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SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

Tradition is important in Germany. For many years traditional labor-intensive production and quality control techniques were the norm for German luxury automobile manufacturing. Production cost was high, volume was low, and the resultant exclusivity and quality justified high prices. Then the world changed.

Blame it on the microchip. When the Japanese moved into the luxury field, they made their cars in brand-new factories using the latest computer-automation technologies for design, construction, and inspection. They were unencumbered by a tradition of white-gloved inspectors. Indeed, if the Japanese could be said to have had a tradition in automaking, it was a tradition of use of technology. The result was that the Japanese luxury cars were built to the same quality standards are were the German, but at a lower cost. Japanese sales rose; German sales dropped.

If you can't beat them, join them. No manufacturer of automobiles has a longer history then Mercedes-Benz. Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz were pioneers of internal combustion vehicles over 100 years ago. Mercedes-Benz innovations are in wide use today, including such things as fuel injection, safety-cage construction, antilock brakes, and air bags. Change and the use of new technologies have occurred throughout the company's history. They adopted more efficient techniques in the development and production of their cars starting with the latest C-class, new in 1994. These changes allowed the C-class to be "more car without more cost" and be sold for less than their predecessors with no loss in quality. The C-class garnered many accolades from the press and customers throughout the world. We could see why after spending a week in a C220.

APPEARANCE: As is expected of a German luxury car, the C220's styling is an exercise in tasteful conservatism. It is softer and rounder than the car it replaced, but still is discernably a Mercedes-Benz. The trademark grille may be ever lower and wider, but it and the three-pointed star hood ornament let the world know the car's heritage. There is one large windshield wiper, and the rearview mirrors are faired in for lower noise levels. At the rear, the prominent, trend-setting wrap-around taillights extend inwards to the edge of the trunk lid. Interestingly, in an age where "Euro-style" means no chrome trim, the C220 has chrome trim around the grille, and on a belt-line rub strip around the car. Imitators will undoubtedly strive to catch up.

COMFORT: Inside, the C220 is a Teutonic blend of leather and wood. Oops, that's not leather, it's M-B Tex synthetic that looks and feels like leather. Leather is optional, though. The walnut trim under the windshield, on the central console, and on all doors, is real. The seats feel hard at first. Several hours down the road you'll wonder how you ever sat in any others. The instrument panel has had some modifications this year to make it more similar to that in the larger E-class. Passengers in the rear seat have extra legroom thanks to the shape of the rear of the front seats, one of the many details that make the C220 stand out. Power windows, central door locking, and cruise control are standard, as is a new infrared remote-entry system.

SAFETY: Mercedes-Benz developed the now-common safety-cage and crush zone construction in the early 1950s. Naturally, the C220 uses it. Dual air bags and antilock brakes are also included. A traction control system is available.

ROADABILITY: Mercedes engineers wrote the book on luxury suspension that combines ride comfort with handling ability and allows road feel without intrusive noise and vibration. Like the seats, the ride is a little firmer than the American luxury standard, and, like the seats, there are good logical reasons for that. Never argue with a German engineer. Other aerodynamic and engineering details ensure extreme quiet, with minimal road, wind, and mechanical noise for greater comfort.

PERFORMANCE: The C220 is a European luxury car, powered by a fuel-efficient 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine of modern design. Its 147 horsepower drives the rear wheels through a smooth four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission. Power is good, and responsive, around town. The C220, being German, can cruise comfortably at extra-U.S.-legal highway speeds all day long. Only on quick acceleration does the relatively small size of the engine make itself known.

CONCLUSIONS: What price luxury? In the case of the Mercedes-Benz C220, somewhat less than it was a couple of years ago. And a bit better. The C220 may be small, but so is a diamond.


       Base Price             $ 29,900
       Price As Tested        $ 32,320 
       Engine Type            I-4, dohc - 16v,
       Engine Size            2.2 liter/134 cid   
       Horsepower             148 @ 5500
       Torque (lb/ft)         155 @ 4000
       Wheelbase/Length       106"/177"
       Transmission           four speed automatic w/od
       Curb Weight            3150 lbs. (est)
       Pounds per Horsepower  21.3
       Fuel Capacity          16.4 gal.
       Fuel Requirement       Unleaded premium (92 oct)
       Tires                  P195/65R15
       Brakes                 4-wheel vented discs - ABS standard
       Drive Train            front engine/rear drive
       EPA Economy - miles per gallon
         city/highway/observed     23/29/25.9
       0 to 60 mph                 10.2
       1/4 mile (E.T.)             18.2
       Coefficient of Drag.        .32