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New models - Mercedes-Benz - C-Class - C200K Sports Coupe

Mercedes hatches C-class coupe

Similar, but different: The C-class Sports Coupe bears an obvious family resemblance to its sedan sibling even though they share no body panels.

Mercedes-Benz's C-class lineup gains a sporting "coupe" variant pitched at younger buyers

Mercedes-Benz logo25 Jul 2001

MERCEDES-BENZ presented the C-class Sports Coupe - its first three-door model - to a large entourage of Australian motoring journalists yesterday, prior to rolling into local dealerships from August.

A key tool in Mercedes-Benz's offensive to reduce the average age of its customer base, the three-door C-class will initially be available only in C200 Kompressor guise.

It will be priced slightly lower than the equivalent sedan at $57,400 for the six-speed manual and $60,500 for the five-speed Tipshift automatic.

Sub-$50,000 buyers will have to wait until the first quarter of 2002, when an entry-level 2.0-litre C180 is likely to be added to the Sports Coupe line-up to compete more directly with BMW's soon-to-be-released 3 Series Compact range, which will include a $41,750 1.8-litre 316ti and the $46,900 2.0-litre 318ti.

The C230 Kompressor version is also under consideration and may appear here later next year, but senior DaimlerChrysler executives admitted that a V6-powered Sports Coupe won't surface until the model's mid-life facelift in four to five years, if at all.

It would be priced in excess of $70,000 and compete with BMW's six-cylinder 325ti - that's if the latter gets the green light for Australia.

On sale in Europe for almost six months and boasting an outstanding conquest sales rate in excess of 80 per cent, the Sports Coupe is based on and shares many components with the third-generation C-class sedan released in Australia last November.

Launched concurrently with the C-class Estate, the Sports Coupe "hatch" completes the new three-car C-class range, while an all-new W203-based CLK coupe is due towards the end of 2002.

Apart from the grille's large three-pointed star emblem, the Sports Coupe appears almost identical to the four-door C-class back to its S-class-mimicking wing mirrors/indicators, but actually shares no common body panels with the sedan.

The wheelbase and width remains unchanged, but a 20mm lower ride height, 120mm longer doors, longer front overhang and much shorter rear overhang give the 183mm shorter three-door a much lower, more aggressive stance.

The "coupe" also has a smaller frontal area than the sedan, but the stylishly high tail with integrated spoiler results in a far lower aerodynamic figure of 0.29Cd.

Underneath and inside lie much of the S-class technology borrowed by the C-class sedan.

Adaptive front airbags, door-mounted side airbags and window bags protect occupants, while the standard ABS/Brake Assist/Electronic Stability Program safety package is carried over from the sedan.

Mercedes-Benz says the C200K Sports Coupe offers around an extra $1000 worth of standard equipment than the C200K sedan, with 16-inch alloys and 225/45-section tyres, power windows and (heated) mirrors, remote central locking, automatic climate control, a fully adjustable multi-function steering wheel, fog lights, trip computer and cruise control included as standard fare.

The dedicated four-seater's rear seats fold down to provide a flat luggage area with a respectable 1100 litres of load space, but the innovative panoramic sunroof, which delivers a roof opening one-third larger than a traditional sunroof, remains a $3850 option.

The extensive optional extras list also echoes that of the sedan, and includes a Bose sound system, the COMAND radio/CD/sat-nav system, Thermotronic luxury climate control, leather trim, Parktronic, rain sensor, headlight washers and rear side airbags.

Mercedes-Benz's traditional three specification levels have been abandoned for the Sports Coupe, substituted by two equipment packages.

Priced at $4650, the Evolution pack includes 15mm lower sports suspension, larger 7.5x17-inch alloys with 225/45-section tyres, polished steel pedals, a chrome tailpipe, leather steering wheel and gear lever and body coloured door handles.

The $10,000 Evolution AMG pack provides no extra urge, but adds larger 8.5x17-inch alloys with 245/40-section tyres and more aggressive front and rear AMG bumpers.

Mercedes-Benz expects to sell 70,000 Sports Coupes worldwide per year - around one-fifth of total C-class sales, but Australia's 2001 allocation is a paltry 350 and there is already an order bank of around 220 cars.

With the addition of the base C180, the company expects to sell around 1500 Sports Coupes in 2002, which will further increase the C-class's status as Australia's favourite Mercedes. The compact sedan currently comprises some 35 per cent of Mercedes-Benz's passenger car sales.

"The C-class Sports Coupe launches the Mercedes-Benz brand into a totally new market which is young, dynamic and innovative," said Andrew Harlock, senior executive product planning and management Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.

"It represents low-priced entry to the Mercedes-Benz brand but doesn't compromise safety and reliability values for which the marque is famous."Mr Harlock said Mercedes-Benz's new "Sequentronic" six-speed sequential manual transmission, which debuted in the Sports Coupe at last year's Paris motor show, is still being considered for the Australian market, but would need extensive local evaluation before being offered.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:THERE'S no doubting the Sports Coupe's stylish new three-door exterior propels Mercedes-Benz into a younger, more sporting market than ever before, and after a testing day's drive program throughout northern NSW, it's clear the first three-door Mercedes has the dynamic credentials to back up its gorgeous looks.

Beginning life on the W203 sedan's new platform, the Sports Coupe employs the same new three-link MacPherson spring strut suspension and all-new rack-and-pinion steering.

So take it as read that the C-class "hatch" feels every bit as solid, durable and agile as its four-door sibling.

But firmer, shorter-travel suspension improves the sedan's agile handling even further, resulting in slightly sharper steering response and flatter cornering despite the extra grip from its wider 225/45-section 16-inch rubber.

And all of this without any discernible reduction in the C-class's outstanding ride quality.

Cloth seats aside, the sedan-based dash and liberal standard equipment list make it difficult to differentiate the Sports Coupe from its sedan sibling from within the more compact passenger cell, the absence of a folding, bonnet-mounted Benz badge being the most obvious change.

The supercharged 2.0-litre engine remains as gruff as it feels and sounds in the C200K sedan, but with peak power of 120kW - and 230Nm of torque available from just 2500rpm - it combines with Mercedes-Benz's brilliant five-speed semi-automatic transmission to propel the C200K Sports Coupe in a reasonably spirited fashion.

Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-100km/h acceleration figure of 9.3 seconds and, though the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre C180 version covers the same distance in a claimed 11 seconds, it doesn't feel that much slower in sedan guise and generally goes about its business in a more refined manner.

For the money you'll save, the entry-level engine remains our pick of the two, meaning that - when it arrives - the C180 Sports Coupe should represent sub-$50K Mercedes-Benz motoring with a modicum of performance and big dose of sporting attitude and style.

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