The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2001 Mercedes C-class Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

by Ted Laturnus

According to a recent study released by the Canadian Automobile Association, the cost of owning and maintaining a new car in Canada is, on average, $8060 per year. That’s a lot of scratch, and one of the things they recommend buyers consider to soften the blow is to “buy less vehicle and buy less often.” If this strategy sounds good, then Mercedes has just the model for you. Their new 2001 C-class, while being “less car” than some of their upscale models, is still more car than just about anything else out there.

The new C-class, which can trace its lineage back to the 190 sedan introduced in the early 1980s, represents almost 20 years of refining the company’s entry level offering and will be offered in Canada in two versions: the base C240 and upscale C320. Mercedes Canada hasn’t officially released their pricing structure yet, but off the record tell us that the new C240 will have a base price “very close” to the existing C230 Kompressor, which starts at $38,450. All things considered, that’s a bargain.

For the 2001 model year, Mercedes has given the C-class a dose of panache by styling it after the formidable S-class, which is arguably the most elegantly styled full-size sedan on the market. It’s also bigger than its predecessor, with more front seat legroom and elbow room and a bigger trunk. Entry-level it may be, but Mercedes’ least expensive model exudes sophistication and presence.

Changes to the drivetrain include replacing the tried and true four cylinder powerplant with a new 2.6 litre V6 engine and adding a six-speed manual transmission. At the end of the 2000 model year, in other words, there will be no more four cylinder Mercedes sedans on the market, which may or may not be good news; the current C230 Kompressor, though a little on the stroppy side, still pumps out 185 horsepower, which is more than the 170 ponies delivered by the new V6. When we test-drove the new C-class at the world press launch in Frankfurt, Germany, it was almost unanimously decided among the assembled writers that the V6 works well with the manual transmission, but is a little leisurely when mated to the five-speed Touch-Shift autobox. Mercedes is claiming a 0 to 100 km/h time of 9.2 seconds for the C240 equipped with the manual, and 9.5 for the autobox, which, considering some of the opposition (BMW 323i, Audi A4 2.8, Volvo S70), isn’t going to set the world on fire. As well, in real world driving conditions, the engine must be prodded almost continuously to keep up with traffic… least in Germany. The upscale C320, on the other hand, will zip you to freeway speed in well under eight seconds, thanks to a 218-hp 3.2 litre V6. This model will not be offered with the manual transmission, by the way.

Needless to say, both models offer exceptional handling and braking, thanks to gas-filled shocks, anti-dive suspension geometry and four-wheel discs brakes with ABS. Mercedes will also offer skid control and ride stability control systems.

Interestingly, while were in Frankfurt, we also got the chance to drive the diesel version of this car; the C270 CDI. Equipped with a 2.7 litre five-cylinder oil burner and the six-speed gearbox, it develops the same horsepower as the gas-engined 240, but at a much lower rpm and with half again as much torque. Too bad this model won’t make it to North America, but Ernst Lieb, president of Mercedes Canada explains that it just won’t meet the new stringent emission standards. Pity. However, a station wagon version with Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system may be in the cards, as well as a convertible model sometime in the not-too-distant future.

As befits a Mercedes, the new C-class is loaded with stuff. Standard equipment includes a door-mounted button for the tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power seats, dual climate controls for passenger and driver, power windows, and an oil quality sensor that monitors the load being put on the oil and eliminates the need for a dipstick. Safety equipment includes the usual dual front airbags, plus side airbags for chest protection, side windows bags for head protection, and optional rear bags. Mercedes’ GPS system is also available as an option, and we did put it to good use in Germany. However, we managed to stymie it a couple of times after missing our exits on the autobahn, and could only use it in the first place after it was programmed for us by Mercedes technicians. I remain unimpressed by this particular feature.

Having said that, the overall flavour and feel of the C-class impressed the heck out of me. For a car that will have a starting price of around $40,000, it feels like a flat-out luxurymobile. It may not have the power or gadgetry of some of the top-end Mercs, but the new C-class - in particular the C240 - delivers all the engineering, comfort, prestige, and dependability you could ask for. This is a nice car with an amazingly competitive price tag.

SPECS - Seating: Five Drivetrain: 2.6 litre V6 & 3.2 litre V6 w. six-speed manual & five-speed automatic transmission Power: 170 hp at 5500 rpm and 218 hp at 5700 rpm Wheelbase: 2715 mm Brakes: Four wheel disc w. ABS Price: $40,000 (estimated)