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Review: Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor

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SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

By Annabelle Frankl

Having no idea of what to expect from a ‘cheap’ Merc, I was most anxious to get behind the wheel of the C230, Mercedes’ attempt to appeal to a younger, less monetarily flush market, yet a market that still demands style, sophistication and performance. Indeed, that was my strongest first-impression – the price tag may be under $26,000, but you’re definitely behind the wheel of a driving machine, one that will match your expectations of what driving a Mercedes is all about. The reduced price may mean that you don’t get all the luxurious appointments and gadgets of the C230’s older siblings, but it definitely does not affect your ability to go hell-for-leather, both safely and precisely.

Equipped with a 2,295 cc inter-cooled, supercharged DOHC 16V inline 4, with integrated sequential multipoint fuel injection, and variable intake-valve timing, the C230 produces 192 hp (at 5,500rpm) and 200 lb-ft of torque (from 2,500-4,800 rpm). Basically, it’s damn quick off the mark (0-60 in 7.2 seconds). The fully-synchronized, 6-speed manual transmission is extremely smooth, the clutch requiring just the right amount of depression, and never a lack of extra power, even at low revs.

The main feeling one gets from driving this car is one of safety. Airbags abound (dual front, side and curtain) to ensure maximum protection in a collision, along with safety features such as ABS, brake assist, plus Electronic Stability Program and Automatic Slip control. With this many factors working in the driver’s favor to ensure a smooth ride, even the most lackadaisical of drivers will be hard pressed to get into trouble.

The chassis is comprised of independent 3-link coil springs over gas-pressurized shocks, antidive geometry and stablizer bar at front; independent 5-arm multi-link with geometry for anti-lift, anti-squat and alignment control, and stabilizer bar, plus separate gas-pressurized shocks and coil springs at rear. The ride is very MB-like, giving a dampened feel over any holes/bumps and a reassuring weightiness to the vehicle. The sport suspension, coupled with all-season performance tires also help to ensure a firm, responsive, grip-y drive.

The C230 has a unique look, particularly when equipped with the huge, sliding roof. The rear passengers benefit from a glass roof, which minimizes the claustrophobic feeling in the back. With rear headroom of 36.3 inches, and legroom of 33 inches, best keep your taller friends in the front, but the easy access/exit system at least ensures elegant entry for rear passengers. The cabin is nicely appointed, although this was my least-favorite aspect of the vehicle. As said, all your money goes into what’s under the hood and how the car handles. Everything else is extra. Even though this is a $25K car, don’t expect a CD player as standard. If you want it, MB has a package for it. But I do think there should be an alternative to the $775 6CD changer option. If a bog-standard, $12,000 sedan now comes equipped with an in-dash 1CD, come on MB, get with the program!

What you do get is a mini-computer that will probably tell you your horoscope if you’d like! All possible information requirements can be accessed by going through the menu, from MPG to any malfunctions detected. I, apparently, had 2 malfunctions, but only for about 5 minutes. Upon restarting the engine they had magically righted themselves. I assume it was just a glitch, but A & M were informed nonetheless – don’t want the next journo being stranded in Compton, waiting for a tow truck.

Sports front seats – 8-way manually moveable – were comfy, well cushioned and snug. All instrumentation is clear and orange-illuminated. Power, one up/down windows, one touch roof, electric mirrors, locks. The C230 comes equipped with a Smart Key, which basically is every thief’s worst nightmare. It uses an electronic code to unlock the steering column and engine and, once the key is removed, the engine computer is disabled. It can also offer remote opening/closing of windows and roof.

I think MB have done a great job of broadening their market to appeal to the younger consumer, yet a consumer who is still intent on owning a marquee brand that speaks of taste, refinement and performance. Although you’ll probably want to add a number of features, such as CD, possibly leather seats and so on, you’re still looking at a price tag under $30,000. SOLD…to the Brit journo who had a fine time tooling around town in her C230 Kompressor (and didn’t want to give it back!)