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Mercedes Benz C240 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

by Brendan Hagin and Mikele Schappell-Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 29,950
     Price As Tested                                    $ 35,560
     Engine Type              SOHC 16-valve 2.6 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 158 cid/2597 cc
     Horsepower                                   168 @ 5500 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               177 @ 4500 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.9"/68.0"/178.3"
     Transmission                               Six-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     3375 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  18.3 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                           205/55R16 all-season
     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.)                              0.27


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/27/23         

     0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          15.5 seconds @ 99.5 mph
     Top-speed                  (Electronically limited) 130 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

BRENDAN - If I had to explain any new Mercedes Benz, I could sum it up in three words. Luxurious, stylish, and expensive. In the early 1980's, the entry-level Mercedes, the 190 sedan, hit our shores with two of these attributes, but it carried an affordable price tag. It sold like gangbusters early on, and opened the gates for many copycats to flood this competitive market niche. This year, Mercedes threw two new models into the fray, the C240 and C320 sedans. The 2001 C240 we drove handled like a dream and showed style, speed, and grace, all with a price tag that in today's market, doesn't seem all that extravagant.

MIKELE - I loved the design and luxury of this car, but its safety and technology systems really hit home with me. Mercedes engineers call one safety feature the Electronic Stability Program. If the car goes into a turn too fast and starts to skid, the system applies the one brake on the left or right side that can rectify the problem. It's linked to a traction control system that limits the amount of spinning any of the tires can do if the car is getting out of control on icy roads. Thankfully, I didn't use any of these things during our test drives. Other devices I don't plan to test are the two front-seat airbags, side-curtain air bags or the SRS units in the front doors. The C240 made my horrible daily commute almost bearable.

BRENDAN - The leather seats were supportive, and the optional Bose AudioPilot noise compensation system adjusted the sound automatically. I loaded the six-disc CD changer with all my favorite music, from punk and swing to funk and jazz. The interior was really plush, with lots of wood trim and soft charcoal plastic that doesn't look cheap. The dials and gauges were easy to read, and I was able to adapt quickly to the switches and knobs. I almost suffered from guilt when we decided to not take the two dogs inside, but Mercedes and dog hair just don't synchronize.

MIKELE - The dogs would have been the envy of the neighborhood canines, but you're right about the dog-hair factor. I liked the guitar-shaped xenon headlights that shine with blue-tinged brightness, but it will take some time to get used to. I'm a designer and not an engineer, but the beauty in the well-designed aerodynamics in the C240 is apparent. Even the car mirrors and wiper blades are shaped in a fashion that helps the car achieve a low drag factor of 0.27. The Mercedes press kit says this limits wind noise to the passenger cabin and I have to admit, road and wind noise were almost non-existent. Redesigned A-pillars and better underbody air flow reduced the amount of tossing around caused by the air blasts generated by those big semi tractor-trailer rigs blowing by in the opposite direction on the highway. In small cars like our sub-compact, this can be frightening.

BRENDAN - The V6 engine is a work of art that even your Corvette- loving dad would appreciate. It's all-aluminum and uses overhead cams to operate four valves per cylinder to put out 168 horsepower and 177 pound/feet of torque peak at 4800 rpm. The C240 accelerated quickly, but more low-end torque would have been nice, and it would have let me get on the freeways with more assurance. Two transmissions are offered: the six-speed manual like the one in our loaner is standard, but I think I'd like the five-speed automatic better. I read that it featured what Mercedes calls Touch Shift, which is a system that allows semi-manual gear selection by the driver. I felt a little out of place in the Benz, if only because I'm used to driving our little cheapie compact. I could get used to this car though, and its easy to become spoiled by cars in the Mercedes class. It would be nice to own something like this.

MIKELE - I'll start saving supermarket coupons, but there are other things that come before a fancy car. Our neighbors sure like us having these different luxury vehicles every week and it's almost like we're putting on a Saturday afternoon auto show for their benefit. Even going to the supermarket on the weekend draws a crowd.

BRENDAN - Just remember that we're only testing these luxury cars so we'd better not get too used to them.