New Car/Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Mercedes-Benz C320 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

They did it again. Mercedes-Benz engineers have once again taken all the relevant design cues from the top-of-the-line S-Class sedan to create the new generation of the company's entry-level C-Class. This first happened with the 1994 C-Class. Faced with increasing competition from Japanese luxury manufacturers in the early 1990s, particularly in the entry-level luxury class, Mercedes-Benz met its competition with the then-new C-Class. That car utilized new technologies and construction techniques to provide "more car without more cost," setting the theme for subsequent Mercedes-Benz products. The 1994 to 2000 C-Class leveraged the style of the S-Class of its time, but was a very different sort of machine than that S-Class.

The current S-Class inherited the techniques and technologies born with the 1994 C-Class when it debuted in 2000. It built on the increasingly stylish look of the Mercedes-Benz coupes and sedans that debuted in the late 1990s. Gone was the Teutonically severe imperial limousine, replaced by a youthfully sporty shape. And that coupelike shape is very discernable in the lines of the 2001 C-Class.

This time, the C-Class inherits more than just looks from its big sibling, getting most of the S-Class's safety systems as well. The new C-Class's unibody structure is more rigid, with increased crush-zone structures. The suspension has been revised, and the four-wheel antilock disc brakes are larger. Most notably, two new engines are found under the hood. The previous-generation C's inline four- and six- cylinder engines have been replaced by two V6es. The C240 has a 168- horsepower, 2.6-liter engine; the C320 uses the 215-hp 3.2-liter V6 also found in the E-, CLK-, ML-, and SLK-Classes.

I've been driving a 2001 C320 for the past week. It's definitely a Mercedes-Benz. It's also definitely much more car than the old C280, with a more modern, U.S.-friendly design and increased power and refinement. There is nothing "entry level" about it. Mercedes-Benz has again raised the bar in the small luxury sedan class.

APPEARANCE: The old C-Class was boxily conservative. Conservative styling is history at Mercedes-Benz. The 2001 C-Class is very much the junior sibling to the S-Class, with similar figure-eight headlights and a low, wide implementation of the traditional Mercedes grille. The well-raked windshield, arched roofline, and short, high rear deck give it a coupe-like appearance, even more than the S-Class. Look closely at the rear-view mirrors. They have integrated auxiliary turn signals and very convenient puddle lights. The large triangular taillights were a previous-generation C-Class trademark, and were copied widely. That style was modified for the S-Class, and is slightly restyled again for the C. Although it's only an inch longer, the new C-Class looks much more substantial than the old version.

COMFORT: Even more than outside, the inside of the new C-Class resembles the S. And, like the S, it's very Americanized, with window lifts on the doors and auxiliary controls on the steering wheel. Elegantly-rounded style replaces the old C's austere severity, and makes the interior seem more spacious. It is larger inside, especially in rear- seat room. Seats are typical Mercedes-Benz - firmly supportive for long-distance comfort, with standard perforated leather upholstery. The front buckets are both power-adjustable, with three-position memory for the driver's seat. The rear bench is contoured for two people, and optionally can have a 60/40 split and ski passthrough. The trunk is large for the size of the car. Back up front, a tilt and telescope-adjustable steering wheel allows the perfect driving position. Most controls are intuitively-placed and operated. The optional CD changer is in the glovebox, where the passenger can operate it, and there is still useful glovebox space. The two-layer center console has a useful cooled lower compartment. Dual windshield wipers are an improvement on the old single wiper, offering faster clearing and better visibility.

SAFETY: Standard safety equipment includes a sturdy safety-cage chassis, dual-force front airbags, door-mounted side airbags and head- protection side curtain airbags, ESP stability control, Brake Assist, the BabySmart child seat recognition system, and the TeleAid emergency call system.

ROADABILITY: "Insulated, not isolated" has long been the Mercedes suspension philosophy, and that still applies. The C320 is more a luxury sedan than a sports sedan. It has a softer suspension calibration with more body motion than a sports sedan, but is composed in hard cornering. In standard form, it's a compliantly-comfortable car for touring long distances in comfort on any type of paved road. A sport suspension is available.

PERFORMANCE: Welcome to the new, fun Benz. While the C320's maximum 215 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque aren't quite up to the levels of the old AMG C36 and C43 hot rods, the new car is noticeably healthier than the old C280. The five-speed automatic transmission features adaptive logic that learns a driver's style and compensates for grade ascents by delaying shifting and descents by shifting to a lower gear. "Touch Shift" manual control allows the driver to over-ride the computer, and does improve acceleration and entertainment a bit. But with the torque peak plateau between 3000 and 4600 rpm, shifting is strictly optional.

CONCLUSIONS: Mercedes-Benz has improved its small C-Class sedans. Think of them as the C++ Class.

2001 Mercedes-Benz C320

Base Price              $ 36,950
Price As Tested         $ 43,995
Engine Type             single overhead cam 18-valve 90-degree V6
Engine Size             3.2 liters / 195 cu. in.
Horsepower              215 @ 5700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          221 @ 3000-4600 rpm
Transmission            5-speed electronically-controlled 
                          automatic with adaptive logic control
                          and "Touch Shift" manual shifting.
Wheelbase / Length      106.9 in. / 178.3 in.
Curb Weight             3,439 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   16.0
Fuel Capacity           18.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded premium, 92 octane
Tires                   P205/55 HR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear  independent twin lower-link strut / 
                          independent multilink
Drivetrain              front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      19 / 26 / 21
0 to 60 mph                6.9  sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)   0.27

Desert Silver paint                                       $   625
Java leather                                              $ 1,375
Integrated Timeport phone and integrated CD Changer       $ 1,795
Rain sensor, glass sunroof, electric rear window sunshade $ 1,340
Ski sack with trunk passthrough split folding rear seat   $   425
Headlamp washing system and heated front seats            $   800
Destination charge                                        $   645


Home | Buyers Guides For Every Auto Make | New Car Buyers Guide | Used Car Super Search | Total New Car Costs | 2016-1993 Car Reviews Truck Reviews
1996-2016 Automotive News | TACH-TV | Media Library | Discount Auto Parts

Copyright © 1996-2016 The Auto Channel. Contact Information, Credits, and Terms of Use. These following titles and media identification are Trademarks owned by The Auto Channel, LLC and have been in continuous use since 1987 : The Auto Channel, Auto Channel and TACH all have been in continuous use world wide since 1987, in Print, TV, Radio, Home Video, Newsletters, On-line, and other interactive media; all rights are reserved and infringement will be acted upon with force.

Privacy Statement | Size Does Matter | Media Kit | XML SITE MAP | Affiliates

Send your questions, comments, and suggestions to

Submit Company releases or Product News stories to
Place copy in body of email, NO attachments please.

To report errors and other problems with this page, please use this form.

Link to this page: