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New Car/Review


by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 35,400
Price As Tested                                    $ 39,490
Engine Type                SOHC 3-valve 2.8 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 171 cid/2799 cc
Horsepower                                   194 @ 5800 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               195 @ 3000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.9"/67.7"/177.4"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3341 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  16.4 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      205/55R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            21/27/25         
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16 seconds @ 88.5 mph
Top speed                                           130 mph
     * Sequential fuel injection

With the Mercedes-Benz line, it seems that most press attention and enthusiasm is focussed on the M-Class sport/utility vehicle, the cute-as-a-button SLK sports car and the hot new CLK two-door.

Almost lost in the excitement is the C-Class line, Mercedes' most affordable, but equally capable small sedan. It's available as the four-cylinder C230, the V8-powered C43 AMG rocket, and our test car for the week, the C280.

OUTSIDE - For 1998, both the C230 and the C280 have a redesigned grille and front air dam, along with sculpted side sills, flared fender wells and new "smoked" taillight lenses. A small integrated deck lid spoiler is also new this year. Mercedes hasn't embraced the use of the E-Class round headlamps on C-Class sedans, instead relying on the time-tested rectangular lamps similar to those on the top-line S-Class. The Mercedes three-pointed logo is conspicuously mounted atop its hood. Our test car was equipped with what Mercedes calls its Sport Package, which includes such exterior appointments as larger 16-inch, six-spoke light alloy wheels and high-performance 205/55R16 tires.

INSIDE - The interior has been freshened as well. The door panels and armrests have different contours than before, and new carbon-fiber- type panels on the dash and center console stray from the traditional Mercedes burled wood norm. There is plenty of room for four full-sized adults, and five can be accommodated reasonably well. The front bucket seats in our test car were covered in optional leather upholstery, and are firm and very supportive, with lots of side and thigh bolstering. New instrument markings make them easier to see at night, and the power windows are now of the one-touch up-or-down variety. Its new "keyless" ignition key fob contains a radio frequency unit to lock and unlock the doors, but uses a separate infrared system to start the car. Standard C280 items include automatic climate control, 10-way power front seats, a remote locking system, power windows, door locks and mirrors, along with cruise control and auto-dimming mirrors.

ON THE ROAD - Under the C280's hood is a brand-new 2.8 liter V6 engine that produces 194 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Last year's inline six-cylinder engine gave the same amount of power, but did so with a narrower torque band at higher rpms. The new engine is smoother and quieter, and uses such technology as three valves and two spark plugs (which are good for 100,000 miles) per cylinder, and a two-stage intake manifold for more efficient combustion. Also, an internal balance shaft helps to smooth vibrations, and a computer-controlled oil monitoring system can extend oil changes up to 20,000 miles, depending on driving habits. Better acceleration is the most notable benefit of the new powerplant, as is the 100 pounds less weight and slightly better city fuel economy. The sole transmission available is a five-speed automatic, and we found it smooth and unobtrusive in its gear changes.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Though its main purpose is that of a comfortable, competent sedan, the C280 shows remarkable agility. The front suspension is a double wishbone design, and the rear suspension uses a five-arm multi-link setup. Both ends use coil springs, gas-pressurized shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar, as well as anti-dive and anti-lift geometry. The road feel is taut, and the chassis feels rigid, yet it soaks up most bumps and jolts without transferring them to the cabin. And with the Sport model's optional stiffer calibrations and wider tires, along with its communicative power steering system, twisting roads are handled with ease. Optionally available on C280 models is Mercedes' Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system that uses both brake and throttle intervention to help keep the car on course. Four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) are standard.

SAFETY - Along with ABS, dual dashboard and side-impact airbags are standard, as is technology to sense whether a baby seat is installed in the front passenger-side seat. ESC is optional.

OPTIONS - Glass sunroof: $1,110; Sport Package: $890; Mobile phone and CD changer: $1,495; Destination: $595.