New Car/Review

1997 MERCEDES BENZ C230

by Tom Hagin

Mercedes

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 30,450
Price As Tested                                    $ 32,735
Engine Type                        DOHC 2.3 Liter I4 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 140 cid/2295 cc
Horsepower                                   148 @ 5500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               162 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.9"/67.7"/177.4"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3224 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  16.4 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      195/65R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                N/A percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            23/30/26
0-60 MPH                                        9.2 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.3 seconds @ 82.5 mph
Top-speed                                           124 mph
     * Sequential fuel injection

Times have changed for Mercedes Benz. No longer can the company count on its stellar reputation for quality and customer service to guide it through the next generation. The realization that there is now viable near-luxury competition has proven painful, but healthy in the long run.

Its entry-level sedan, the C230, is good medicine for the Benz. It isn't over-engineered, nor does it answer questions its customers never asked. It's safe, solid, dependable transportation that just happens to wear the revered M-B logo on its hood.

OUTSIDE - Our C230 is only slightly larger than the 190 model it replaced in 1994, but big improvements were made in the amount of interior room. The cabin is tall with lots of glass and a sloping hood, which gives an excellent view ahead. However, the rear package shelf is tall enough to block some of the view rearward. The car offers clean styling, with body-color bumpers and outside mirrors, and a slightly darker shade applied to the side moldings. The three-pointed star is perched conspicuously on the hood, and the only brightwork is applied to the stately grille. A set of redesigned headlights give better night vision and reduce glare. Alloy wheels and all-season tires are standard equipment, while our test vehicle came with an optional glass sunroof.

INSIDE - Mercedes pays special attention to ergonomics by utilizing large, legible gauges behind the steering wheel, with nothing hidden from view. Rich-looking burl walnut wood accents the dash and door panels, but can sometimes reflect the sun and cause glare. Its front seats are firm, comfortable and supportive, and are 10-way powered for the driver, and 10-way manually adjustable for the front passenger. There's room enough for three across in the back seat, as there are seat belts for five, but the rear middle position can be uncomfortable. Standard features on C230 include automatic climate control with a dust filter, remote locking, cruise control, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, along with an eight-speaker AM/FM cassette stereo.

ON THE ROAD - The C230 features a 2.3 liter four cylinder engine under its hood, which is larger in displacement and more powerful than last year's 2.2 liter version of the same engine. It is a modern double overhead cam design and makes 148 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. It's been fitted with the latest technology, with an ignition system that uses a spark-producing coil at each cylinder, sequential fuel injection and Mercedes' new ME2.1 engine management system. All this technology becomes confusing, but in a nutshell, it adds up to decent fuel mileage (we averaged about 26 mpg), and equally decent acceleration runs. Power doesn't really begin to appear, however, until it revs to about 4000 rpm, then it spreads evenly to its redline. Gear changes are handled by an electronically adaptive five-speed automatic transmission, which is new for the entry-level Benz line, as is its final drive gear ratio, which gives it a quicker off-the-line feel than before.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The C-class sports an all-independent suspension system that features double wishbones (A-arms) up front, and a five-link design in back. Both ends use coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bars, and special anti-dive/anti-squat suspension geometry designed to reduce the negative effects of acceleration and braking. The car is well balanced and handles well, although it exhibits some side-to-side lean in heavy corners. It is predictable and seemingly oblivious to potholes or surface changes, thanks to extensive use of rubber mounts between the body and suspension components to isolate vibrations from the cabin. An available Electronic Traction System (ETS) uses the braking system to reduce the likelihood of wheelspin on slippery surfaces such as icy roadways. Braking duties are handled by four-wheel disc brakes and an anti-lock braking system (ABS), which turned in good stopping distances and directional control.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS and side-impact protection are standard. The Electronic Traction System is optional.

OPTIONS - Metallic paint and a sunroof added $1,690 to our tester.

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