There has been a slight change to Mercedes-Benz's entry-level C230 for 1999. The word "Kompressor" has been added to the name. That's German for "supercharger". Sounds expensive, right?
Wrong. The C-Class was designed to be "more car without more cost" when it debuted in 1994, and the 1999 C230 K continues that strategy. According to Mercedes-Benz, its base price of $31,200 is a 6.5 percent reduction from that of the 1998 C230 when adjusted for increased standard equipment. Besides the new engine, full-range ASR traction control, leather seating inserts, and an improved audio system are now standard.
But the major difference is under the hood. The 1999 C230 K gets the engine also used in the SLK. It is a slightly-modified version of the old C230 engine with a Roots supercharger and intercooler, so it fits easily and adds little extra weight. Maximum horsepower jumps by 37, from 148 to 185, and maximum torque is increased by 38 lb-ft, from 162 to 200. The result, particularly with the optional Sport Package, is a sportingly entertaining yet practical and efficient small sedan.
A C230 Kompressor with the Sport Package sits in my driveway as I write this. It's been an enjoyable week. It's one of the most comfortable small cars made, and the Sport Package adds worthwhile suspension and comfort upgrades. The supercharged engine packs a satisfying amount of power, with a frugal appetite for fuel.
APPEARANCE: The C230 Kompressor is a trim and fit-looking small car that is aging well, as befits its conservative design. The rectangular Mercedes-Benz grille is flanked by squarish headlights; at the rear, the large triangular taillights have been copied by several other manufacturers. A bit boxier than the newer E- and S-Class sedans, the C-Class bridges previous and current Mercedes offerings in style. External Sport Package items include 16-inch wheels with lower-profile tires and "carbon optic" trim on the B-pillar. The C230 is distinguished from the C280 only by the badging on the trunk lid.
COMFORT: Like many other European cars, the C 230 is small in size but has reasonable room for four people inside. Fit and finish, and materials used, are first-rate. Leather seating is now standard, with walnut trim on the doors, instrument panel, and center console. The Sport Package replaces the standard seats with perforated leather- upholstered sport seats, and has carbon-optic trim in place of the walnut. It also includes sporty black-on-white instruments for a high- performance ambiance. It helps make the C230 K Sport a great place to spent the day. The seats are firm at first, but refreshingly comfortable several hundred miles down the road. The leather- trimmed steering wheel has a near-perfect tilt and is adjustable for reach, adding to comfort and lessening fatigue. The instrument panel places instruments visibly and controls usefully. All windows go up and down with one touch of the switch. The new AM/FM/weather band/cassette stereo control module features a hidden cassette player. It's a bit tricky to use at first, but simple, and takes less space than the old unit. Sound quality is very good. The climate control system brings the interior to the desired temperature quickly. Rear passengers have a center armrest with cupholders and a first aid kit. The trunk is large for the size of the car and offers easy access.
SAFETY: Safety-cage chassis construction with front and rear crumple zones, dual front and door-mounted front side airbags, 4- wheel antilock disc brakes with the "Brake Assist" emergency stopping assistance system, full-range traction control, and the "SmartKey" electronic ignition key are just some of the standard safety features of the 1999 Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor.
ROADABILITY: The Sport Package, also available on the C280, includes "plus-one" larger (16 versus 15-inch) wheels with lower- profile sport tires, and stiffer springs and shock dampers. It gives a very firm ride, with little body roll and good turn-in characteristics. It works very well for spirited driving, but is compliant enough for long- distance comfort.
PERFORMANCE: The C230K now has equivalent performance to the mid-level C280, but the two cars have very different personalities. The 2.8-liter, 194-horsepower V6 in the C280 is smooth and quiet, very much a luxury car engine. The C230K's supercharged four- cylinder engine is, typically for a four, somewhat noisier and buzzier. This is not bad at all - the mechanical sounds are the sort to warm an enthusiast's heart. Variable intake valve timing and the supercharger give it great driveability with no sudden "turbo boost" surge of power, just plenty of strength at middle and higher engine speeds. The 5-speed automatic transmission has adaptive shift logic to enable it to tailor its shifting response to driving conditions. The shift gate give tactile feedback for those drivers who wish to shift for themselves.
CONCLUSIONS: The C230 Kompressor shows a combination of performance and value from Mercedes-Benz.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 31,200 Price As Tested $ 36,280 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 16-valve supercharged and intercooled 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.3 liters / 140 cu.in. Horsepower 185 @ 5300 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 200 @ 2500 through 4800 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic with adaptive shift logic Wheelbase / Length 105.9 in. / 177.4 in. Curb Weight 3250 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.6 Fuel Capacity 16.4 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium, 92 octane Tires P205/55 HR16 Continental Sport Contact Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock and BrakeAssist standard Suspension, front/rear double wishbone with progressive-rate coil springs / 5-arm multilink with progressive-rate coil springs Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 29 / 23 0 to 60 mph 8.1 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.9 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.32 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Bordeaux Red paint $ 600 Integrated CD changer $ 750 Bose premium sound system $ 570 Sport Package - includes: leather upholstery, front sport seats, interior and exterior sport trim, sport-tuned suspension, 7" x 16" alloy wheels, 205/55 VR16 performance tires, telescoping steering column, sport steering wheel $ 890 C2 package - includes: electrically-adjustable front passenger seat, split fold-down rear seat, glass sunroof $ 1,675 Destination charge $ 595