At last count, the nine variants that make up the Mercedes C-Class included five four-door sedans, two wagons, and two hatchback coupes. All nine have rear-wheel drive, one of four different engines, and either a standard six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, depending on the model. All-wheel-drive is optional on two of the sedans and the wagons.
The best-selling C-Class models, and perhaps the most familiar, are the mainstream sedans. The C240 sedan ($32,280) is powered by a 168-horsepower 2.6-liter V6 with three valves per cylinder and a standard five-speed Touch Shift automatic transmission with manual shift mode. C240 is well-equipped, with leather seat inserts, front seats with power height and backrest adjustment, a manual tilt-and-telescope steering column, power windows, cruise control, a seven-speaker audio system with weatherband, laurel-wood trim and 16-inch aluminum wheels with all-season tires. The C320 sedan ($37,630) is powered by a 215-horsepower 3.2-liter version of the same V6. C320 comes standard a higher level of luxury amenities, including dual-zone automatic climate control, a Bose 10-speaker stereo, reading lamps, 10-way power front seats with memory, and a power-adjustable steering column.
The wagons are identical counterparts to these sedans. The C240 ($33,780) and C320 ($39,130) wagons are the smallest wagons Mercedes has ever imported into the United States, yet they successfully combine sporty styling and good cargo room, perfect for that big dog (though we recommend a dog fence for safety).
The C240 and C320 sedans and wagons are available with optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive ($1200), which includes heated seats. All-wheel drive is a valuable asset for the rainy Pacific Northwest and for the harsh winters of the Midwest and Northeast.
The C-Class sport sedans have firmer suspensions, racy body cladding, 17-inch spoke wheels with high performance tires, the six-speed manual transmission, thickly bolstered front sport seats and aluminum interior trim. The C230 Kompressor sedan ($28,710) is powered by the same supercharged inline-4 as the C230 coupe. The C320 sports sedan ($35,920) uses the 3.2-liter V6. For 2004, the sport sedans get the same interior upgrades as the sport coupes, as well as a couple of significant mechanical upgrades. The front brakes now feature four-piston fixed calipers and cross-drilled rotors, which add more fade-resistant stopping power and visual appeal. Ride height has been lowered one inch and the suspension has been recalibrated to further improve handling. A new leather covered short-throw shifter reduces the space between gear positions for a sportier feel and more precise gear selection.
The least-expensive C-Class models are the sport coupes, which are hatchbacks. The C230 Kompressor ($26,020) is powered by a 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine pumped up to 189 horsepower by a supercharger (the Kompressor) and intercooler. The C320 coupe ($28,320) comes with the 3.2-liter V6 and a manual transmission and gets amenity upgrades similar to the C320 sedan. Both coupes have been upgraded for 2004. Standard equipment now includes 17-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels and high-performance 225/45R17 tires, a three-spoke multifunction sport steering wheel with raised thumb-grips, leather-covered sport shift knob, rubber-studded stainless steel pedals, an enlarged chrome exhaust tip, body-colored door handles and aluminum door sills.
The C32 AMG is the hottest hot rod of the C-Class family. Offered only as a sedan, the C32 adds a Lysholm positive-displacement supercharger to the 3.2-liter V6, boosting output to 349 horsepower and 332 pounds-feet of torque. It boasts its own SpeedShift version of the five-speed automatic gearbox, plus unique exterior decor and interior trim, special suspension and brakes, and larger tires and wheels. In fact, the C32 AMG is one of the quickest four-door cars in the world. It is also priced substantially out of the entry-luxury segment ($51,200).
Every C-Class can be trimmed with a number of options, priced individually or in groups. Among the most popular, the Premium Package for the coupes ($2,810) adds the huge, sliding glass Panorama sunroof with power shade, leather seating, the Bose stereo upgrade, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and rain sensing wipers. The Sunroof Package adds a power sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors and rain-sensing wipers to the sedans ($1,640) and wagons ($1,510). Individually priced options include an automatic transmission for cars with a standard manual ($1,360), CD changer ($410), heated front seats ($670), and Mercedes Tele Aid emergency communications hardware ($460).
Mercedes prides itself on its safety technology, and every C-Class is equipped with standard safety features at the top of the class, including the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) skid-management system. ESP helps control skids by selectively applying brakes at one or more of the wheels to keep the car on the driver's intended path. The C-Class has both front and rear side-protection airbags and curtain-style head protection airbags for front and rear passengers.