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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - C200K Sports Coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Sweet ride/handling balance, excellent transmission
Room for improvement
Gruff engine lacks character, no rear windscreen wiper

28 Mar 2002

IMAGE versus reality. The Mercedes-Benz C200K Sports Coupe is a classic example.

Take away the stylish three-door bodyshape and the dedicated four-seat layout and you're left with the mechanicals of Benz's excellent C-class sedan. Same engine, transmissions, brakes, suspension design, rear-drive layout and wheelbase.

What it comes down to is the Sports Coupe and sedan are non-identical twins - not that that's a bad or even rare thing in this modern automotive age of platform and parts sharing.

But in image terms they couldn't be much further apart. Though fresher than before, the C-class sedan is conservative, appealing to the traditional older Benz buyer base. The Sports Coupe is another attempt by the German marque to lower its average buyer age and increase its percentage of women buyers.

To get to that audience, Benz has styled a wedge-shaped three-door hatchback shape which carries some company styling cues yet actually shares no exterior body panels with the sedan.

The front overhang is longer, the rear-end truncated and high-waisted, the ride height lowered 20mm to give the car a more purposeful look. Our verdict? A combination of conservative evolution at the front and complete departure at the rear that doesn't quite marry.

We'd have to say though that it's much more effective than arch-rival BMW's efforts with the Compact.

The C200K we're testing here was launched onto the Australian market in August 2001. K stands for Kompressor, which means the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is supercharged for extra power and torque - in this case producing 120kW at 5300rpm and 230Nm of torque at 2500rpm.

Benz has pitched the C200K Sports Coupe under the equivalent sedan in pricing terms, yet also claims the three-door gets about $1000 more worth of equipment.

Standard gear includes front, side and window airbags, 16-inch alloys with 225/45-section tyres, power windows and (heated) mirrors, remote central locking, climate control air-conditioning, foglights, trip computer, cruise control and an in-dash single-CD audio system.

Of course, there's plenty of extras you can spend up on. Like a panoramic sunroof which provides a roof opening one-third larger than a traditional sunroof, an upgraded stereo system, upgraded air-con, leather interior trim, parking sensors, rain sensors, headlight washers and rear side airbags.

And then there's two add-on kits. The Evolution pack includes 15mm lower sports suspension, larger 17-inch wheels, polished steel pedals, a chrome tailpipe, leather steering wheel and gear lever, and body coloured door handles.

Then there's the big bucks AMG pack that at launch was priced at about $10,000! For that you get different 17-inch alloys and more aggressive front and rear bumpers. But there's no attention paid to the engine by the masters of Mercedes mumbo.

Which is a pity, because this car does struggle to live up to the sports nomenclature when it comes to straight-line performance.

Benz claims a 0-100km/h dash time of 9.3 seconds, which is nothing really exhilarating. The gruff engine, which has been seen in a variety of Benz products over the last few years, is certainly smoother and quieter in the coupe than in any other iteration we've sampled it, but it's still not a stand-out. There's no particular weak point, just that it's not as lively as engines the likes of BMW and Alfa Romeo can produce in opposition.

Which is a pity, because the Sports Coupe has an outstanding auto transmission, which boasts excellent shift quality, a high degree of adaptivity and the simple "Tipshift" semi-manual function which is slick and easy to use - just push left to change down and push right to go up.

No need to transfer across the box to a different gate or anything fussy like that. The only drawback is it's significantly more expensive than the six-speed manual transmission that is offered as a delete option.

The chassis balance is another highlight. Again, it's not scalpel-edged sports, even if the suspension has been firmed up from the standard sedan set-up. It's still very compliant and comfortable but is also fun to drive and, allied to the sharp new rack-and-pinion steering, you can have a lot of fun - without having to put up with a bottom-numbing ride.

Nor do you sacrifice a pleasant environment. The quelling of noise levels, be it from road, wind, suspension or engine, is simply outstanding.

It is noticeable that electronic aids such as ESP are helping the chassis out a fair bit as speeds rise. Switch it off and the coupe displays a generally benign nature with a tendency toward easily controllable throttle-on oversteer.

Speaking of the throttle, it's far from the heavy unresponsive block of days gone by, and the steering wheel is of an entirely useable size - unlike the giants Benz has inflicted on us previously. It's even got full reach and height adjustment, plus remote audio and trip computer functions.

Staying in the cabin, the days of Benz interiors feeling bare and old-fashioned have definitely been banished. Although it seems a bit dark - in the European tradition - and the seats are as firm as ever, there's a cosy personality and a real level of modern style.

There's a clam-shaped instrument pod with an enormous speedo, rectangular convex air-conditioning vents, attractive blue cloth inserts in the seats and doors, and a metallic surround for the centre dash in our test car. The only ergonomic downer is the radio controls, which continue to confound years after they first appeared in the S-class.

Of course, you've also got the inconvenience of two fewer doors to put up with, but once you negotiate your way into the rear you'll find adult-sized amounts of space for two passengers and, naturally, lap-sash seatbelts and headrests. The only drawback is that the high sill line means children have to be in booster seats to see out.

Fold the rear seats down and an excellent 1100 litres of load space opens up under that large rear hatch, its practicality aided by a predominantly flat space with not too many intrusions. Only the high lip looks a challenge for actually getting luggage over.

A neat touch is the plastic lower rear window in the hatch that aids visibility, but a downer is the lack of a rear windscreen wiper. Our time with car included some wet days and we can testify such an item is certainly needed as more and more muddy water clouded our rear view.

Quibbles like this aside, this is a solid, well engineered and enjoyable car to drive. It's not that sporting, really, and it's actually not a coupe either.

Like we said: image versus reality. In this case, reality ain't so bad.

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