This new car is, believe it or not, a hatchback. That shape, well
loved and ubiquitous in Europe, is more familiar to American buyers in modest cars like
the Honda Civic or Volkswagen Golf. But with this 21st century Mercedes, you can drop the
rear seats and stuff 38.1 cubic feet of cargo under the glass of the hatch.
A strongly upswept fender line that stretches up from overlapping-oval headlights below
the side window to a bespoilered tail makes the car look poised to strike. Careful shaping
of surfaces enables the C230 Sport Coupe to slip through the air with a low .29
coefficient of drag.
Just because it is priced like a Volkswagen doesn't mean that the C230 is basic
transportation. Its supercharged/intercooled 16-valve four-cylinder engine puts out 192
horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. The torque peak is available from 2,500 to 4,800 rpm,
so there is plenty of oomph in every gear. Fuel mileage is 19 city and 29 highway, and the
new car is certified as an EPA Low Emission Vehicle (LEV). It's like having your torque
and eating it too.
The C230 Sport Coupe puts its power to the road with a new six-speed manual
transmission. This new unit was designed with delightfully close ratios, because Mercedes'
engineers narrowed the gaps between each gear when they added the sixth gear. A
multiple-cone synchomesh makes gear changes syrupy smooth.
The C230 may be Mercedes' least expensive ride, but it doesn't feel cheap inside.
Standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control with a dust filter, power
windows with one-touch up and down, cruise control, automatic headlights with Twilight
Sensor, heated auto-dimming rear view mirrors, and a leather covered steering wheel and
Sport seats in a chunk-patterned black cloth adjust eight ways manually, and flip up
for easy entrance to the spacious rear area. Patterned aluminum trim replaces wood in the
C230 for a high-tech ambiance.
Just because it is modest-sized doesn't mean the C230 Sport Coupe isn't safe. On the
contrary, this small vehicle has dual front airbags, side airbags for front and rear
outboard passengers, and side curtain airbags to protect passengers' heads, neatly
packaged in a steel reinforced cabin with front and rear crumple zones. The front and rear
outboard seatbelts feature pretensioners and force limiters to ensure that in case of an
accident, all slack is pulled out of the belts to hold passengers in place securely.
The safest place for a baby seat is generally in the back, but that can be cumbersome
with a two-door hatchback. So, Mercedes has created the BabySmart child seat, with an
electronic recognition system. Buy the special seat at the Mercedes dealership, and when
you install it in the front seat of the car, a device picks up its presence, much like the
device in a clothing store senses security tags. Then, the car automatically deactivates
the front passenger airbag so a child seat can be used there safely.
The little Mercedes squirts through traffic like a get away car. The high tail looks
and feels sporty, and a neat window slot below the rear spoiler aids visibility.
Sixteen-inch twin spoke alloy wheels with low profile tires add steering control and a
youthful zip for the eyes.
There were only two options on the car, and one, the TeleAid System, was free as part
of a "Launch Promotion." A $750 value, TeleAid is an electronic communicator
that uses global positioning and cell phone technology to place or receive hands-free
cellular calls in the car for emergencies and information. Systems like this, once in the
realm of science fiction, are becoming more common.
I used TeleAid to call for help one evening when the C230 decided to sound its alarm
for no reason whenever it felt like it. A technician named Arturo came by quickly to help
me, in his M-Class painted in Mercedes regalia. He plugged his specially prepared laptop
computer into the car and then ran some diagnostic tests. He finally determined that
something in the electronics was goofy and deactivated the alarm. The car would get
attention from a dealer shortly after. It was disturbing that the car had a problem,
however minor, but it was very encouraging that Mercedes has folks on the job at all
times, ready to take care of you.
The only other option, the Value Added Package ($995), adds a rain sensor for automatic
windshield clearing action, and a wonderful two-panel Panorama sunroof. The bottom line on
my Magma Red test car, including destination changes, was just $26,590.00.
Today, almost anyone with a job can buy a Mercedes-Benz. Does this diminish the company
or its reputation? I think not.