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New Car/Review

1997 Mercedes-Benz C230

by John Heilig

Mercedes

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            2.3-liter DOHC inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 155@5,500 rpm (est.)/160 lb-ft 
                   @ 4,000 rpm (est.)
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 29.6 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         105.9 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    177.4 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    56.1 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     67.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3,150 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     16.4 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  11.6  cu. ft.
TIRES:             195/65R15
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock, 
                   external temperature readout.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, power sunroof, 
                   ETS traction control, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with 
                   cassette and in-dash CD, anti-lock 
                   braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $34,560

Mercedes-Benz markets three classes of sedans in the United States; the "economy" C-Class, the mid-range E-Class and the luxury S-Class. The C-Class can be truly considered an economy car, at least for Mercedes-Benz. Our tester this week is the C230 with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. It carries a base price of just a little over $30,000 and a final price of $34,560.

While these are not true economy figures, for Mercedes-Benz they're decent numbers. For the mid-30s you can own a Mercedes-Benz sedan with all the cache that owning a Mercedes carries. Not only is the price decent, the car is truly economical. On the highway we averaged over 34 miles per gallon with the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. I thought this was an exceptional figure, as was the 24 mpg we achieved around town.

For the price of this car, you get a five-passenger sedan. But since the middle passenger in the rear would be cramped, it would be more appropriate to classify this car as a four and a half passenger sedan. Those four passengers ride in luxury with leather seats. The seats aren't overly soft, they are firm in a true Teutonic manner. It is possible to find a comfortable setting among the many controls. The driver's side has a power seat while the passenger side has a manual seat that can be cranked up or down depending on the passenger's preference for ride height.

Needless to say, there is very good legroom front and rear.

The C-Class has all the safety amenities, including dual air bags in front, three-point shoulder belts and a deformable front structure. Mercedes has always paid good attention to passive safety and this car is no exception.

But being a Mercedes-Benz, it also has such goodies as a powered sun roof, wood trim around the console for a taste of luxury and an excellent automatic HVAC system. In addition, there is an AM/FM stereo sound system with cassette and CD player that had simple tuning and seek and scan functions that made it possible to locate even remote stations, which is often a problem in some areas.

Even though the external temperature readout gave us some interesting number son the first warm days of the summer, we were comfortable inside with the excellent HVAC system.

The C-Class used a 2.2-liter four as its base engine last year. That engine has been increased in size to 2.3 liters and power has also increased from 145 hp to about 155 hp. The engine drives the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic gearbox. While the engine is entirely adequate once you get up to speed, it has to work getting to speed. It probably isn't the best match for this vehicle. A six-cylinder engine with about 200 hp would be a lot better. We were able to pass cars when we had to. We had one long trip on two-lane roads and were able to pass slower traffic, but it often took planning to accomplish.

Handling was excellent. The ride quality was super. Even though we put on more than 1,000 miles during our road test, we never had the backaches that we often get with cars from other manufacturers. So while I had a minor complaint about the engine and would like to see something with more power, the comfort and luxury of the C230 held out through the kilomile and made it a pleasant week.