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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - C180 Esprit sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Quality, longevity, comfort, relaxing nature
Room for improvement
1.8, 2.0, 2.2 and 2.3 litre four-cylinder engines not up to standard power-wise manual gearboxes stiff and unappealing costly maintenance

20 Jun 2003

MERCEDES-BENZ launched its smallest rear-drive sedan - the 190E - in December, 1984.

The 190E was the German company's response to the burgeoning popularity of BMW's 3 Series and the Audi 80/90 range.

In every respect the 190E was just like a normal Mercedes sedan - only smaller.

It was also pioneering, introducing multi-link rear suspension to production cars.

But the 190E's size meant rear legroom was very tight and the four-cylinder engine was no star performer.

Still, the baby Benz proved a resounding world-wide success, exposing previously untapped markets to the Mercedes marque.

In October, 1991, Mercedes wisely imported a down-spec 1.8- litre version called the 180E, priced just below the luxury car tax threshold.

In a time of economic gloom, the 180E sold up a storm, attracting first-time Benz buyers who preferred the three- pointed star badge to little luxuries - like a radio or electric windows.

They happily ignored the fact they were basically paying almost $50,000 for a bare-bones, Camry-sized car with a Corolla-sized engine.

In March, 1994, the bigger, roomier, better equipped but considerably more expensive C180 Classic and Elegance replaced the 180/190 series.

It was not until the base model C180 Esprit was launched eight months later that Mercedes-Benz ownership became an affordable proposition once again, even if prices quickly jumped back to beyond $60,000. All C180s became C200s in late-1996.

The C180 Esprit, with its 90kW, 1.8-litre, twin cam, 16- valve, four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission, has to haul a considerable 1350kg of solid Mercedes engineering.

Around town, the engine's languid response is exacerbated by a tiresomely long accelerator pedal travel that requires a firm shove to achieve decent acceleration in first gear.

The C180's disappointing performance is less obvious on the open road where a firm footprint and excellent aerodynamics allow for effortless high-speed cruising all day. Only big hills and overtaking manoeuvres require some careful planning.

So a gentle approach to city traffic is required. It is best to let those hard-charging cycling couriers whiz by.

But there is plenty to enjoy about the C180.

The double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension gives a superb ride that cossets its occupants from noise as well as bumps.

The sharp, direct steering provides enjoyable, secure handling and grippy roadholding. From the outset, drivers will realise the accomplished chassis can easily cope with much more power.

Then there are the massive levels of active and passive safety. The C-class is a Mercedes-Benz, a company obsessed with the welfare of its car's occupants.

The exterior and interior enjoy a standard of innate quality that goes well beyond a quick look at fit, finish and paint.

The firm seats offer a huge amount of comfort and support as the kilometres pile on, especially considering that, for a compact sedan, there is enough space inside for four adults.

The entry level Esprit cannot compete with most of its extravagantly equipped rivals but commendably includes anti- lock brakes, driver's side airbag, air-conditioning, central locking and a radio/cassette player.

The C-class also benefits from a big, useable boot that is a pleasure to behold, such is its quality fit and presentation.

With even early C180s at a young age by Benz standards, no inherent problems exist for this W202 series C-class, as long as regular servicing by experienced Mercedes mechanics has been carried out.

A thorough history is the key to years of trouble-free Mercedes motoring, although they are expensive to service and spare parts costs are high.

It is worth remembering a Mercedes-Benz is engineered to last for decades. A fastidiously maintained C180's odometer should see 400,000 kilometres-plus before a major engine overhaul is required.

This peerless Mercedes compact sedan makes a superb, high quality used car that will see you through for years.

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