New entry-level Mercedes offers lower price, more practicality in a sporty package
Mercedes-Benz’ new C230 Kompressor Sport Coupe (it’s really a hatchback, but Mercedes doesn’t like to call it that) offers a clever combination of sportiness, practicality, prestige, and value. With standard features like a 192 horsepower supercharged four cylinder motor, an independent suspension, a six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic ‘Touch-Shift’ transmission, a roomy cargo compartment, and the three-pointed star positioned prominently in the grille, the C230 buyer can enjoy above-average handling and performance, generous cargo-carrying capability and the prestige of owning a Mercedes-Benz for a relatively-low asking price of $33,950. That’s about $5,500 cheaper than the least-expensive C-Class sedan.
As tempting as all this sounds, I can’t help remembering the last German luxury hatchback that entered the Canadian market: the BMW 318ti. A hatchback version of the 318i sedan, it lasted from 1995 to 1999 when it was quietly dropped due to a lack of popularity. Admittedly, the 318ti looked like a 318i sedan with the rear-end chopped off while the Mercedes-Benz C230 Coupe is a much more stylish interpretation of the new C-Class sedans.
The C230 is about 180 mm shorter and 22 mm lower than the C-Class sedan, but Mercedes-Benz claims that interior room is comparable to the sedan. From the front, the C230 Coupe resembles the sedan, but in fact has a different grille with a steeper slant, and a more sloping hood. At the rear, the coupe’s ‘fastback’ design with a rear spoiler and a sharp cutoff gives it a much racier look. It doesn’t look like a hatchback – which is probably the way Mercedes wanted it.
While C-Class sedans feature standard six cylinder engines, the C230 Coupe has a standard 2.3 litre four cylinder engine with an intercooled supercharger (which the Germans call a Kompressor), dual overhead cams, and four valves per cylinder. It offers a commendable 192 horsepower at 5500 rpm and an impressive 200 lb-ft of torque between 2500 rpm and 4800 rpm.
Unlike exhaust-driven turbocharged engines which experience a delay in power when accelerating from a standing stop, supercharged engines provide instantaneous torque the instant you depress the accelerator pedal. In the C230, Mercedes-Benz quotes a 0 to 100 km/h time with the standard 6 speed manual transmission of 7.4 seconds, and with the 5-speed automatic Touch Shift transmission a time of 7.7 seconds. Those are very quick times for a four cylinder car, and they can be attributed to the extra power supplied by the supercharger.
The reason you don’t see too many superchargers on the market is that they’re noisy and they suck up more fuel (did I mention this engine uses Premium fuel?). Superchargers make whining, grinding sounds in addition to the regular noise of the engine. In my test car, I found that with the driver’s window open, the C230’s engine was noisy at idle, but with the window closed it was hardly audible. The engine growled a bit under acceleration, but at highway speeds it’s very quiet — it does just 2,300 rpm at 100 km/h and about 3000 rpm at 120 km/h in fifth gear with the automatic transmission. The C230’s Kompressor engine is certainly quieter than previous Mercedes-Benz Kompressor engines. Still, if I had to name one thing I didn’t like about the C230, it would be the sound of its engine.
My test car had the optional 5-speed automatic Touch Shift adaptive transmission. In automatic mode, it adapts to the driver’s aggressiveness, or lack of it, and shifts earlier or later depending on your driving style. It’s a crisp shifting transmission that responds well to accelerator input.
For sportier driving, you can engage the clutchless, manual mode. To engage, you move the shift lever from ‘D’ to the left gate. Then, tap the lever to the left to shift down, and tap to the right to shift up. If you forget to shift down as you approach a Stop sign, the transmission will automatically shift into 1st gear for you. I noticed one unusual feature: if the transmission is in 3rd gear, and you don’t shift down when stopping, it will automatically shift into first, then second and third gears, but won’t shift into fourth until you shift manually.
Though hatchbacks are often not as rigid as coupes, I found the C230’s body to be very tight with minimal flexing and body looseness. My car had the optional EVOLUTION sports package which consists of 17″ light-alloy wheels, 225/45R-17 tires, a sport suspension with a lowered body, and a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel. Handling was terrific, thanks to those sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 17 inch radials, front and rear independent multi-link suspensions, rear-wheel-drive and a balanced front to rear weight distribution. I found the C230 to be stable and predictable with excellent balance and steering response although I thought the steering effort was a bit heavy. It’s not as softly sprung as the C240 sedan and some traditional Mercedes-Benz owners might find the ride a bit stiff. The car has a nice, tight turning circle of 10.8 metres (35.4 ft.) and 3.3 turns lock to lock. The standard four wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes were very powerful.
In addition, the C230 includes many advanced safety features designed to help the car maintain control when the driver gets into a panic situation. Among them are traction control (Acceleration Slip Control), anti-skid control (Electronic Stability Program), emergency braking assistance (Brake Assist System), and anti-lock brakes.
And if you do get into a crunch, the C230 is equipped with dual front airbags, dual side airbags, head airbags, 3 point seatbelts with emergency seatbelt retractors, four head restraints, and BabySmart child seat recognition system which disables the airbags near the front passenger seat.
Interior has look of quality
It’s easy to find the right seating position in the C230 because both the seat and the steering wheel are height-adjustable. The steering wheel has a manual adjustment for tilt and telescope functions, and the driver’s seat has ratchet lever on the left side for raising or lowering the seat and another lever for adjusting the angle of the seat cushion. However, the driver’s seat rake adjustment is a dial on the right side of the seat, an unusual location.
The quality of seat and dashboard materials is excellent, and the colour-combinations are very attractive. My test car had light beige fabric seats with patterned inserts in the seats and doors. On the dashboard, a sporty-looking silver-coloured trim surrounds the radio and gearshift lever. I liked the small, grippy, leather wrapped steering wheel (optional) and the stainless-steel foot pedals.
The instrument layout resembles other new Mercedes-Benz models — a large central speedometer with easy-to-read, white-on-black numbers surrounds an orange-coloured digital readout which includes a multi-function digital display for the radio, clock, odometer, transmission shift indicator, trip computer, and digital speedometer. Two buttons on the steering wheel hub allow the driver to switch between the digital displays, much like a computer menu. To the left and right of the speedometer are two smaller round gauges for the tachometer and fuel gauge.
The centre panel includes seat heaters (two temperature settings), ‘ESP off’ button, door lock/unlocking button, and an ‘airbag-off’ button for the front passenger seat (when a child is being transported). Below that are a standard AM/FM/cassette radio, a CD storage bin, and automatic climate control with driver and passenger temperature settings.
The headlights are operated by a large, dash-mounted dial, and cruise control is operated by a small stalk behind the steering wheel. The ‘ignition key’ has no metal key, but when inserted it sends an infra-red signal to confirm the owner’s identity and can be turned. The key also includes remote unlocking and a panic button. Unlike most sporty cars, the C230 has a foot-operated ‘handbrake’ to the left of the brake pedal.
Between the seats is a dual-level armrest/storage container � the second level is quite deep. The C230’s nifty cupholder is hidden under a cover between the seats. Slide back the cover, push a button, and it rises and unfolds like a blooming flower under time-lapse photography. Another example of advanced German engineering.
To access the rear seats from the passenger side, the passenger pulls a handle on the front passenger seat which then folds and slides forwards. The two rear seats have a surprising amount of legroom, and adequate headroom for passengers up to app. 5′ 10″ tall. At the rear, the side windows are fixed, and there are outboard armrests but not a folding centre armrest. And there are no blooming cupholders.
For safety, the two rear seats have three-point seat belts and height-adjustable head restraints — the rear head restraints can be folded down when the rear seats are not occupied to enhance rear visibility. However, unlike other Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the rear head restraints must be lowered and raised manually.
Folding down one or both of the 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks is a two-step affair — first, pull up the seat cushion against the front seatback, and then fold down the rear seatback. This creates a flat loading surface through from the trunk floor.
In addition to the sloping rear window, there is another vertical window just below the tail lip which greatly assists visibility when backing up — it’s similar to the design of the Mazda MX-3 and Honda CRX.
The optional Panorama sunroof ($1,975) consists of front and rear glass sunroofs, but only the front one slides open. A cleverly-designed automatic sunshade, which operates something like a roller blind, is operated with the push of a button.
The rear hatch has a grab handle and is easy to lift up — a sturdy privacy cover lifts up automatically when the hatch is raised. The rear hatch can be locked and unlocked with a key or with the remote key fob. The trunk opening is wide, and the trunk is a generous size. There are tie-downs on the back of the rear seatbacks and a small covered storage bin on right side of trunk. A small, temporary spare tire is located under the cargo floor.
Price and options
With the standard transmission, the C230 goes for $33,950. With the 5-speed automatic, it sells for $35,450. The C230 includes most of the features mentioned above. Major options include the Evolution package, Panorama sunroof, Bose audio system with 7 speakers, CD changer, cellular phone, Tele-Aid, heated headlamp washers, rain sensitive wipers, anti-theft alarm system, heated front seats, and the Designo program of individual interior colour combinations.
|2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor Sport Coupe|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger coupe/hatchback|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.3 litre 4 cylinder, supercharged, DOHC, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||192 @ 5500 rpm|
|Torque||200 lb-ft @ 2500-4800 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed manual or 5 speed automatic w/Touch Shift|
|Curb weight||1515 kg (3340 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2715 mm (106.9 in.)|
|Length||4346 mm (171.1 in.)|
|Width||1728 mm (68.0 in.)|
|Height||1379 mm (54.3 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||289 litres (10.2 cu. ft.) rear seats up|
|1079 litres (38.1 cu. ft.) rear seats down|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|