the triangular taillights are instantly recognizable throughout most of the Mercedes family. In the past, the cabin of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has been criticized for some lapses in fit and finish, though current models show this issue has been addressed.

Invariably, the C-Class is cross-shopped with its countryman rivals, the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. While the 3 Series is the most sporting of the trio and the A4 the more luxury-themed, the Benz offers a little of both personalities, along with more prestige for those concerned about such things.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class first debuted in 2001 and is currently available as a sedan only. There are essentially four trim levels: C230 Sport, C280 Luxury, C350 Sport and C350 Luxury. Enthusiasts will want to consider the C230 and C350 Sport sedans, both of which have firmly tuned suspensions with 17-inch wheels, manual transmissions and more aggressively bolstered sport seats. The chief difference between these two is what's under the hood -- the C230 Sport has a 2.5-liter V6 (201 horsepower) while the C350 Sport has a 3.5-liter V6 (268 hp).

The Luxury C-Class models, which come only with automatic gearboxes, include the C280 (3.0-liter V6, 228 hp) and C350 and come with coddling features such as softer suspension calibrations, leather upholstery, real wood trim and power seats. Options include HID headlights, a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system, satellite radio and a navigation system. Most C-Class models are rear-wheel drive, but Mercedes offers all-wheel-drive versions (called "4Matic") of the C280 Luxury and C350 Luxury.

In-house tuning firm AMG offers serious sport sedans for those with deep pockets and an equally deep-seated desire for high performance. The Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG features a 5.5-liter 362-hp V8 engine and a massaged five-speed automatic. This sedan can blast to 60 mph in fewer than five seconds. More than a one-trick pony, the C55 is as adept at unraveling a twisty road as it is burning up the highway. It can also make for a fine daily driver thanks to supportive seats and a measured ride quality.

Those considering the standard Mercedes-Benz C-Class probably wouldn't regret their purchase, as there should be more than enough performance and luxury to satisfy them. However, savvy shoppers should know that other automakers, particularly those from Japan, offer roomier, less costly alternatives that equal or better the C-Class in performance and features, if not status. The AMG version has just a few rivals, and although any entry in this rarefied class will provide stupendous performance, only the C55 does it with a healthy dose of Mercedes-Benz style.

Shoppers interested in a used C-Class from this generation should take note of a variety of changes Mercedes has made since the car's debut. The most significant changes occurred in 2006, at which point Mercedes introduced new engines and transmissions and discontinued some additional body styles. Those extra body styles were an affordable two-door hatchback and a four-door wagon. Mercedes has also altered the AMG model during this generation; previous to 2005, it was known as the C32 AMG and had a 3.2-liter supercharged V6 capable of 349 hp.

The previous Mercedes-Benz C-Class debuted in 1994 as a replacement for the small 190-Class sedan. With more room, a more luxurious cabin and styling that mimicked the larger E-Class, the first C-Class could be had with four-cylinder (C220) or six-cylinder (C280) power, with output ranging from 148 to 194 horsepower. There was no wagon offered at all during this generation's run (1994-2000). Safety has always been a priority with Mercedes, and as such the C-Class benefited from the early adoption of such technologies as stability control, emergency brake assist and side airbags. Performance of the base C rose through the years, as the 2.2-liter four gave way to a 2.3-liter, which was then replaced by a 2.3-liter supercharged unit.

The hot-rod AMG versions started in 1995 with the C36 that featured a 268-hp inline six. Serious firepower arrived in 1998 with the debut of the C43, whose 4.3-liter V8 pumped out 302 horsepower. Diehard enthusiasts should know that only automatic transmissions came with the AMGs, though this hardly hurt the performance of these fast little sedans.

Either way, used-car shoppers should know that the Mercedes C-Class historically scores high in crash tests, and ownership satisfaction is generally quite high, with consumers praising handling, ride and reliability. However, maintenance is typically costly.


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