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Mercedes Benz C320 Sport (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 29,950
     Price As Tested                                    $ 43,390
     Engine Type              SOHC 16-valve 2.6 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 195 cid/3199 cc
     Horsepower                                   215 @ 5700 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               221 @ 3000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.9"/68.0"/178.3"
     Transmission           Five-speed automatic with TouchShift
     Curb Weight                                     3614 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.2 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                              225/50R16 V-rated
     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                            19/25/22
     0-60 MPH                                        7.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.5 seconds @ 93.0 mph
     Top-speed                  (Electronically limited) 130 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

With so much attention paid to Mercedes-Benz's SUVS and sports cars, it's easy to forget about the company's sales leader, the C-Class.

It's all-new this year, and the model line begins with the C240 and ends with our test car for this week, the C320.

OUTSIDE - The new C-Class looks much like its larger, more expensive sibling, the S-Class. The new body shell is similar in dimensions to the old versioin, but is stronger torsionally and more resistant to bending. Safety factors have been enhanced as well. Polypropylene impact absorbers in tghe front bumper absorb low-speed impact with little or no damage, while the crossmembers have special sections will crumple separately from other structural members. A low 0.27 coefficient of drag contributes to reduced wind noise at speed. Uniquely- shaped headlights are new while Sport models wear deeper side sills and front and rear fascias alog with spoked alloy wheels and high performance tires.

INSIDE - The attention to detail inside the new C-Class is extraordinary. The fit and finish is first-rate, while the soft yellow lighting of the instrument panel is pleasing. Our Sport model had optional deeply contoured leather-covered front bucket seats, and special aluminum dash trim. The slight stretch in wheelbase from the old version has opened up a bit of room in the back seat, though by no means is this a true five-passenger sedan. However, five-point seat belts for five and improved knee and headroom in the back seat attempt to make a strong case for five-passenger seating. Our C320's standard eight- speaker Bose-brand stereo system features a large speaker inset in the center of the dash top, while a new instrument cluster now comes with a multi-function display that can be scrolled through using buttons on the thickly-padded steering wheel.

ON THE ROAD - Both C-Class models come with V6 engines. The C240 uses a 2.6-liter version, while our tester's 3.2-liter V6 is shared with both the E-Class, CLK, SLK 320 and the ML 320 SUV. It produces an 215 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, but uses the latest in technology to feel much more powerful. A single camshaft atop each cylinder head operated three valves per cylinder, two intake and one exhaust. All assist in helping the engine breath more efficiently, along with the ability to retain engine heat to reduce tailpipe emissions. Also, two spark plugs per cylinder mean more complete combustion. Mated to this engine is a five-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift, a system that allows the driver to change gears somewhat like a manual transmission. To control wheelspin, a Winter mode engages second gear from a standstill and upshifts at lower engine speeds. To help the car stay straight, an electronic stability program works in conjunction with the anti-lock brakes and traction control system.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - What contributes the most to the C-Class' roadability is its improvement in stiffness. It has a lower center of gravity and shorter overhangs, which improve handling as well. A new front suspension consists of MacPherson struts, two separate lower links and an additional strut for better control of wheel movement. The rear setup uses a true independent multilink system with gas shocks and a thick stabilizer bar. The overall chassis dynamics are more sure-footed and athletic than before, and it's not easily upset by undulating pavement or potholes. The new speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering system replaces an archaic recirculating ball system and now gives more road feel, sensitivity and steering precision. On Sport models, this system offers more steering effort and even better feedback for spirited driving. Braking is achieved by four-wheel discs, now with larger rotors that feature improved cooling fins, more rigid calipers and a 15-percent more powerful brake booster. A four-wheel anti-lock braking system is standard.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, front and rear side-impact airbags, head protection curtains, side-impact door beams, force-limiting seat belts, ABS, Brake Assist, electronic stability program and BabySmart child seat recognition system.