Mercedes C-Class sales have increased four fold over the past decade, and it doesn't take a degree in marketing to understand why. The C-Class appeals to buyers because it offers a range of models at attractive prices.
The C-Class brings the three-pointed Mercedes star to the rest of us, with coupes starting below $27,000 and sedans below $30,000. The C-Class delivers Mercedes engineering and safety technology. The model line includes hatchbacks, four-door sedans, and wagons. Sport models are available for those who want a sportier driving experience. And full-time all-wheel drive is available for some models, improving safety and traction in slippery conditions.
The C230 coupe is the least expensive Mercedes sold in the United States, offering sporting character in a practical package geared toward first-time Mercedes buyers. But we think the C-Class is best represented by the C320 sedan, with its smooth, powerful V6 engine, responsive transmission and classic Mercedes balance of ride quality and handling. Climb in and the C320 looks and feels like a Mercedes-Benz, featuring firm, supportive seats and mostly high-quality materials.
All C-Class models feature redesigned interiors and freshened exterior styling for 2005. New paint technology imbeds microscopic ceramic flakes in the clear coat finish, increasing its resistance to chipping and degradation over time. Every model comes standard with a full-complement of airbags and an Electronic Stability Program, the latter designed to prevent skidding in corners.
Mercedes has also further distinguished the sport models from the standard luxury sedans for the 2005 model year. The sport models, which now account for more than half of C-Class sales, come with a new six-speed manual transmission that greatly improves shift action. At the top of the C-Class is the new C55 AMG, an extreme sports sedan that can knock your socks off when you floor the accelerator then pull them back up when you hit the brakes. (Or is it the other way around?)
In spite of improvements to the entire C-Class lineup, Mercedes has held the line on price increases. Nearly all the 2005 C-Class cars are priced identically to the last 2004 models. In short, the C-Class is more appealing for 2005. Buyers will still pay a slight premium for the three-pointed star when compared with a similarly equipped BMW 3 Series or Audi A4. But for those seeking Mercedes-Benz engineering, design strengths and mystique in a mainstream sedan, it doesn't get any easier than the C-Class.
The 2005 Mercedes C-Class presents a daunting array of choices, comprising five four-door sedans, two hatchback coupes, and a wagon. The class includes four different engines and either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, depending on the model. All come standard with rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel-drive is optional on two of the sedans and the wagon.
The least-expensive C-Class models are the sport coupes, or two-door hatchbacks. The C230 Kompressor ($25,850) 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). The C320 coupe ($29,250) comes with a 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6 and amenity upgrades, including leather-faced seats and a ten-way power seat for the driver. For 2005, the coupes come with a redesigned six-speed manual transmission with greatly improved shift action. Standard equipment includes one-touch power windows, automatic climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels and high-performance tires. The C-Class coupe's sporty ambience is enhanced by a three-spoke multifunction sport steering wheel with raised thumb-grips, leather-covered sport shift knob, rubber-studded aluminum pedals, body-colored door handles and aluminum door sills.
The most familiar C-Class models are the sedans. Most popular among those is the C240 sedan ($32,650), 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, 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 ($37,950) upgrades to the 215-horsepower 3.2-liter version of the V6 and 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 C240 wagon ($34,150) is the identical counterpart to the C240 sedan. (The C320 wagon has been dropped for 2005). This is the smallest wagon Mercedes has offered in the United States, and it successfully combines sporty styling with good cargo room or accommodations for a big dog (with the optional dog fence, of course).
All-wheel drive ($1,200), which Mercedes confusingly calls 4MATIC, is available on the C320 sedan and on the C240 sedan and wagon. This fulltime system comes packaged with heated front seats and is priced much lower than it is with other Mercedes models. We consider it a valuable asset in the rainy Northwest or for the harsh winters of the Midwest and Northeast.
The C-Class sport sedans have firmer suspensions, lower ride height and more powerful brakes than the standard models. The C230 Kompressor sedan ($29,250) is powered by the same supercharged inline-4 as the C230 coupe, while the C320 sport sedan ($37,350) uses the 3.2-liter V6. The sport sedans have the thick, three-spoke steering wheel and other sporty interior tweaks used in the C-Class coupes, along with thickly bolstered front sport seats and aluminum interior trim. For 2005, the sport sedans come standard with the improved six-speed manual transmission and aggressive lower body cladding previously reserved for expensive AMG models.
Speaking of which, the C55 AMG sedan is new for 2005. Powered by a hand-built 5.5-liter 376-horsepower V8 (as opposed to the supercharged V6 that came in the 2004 C32), this is the hottest hot rod in the C-Class family, traveling from 0-60 mph in an exotic-grade 4.9 seconds. The C55's SpeedShift five-speed automatic, brakes and suspension are improved to match its prodigious horsepower. Price is pending at this time, but the C55 is intended to be rare, and its retail price is expected to be in mid-$50,000 range.