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2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport Coupe

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SAN FRANCISCO:  If you think Mercedes-Benz cars are all expensive, hulking behemoths, think again. As the century-old marque continues expanding its offerings up market and down market, it now proudly debuts the latest version of its entry-level C-Class car - the C230 Sport Coupe. With prices starting at a remarkable $24,950, it is the least expensive Mercedes you can buy.

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 shift knob.

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. By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  The least expensive Mercedes you can buy
Topic:  2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport Coupe
Word Count:   910
Photo Caption:  2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport Coupe
Photo Credits:  Mercedes-Benz Internet Media
Series #:   2002 - 3

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