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Mercedes-Benz C240 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL:  Mercedes-Benz C240 
ENGINE:  2.6-liter V6 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 168 hp @ 5,500 rpm/177 lbs-ft @ 4,500 rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed automatic with Touch Shift manual control 
WHEELBASE: 106.9 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 178.3 x 68.0 x 55.2 in. 
STICKER PRICE:  $31,895 

It's interesting that the new Mercedes-Benz C240 is the "entry level" Mercedes. It's the inexpensive Mercedes, the bottom of the line, the small car. It wears the same three-pointed star as the ultimate S500 big sedan that I feel is probably one of the best cars available today.

Okay, we aren't talking about a Ford Fiesta here. Sure, this is the small Mercedes, but it's in the same family as the S-Class. As such, it has all the attributes you'd expect from a Mercedes: the modified honeycomb grille. Relatively square styling, and solid construction.

So it shouldn't be surprising that many of the attributes of the S-Class are included on the C-Class. It shouldn't be surprising, but it is. Here is a car that is priced some $60,000 less than the S-Class, yet the only major differences are in size and engines. How can Mercedes do it?

Under the hood of the C240 is a 2.6-liter V6 rated at 168 horsepower. No, I don't know why they don't call it a C260.

It drives the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic with Touch Shift manual control. Touch Shift is Mercedes' version of Auto Stick Shift in Chryslers. The advantage in the Mercedes system is that there is no gate, as there is in all the others I've driven. All you do is shift into Drive as you would with a normal automatic. If you want to downshift, just tap the lever to the left and you're in manual mode. When you get back to fifth gear, you're in "D" on the dash indicator.

The stick shift isn't really necessary under normal driving conditions, since the engine has 177 pound-feet of torque, so it gives excellent performance most of the time. I you want to drive the C240 more like a sports car, though, you can use the shifter for slightly better performance on tight, twisty roads. The Mercedes has a sporty suspension that asks for more aggressive driving IF YOU WANT IT. However, if you want a car that's more like a small S-Class, keep it in automatic and motor around.

What impressed me though were the "S-Class" goodies in the C240. I had a notice come up on the dash that there was "1 malfunction." When I had a chance, I pushed the "i" button located in the center console. That connected me with a voice somewhere who told me that there were no major malfunctions with the car. This information button is similar to OnStar, in that you can get diagnostic information as well as travel information - restaurants, directions, fuel stations, etc. I was impressed with the cordiality of the voice on the other end, plus his reluctance to call me an idiot for not pushing the "SOS" button in the overhead console. As it turned out, that button didn't help me at all.

We also had an excellent sound system in the C240 that included an AM/FM stereo radio, cassette player and CD changer. Mercedes-Benz radios allow you to choose stations by punching the frequency numbers into a keypad. The down side is that there is no memory function that I could find. If you know where your favorite stations are, though, this isn't a problem, and of course you can scan and seek up or down.

Seating was comfortable with leather upholstery. Four people can ride in comfort in the C-Class. It's not big enough for five passengers, though. While many people complain about the general comfort of Mercedes seats, I don't have this problem. In the C240 especially, they felt good on the longer drives. The trunk was a good size and would carry three or more bags of golf clubs.

I didn't make it to the introduction of the C-Class, so I didn't get the full public relations pitch on the changes in the car. There are the obvious differences from the previous version: the headlights, aerodynamics and internal styling changes. But what impressed me the most about this car was the amount of S-Class features included in a relatively low-priced automobile.

I think they're doing it with mirrors.