2002 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe
With a manufacturer's suggested retail price around $25,000, the Sports Coupe is a pleasant surprise for aspiring, yet budget-constrained shoppers. Not only does this car look stylishly young vis-à-vis some of the other more sedate Mercedes cars, the Sports Coupe is priced to draw people who might not otherwise afford a new Mercedes. And safety-conscious buyers will appreciate the impressive amount of safety features. By my count, no other hatchback on the market comes standard with all the safety items that are in this new-to-the-C-Class-line Mercedes.
Coupe or hatchback?
There is one minor issue. Mercedes calls this car the C-Class Sports Coupe.
But the body style really could be described as a hatchback because there is no fixed divider between the rear seats and cargo area. Raising the C-Class Sports Coupe's sizable liftgate and releasing the cargo cover/rear window shelf, I could drop items into the car's rear seats, for example.
Mercedes-Benz USA spokesman Fred Heiler said the name isn't so unusual. After all, he noted, famous cars such as the Nissan 300Z were known as sports coupes rather than hatchbacks.
And truth be told, Mercedes isn't the only automaker eschewing the hatchback label in this country, fearing it carries a cheaper cachet among buyers than a coupe does. Acura calls its entry-level RSX a sports "coupe."
There's an irony to all this. Americans may think more highly of a car with the word "coupe" in its name. But a hatchback, with its flexible cargo area, can offer more versatility than even a sedan.
For example, the C-Class Sports Coupe is 7.3 inches shorter in overall length than the C-Class sedans. But the Sports Coupe's 10.2 cubic feet of cargo room expands to 38.1 cubic feet when the two rear seats are folded down. In contrast, the C-Class sedans' maximum trunk space is 15.3 cubic feet.
The C230 Kompressor Sports Coupe uses a lot of the same parts from other Mercedes vehicles, though the striking look—created by distinctive body panels—is unique to this car.
There's one engine, and it's the same 2.3-liter, supercharged four cylinder that's in the Mercedes SLK two-seater.
As in the SLK230, this power plant in the C-Class Sports Coupe generates a commendable 192 horsepower, which is better than the 168 horses offered in the naturally-aspirated V6 in the Mercedes C240 sedan and less than the 215 horses in the bigger-displacement V6 of the C320 sedan.
But the special feel of the Sports Coupe comes as the torque, which is 200 lb-ft and available from 2500 rpm all the way to 4800 rpm, makes this car move.
It didn't shove me harshly back into the seat at startup. But when I needed to scoot past others on the highway or zip around slower cars on the avenues, the Sports Coupe sped forward diligently. At times like these, I could hear the engine working. Otherwise, the car was pretty quiet, with not much road or wind noise.
The test car had the five-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift which let me select the gears I wanted for maximum performance—all without a clutch pedal. I liked how well-integrated the Touch Shift was in the gear shifter. I didn't have to move the lever to another area or across a "gate" as I've had to do in some other cars. With the selector in "drive" in the Sports Coupe, I just pushed the lever slightly to the right or left to change gears.
I could see what gear I was in via a display in the instrument panel. I wished, however, that the amber gear selection display was larger or repositioned as I couldn't just glance away from the road momentarily to view the display's small number. I had to focus and keep eyes off the road longer than I wanted.
Mercedes also offers a six-speed manual transmission.
Note that this Sports Coupe uses premium, 91 octane fuel.
Easy to drive
The Sports Coupe handled with ease, both in hilly, curvy terrain and in small parking lots.
The car uses the same suspension that's in the C-Class sedans, but it's tuned toward a sportier ride than what you find standard in the sedans. The Sports Coupe also rides closer to the ground than do the sedans.
There's decent road feel but not a lot of stiffness in the Sports Coupe ride. There was a firmness, yes, but not stiffness, which meant I wasn't jarred by most road bumps and didn't ride with my body constantly vibrating.
The steering wheel is sizable, in true Mercedes fashion, and it just doesn't just tilt up and down. It telescopes in and out—a feature found in high-priced cars. This standard telescoping feature allowed me, at 5 feet 4, to position myself perfectly to use the dead pedal so I could brace myself during aggressive driving.
Visibility was good in all directions. The view out the rear window reminded me of Honda's old CRX, where the lower part of the liftgate has a small glass panel insert you can look through. It's a great help when you parallel park this new Mercedes.
Seats are firm and supportive. I climbed out after a seven-hour drive with no ill effects. Note that leather is an option, not standard, on this car, and standard seat controls are manual.
Headroom was okay for someone my size in the back seat of the Sports Coupe, but there wasn't an awful lot of clearance above my head.
Rear-seat legroom was fine with the front seats up a ways, but my legs were jammed into the front seatbacks if the front seats were back all the way on their tracks.
There are no rear-seat cupholders, and the two in front can't accommodate large water bottles.
There also was no wiper for the test car's large back window. I had to wait for the defroster to clear away the moisture that had collected back there overnight.
Emphasis on safety
Safety items abound in this new Mercedes. There are frontal airbags that can deploy at different levels, depending on crash severity. All four riders have side airbags, and curtain airbags come out of the sides of the ceiling.
All four seats have adjustable head restraints and three-point belts with electronically controlled tensioners that help properly position passengers for maximum crash protection.
The seat frames, themselves, are extra strong, and the Sports Coupe is no lightweight, weighing in at a hefty 3,300-plus pounds.
Other standard safety items include anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist, stability control system, LED turn signal repeaters in the side mirrors and Baby Smart, the Mercedes system that automatically turns off the frontal airbag if a BabySmart child seat is installed on the front passenger seat.
And in an introductory promotion, even Tele-Aid, the Mercedes emergency notification system, was included without extra charge on the test car. It's usually an option costing more than $700.