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C-class adds spice to Benz range

Plenty to gain: The C-class gains new engines, redesigned suspension, a stiffer bodyshell and rack and pinion steering.

The Benz C-class is aimed at the younger set

15 Nov 2000

THE new Mercedes-Benz C-class clearly signifies the luxury marque's intention to add a younger, more style-conscious set of buyers to its client list.

The newcomer derives many styling cues from its stately S-class sibling, but funky kidney-shaped headlights and compact dimensions give it a more sporty, youthful appeal.

Representing an investment of $1 billion and four years of development, the revamped C-class is claimed to be better than its predecessor in virtually every aspect.

It gains new engines, redesigned suspension, a stiffer bodyshell, rack and pinion steering (in lieu of recirculating ball) and a host of other innovations, some of which were pioneered in the S-class.

Built in South Africa, the new line-up comprises four models - C180, C200 Kompressor, C240 and C320.

The badging is somewhat confusing though as the C180 is now powered by a 2.0-litre engine - rather than a 1.8-litre unit, as was the case previously.

The C200 Kompressor is true to its nomenclature in that it is powered by a 2.0-litre supercharged engine, but the C240 now uses a 2.6-litre V6.

There are no surprises with the C320 which is powered by a 3.2-litre V6.

As was the case before, three spec levels are offered - Classic, Avantgarde and Elegance. The Elegance package costs $6000 on Classic models while the Avantgarde package costs $5500.

Mercedes-Benz quotes the $54,900 C180 Classic auto as the base model in the line-up, even though opting for the new six-speed manual gearbox knocks $3100 off the price.

The six-speed manual is also available in the C200 Kompressor, which costs $59,800 when so equipped. The auto variant costs $62,900.

Benz owners have traditionally preferred self-shifters and company officials suggest most C-class buyers will choose the five-speed TipShift auto.

The TipShift unit enables manual shift capability nudge the lever to the left for downchanges and to the right for upchanges.

Although cost of entry to the C-class range has risen by $2180, the price increase is more than offset by better mechanical specification and a swag of extra equipment.

Standard equipment across the range includes remote central locking, climate control air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, darkness activated headlights, multi-function steering wheel, trip computer and cruise control.

Standard safety features include dual-stage front airbags, side airbags in front and rear doors, side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist and ESP (Electronic Stability Program).

The C-class's standard equipment list surpasses that of the BMW 3 Series, although the latter enjoys a handy price advantage across the range.

The new C-class is 10mm longer than the old model at 4526mm, but perhaps more telling is the fact the wheelbase has grown 25mm to 2715mm, creating noticeably more rear seat legroom.

Ride and handling benefit from a new three-link front axle with MacPherson struts, redesigned multi-link rear end and a chassis 26 per cent stiffer than before.

The new suspension is complemented by rack and pinion steering, which offers sharper responses than the old recirculating ball set-up.

"The new C-class is a young, progressive car with dynamic, elegant design, "Mercedes-Benz Australia director of passenger cars Mr Roman Fischer said.

"The new C-class marks the next stage in Mercedes-Benz's product offensive." Mercedes-Benz Australia aims to sell 3750 examples of the C-class next year, which would account for a third of the company's projected passenger car sales for 2001.

C-class pricing C180 Classic manual $51,800 (old model $49,620) auto $54,900 (old model $52,220).

C200 Kompressor Classic manual $59,800 (old C200 manual $55,980) auto $62,900 (old C200 auto $58,580) C240 Classic auto $72,900 (old model $75,080) C320 Elegance auto $99,900 (old C280 Elegance $96,380) Engine specs C180 (2.0-litre four-cylinder): 95kW at 5300rpm, 185Nm at 3500rpm C200K (supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder): 120kW at 5300rpm and 230Nm at 2500-4800rpm C240 (2.6-litre V6): 125kW at 5500rpm and 240Nm at 4500rpm C320 (3.2-litre V6): 160kW at 5700rpm and 310Nm at 3000-4600rpm Drive impressions: THE gains made by the Mercedes-Benz C-class are immediately noticeable.

For starters, the newcomer looks a generation ahead of its predecessor, which was starting to show its age.

The new styling treatment works well the C-class retains the understated elegance that has been Mercedes-Benz hallmark, yet it gains a youthful and dynamic appeal lacking in some of its ancestors.

Its improved aesthetics are backed up by enhanced dynamics and better mechanical specification across the range.

The previously snail-like C180 is now a respectable performer thanks to the introduction of a 2.0-litre engine in the base model.

It is still no ball of fire but work it hard and it delivers adequate performance to keep up with the cut and thrust of traffic.

The C200 Kompressor offers altogether more lively performance, even though BMW's new 2.2-litre, six-cylinder 320i may have the edge in terms of refinement.

Benz's five-speed TipShift auto is one of the finest self-shifters on the market, slurring between ratios almost seamlessly.

In terms of chassis dynamics, the C-class is clearly ahead of its predecessor.

The new car points accurately - thanks to the new rack and pinion steering - and its handling is similarly precise and well controlled.

Ride quality is beyond reproach and overall refinement levels are exemplary.

Based on the brief drive program at the car's launch, it is hard to fault the newcomer. It is a genuine contender to topple the BMW 3 Series as the benchmark among compact luxury sedans.

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