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2003 Mercedes-Benz C320 Sports Coupe Review

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SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide



MODEL: Mercedes-Benz C320 Sports Coupe
ENGINE: 3.2-liter V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 215 hp @ 5,700 rpm/221 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 106.9 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 171.0 x 38.0 x 54.3 in.

Generally, the price of entry for being a Mercedes-Benz owner is pretty steep. You can spend as much as $121,000 for a Mercedes these days. Granted, you'll have one of the most luxurious and sophisticated sedans in the world, but that's still a lot of money.

On the other end of the spectrum is the C320 Sports Coupe, Mercedes-Benz's least expensive model. Starting at $27,300, the C320 Sports Coupe is within the reach of many more car buyers than the S600.

The C320 Coupe is also one of Mercedes's shortest four-seaters. It is more than seven inches shorter than a C-Class sedan, and rides a half inch lower. Both are built on a 106.9-inch wheelbase platform, so with the Coupe the wheels are closer to the corners of the car and there's less overhang front and rear. This makes for a good-handling car. Last year, Mercedes introduced the CLK coupes, with a host of improvements. These cars, too, have a larger initial price than the C320 Coupe. And while the CL320 Coupe doesn't have some of the neat new toys of the CLK, it's no slouch in the innovation department.

For example, one of the features my wife loved about the CLK was the way the seat belts "present" themselves to you on a stalk that pulls back once the seat belt is attached. It eliminates the clumsy wriggling around to first find the belt and then put it on.

The C320, on the other hand, has the belts attached to the front seats, so they are right there, both eliminating the need for an arm or twisting around.

The CLK coupes have front-end styling that reminiscent of the E-Class, while the C320 looks like a C-Class sedan from the front, which ain't exactly ugly.

Under the hood of our tester was a 3.2-liter V6 that pumped out 215 horsepower. It was connected to a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission that drove the rear wheels. This car had plenty of power for its weight (3,280 pounds), and at no time did I feel it was underpowered. In addition, the C320 is rated at 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway, which makes it one of the most economical Mercedes-Benz cars as well.

I said at the beginning that the base price for the C320 Sports Coupe was $27,300. The bottom line of $33,805 is achieved by adding a Brilliant Silver paint job ($655), charcoal leather seating ($1,440), the automatic transmission ($1,325), factory-installed CD changer ($400), a wheel package ($700), a value-added package that includes autodimming mirrors and a sunroof ($1,215) and destination and delivery ($720). There's a lot on that list that can be eliminated without detracting from either the performance or appearance of the car.

Mercedes also offers a supercharged 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine in this body. This engine delivers 189 horsepower, and the car is approximately $2,000 less expensive that the 320, but I'd go for the slightly larger engine myself, even at the expense of a couple of miles per gallon.

The neat thing about the C320 Sports Coupe, though, is the fact that it's a Mercedes-Benz. Two weeks before I drove this car I drove a much more expensive M-B coupe that offered more performance and luxury, to be sure, but not as much fun. In this car, you feel as if you're cheating a little bit, and that's always fun.

© 2003 The Auto Page Syndicate