2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon (photo: Mercedes-Benz)
Click image to enlarge

by Greg Wilson

New for 2002, the C320 Wagon is about the same length and width as the C320 sedan but has twice as much cargo space. It offers a high level of standard equipment including the 215 horsepower 3.2 litre V6, 5-speed automatic transmission, eight airbags, dual zone climate control, power seats, leather/vinyl upholstery, and wood trim. The C320 Wagon starts at $52,850.

Luxury and practicality in a compact wagon

While mid-size luxury wagons like the Volvo V70, BMW 530i Touring, Saab 9-5 Wagon, and Mercedes-Benz E320 Wagon have been available in Canada for a number of years, small luxury wagons have not been available here even though they are sold elsewhere in the world. Luxury makers claimed that the Canadian market simply wasn’t big enough.

2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
Photos: Grant Yoxon
Click images to enlarge

Hm. Either the market has changed or the automakers have suddenly realized there’s an untapped market segment here – there are at least three new compact luxury wagons available this year, and more on the way. Volvo was the first to offer a small luxury wagon in 2000: the V40. Now Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus have entered the fray with the C320 Wagon, the 3-Series Touring wagon, and the IS300 SportCross. The latter could arguably be called a sporty hatchback instead of a wagon, but it does have many of the characteristics of a wagon bodystyle.

The introduction of these small luxury wagons was likely precipitated by the trend to all-purpose vehicles like SUV’s and ‘sport-utility’ wagons such as the Subaru Outback. Whereas wagons used to be perceived as boring, family cars that lacked style, they’re now perceived as practical, ‘outdoorsy’, and even trendy. Small, luxury wagons will likely appeal to upscale families that want a little prestige with their practicality.

C320 Wagon well-equipped

The 2002 C320 Wagon is based on the C320 sedan which was all-new for 2001. It’s about the same overall length and width, but unlike the sedan, the Wagon is offered only with the uplevel 3.2 litre V6 engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission and is not available with the 2.6 litre V6 or 6 speed manual transmission.

When the Wagon was first announced, it was called a ‘sport wagon’, but then a new ‘Sport’ trim level was added, which made it hard to say “C320 Sport Wagon Sport”. So now, it’s just called a Wagon. For 2002, the two trim levels are C320 Wagon and C320 Wagon Sport.

The former starts at $52,850, or about $2,200 more than a C320 sedan. It’s similarly equipped to the sedan but offers standard split folding rear seatbacks, cargo privacy cover, ISO fix child seats attachments, and a full-size spare tire.

Like the C320 sedan, the Wagon has many standard luxury features including 10-way power front seats with 3-position memory, leather seating inserts, a five-speed automatic/Touch Shift transmission, dual zone climate control, AM/FM/cassette stereo, a total of eight airbags, and the retractable/removable net and luggage cover.

2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon Sport
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon Sport
Photo: Mercedes-Benz
Click image to enlarge

The C320 Wagon Sport, which is priced at $57,400, has some additional appearance and performance options to enhance its sportiness. These include wider 225/50R16 high-performance tires, sporty 5-spoke 16″ alloy wheels, and a sport-tuned suspension with thicker stabilizer bars. Externally, it differs from the standard wagon with its front air dam with mesh air intakes, black grille slats, side sills, rear apron, different B-pillar trim, body-coloured door handles, and blue-tinted glass. Inside, the Wagon Sport has a unique charcoal leather upholstery, sport front seats, and aluminium trim.

Increased cargo space and versatility

The main attraction of buying the Wagon instead of the sedan is, of course, the extra cargo room. The Wagon has twice as much cargo room as the sedan. With the rear seats up, the wagon has 25.2 cubic feet of cargo space compared to 12.2 cubic feet in the sedan. With both split folding rear seats folded down, the Wagon has 63.6 cubic feet of space, compared to 30.7 in the sedan.

2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
Photo: Grant Yoxon
Click image to enlarge

Most of that extra space is in the vertical area between the top of the seatbacks and the roof which enables the owner to carry bulkier objects than might fit in the sedan’s trunk, such as TV’s, house plants, picture frames, bookshelves, lamps, tables, sports equipment, tools, and other items.

The Wagon’s standard 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks allow transportation of longer objects like skis, snowboards, or hockey sticks. The real advantage of split rear seatbacks is that you can carry people and cargo. For example, with the 40% side folded down and the 60% side in the up position, you can transport up to two rear passengers on one side, and long cargo objects on the other side. This is handy if you’ve got four people who want to go snowboarding and you want to store the snowboards inside the car.

To keep the contents of the cargo area secure, a sliding privacy cover extends horizontally from the top of the rear seat to the bottom of the rear window. In the C320 Wagon, it’s particularly well-designed and made of good-quality materials. It slides in horizontal tracks on the walls, and features a quick release lever to release it.

To access the cargo area from the rear, you can unlock the rear hatch door with a remote key fob. It then lifts up easily after pressing a rear latch lever. The cargo area is wide and roomy with carpeting on the floor and walls – I prefer wall carpeting because it prevents surface-scratching that often happens with plastic interior trim. A sturdy metal scuff guard on the lip of the cargo opening with a recessed door latch prevents scratching your luggage as you slide it in.

The cargo area includes an open storage container behind the left wheelwell, a 12 volt power outlet for coolers and electrical appliances, a net to secure loose objects, and five tie-down hooks. Under the cargo floor is a shallow storage compartment where you can store valuables out of site, and beneath that is another storage area in the spare tire centre.

The vertical shape of wagon’s rear windows means that they usually accumulate more dust, slush, and grime than the rear windows of sedans – so it’s very important to have a rear wiper and washer. The C320 has a rear wiper with intermittent wiper settings, and a washer and defroster. I noticed that the curved profile of the C320 Wagon’s rear window assisted airflow better than with many wagons.

Interior emphasizes comfort

2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
Photo: Grant Yoxon
Click image to enlarge

The C320 Wagon’s interior looks luxurious and well-made, though not ostentatious. The vinyl/leather seats have prominent bolsters for support, and perforated seat inserts for ventilation. Warm wood trim on the centre console and doors and chromed door handles break up the otherwise monotonous colour scheme.

The instrument cluster is dominated by a large, semi-circular speedometer that’s very easy to read – it’s flanked by a smaller tachometer and a fuel gauge. In the centre of the speedometer is an orange LCD display that includes more than 50 different functions: controls for the audio system, clock, trip odometers and trip computer, digital gauges for water temperature, speedometer and oil level, vehicle diagnostics, interior and exterior light dimming, and five languages. The driver uses buttons on the steering wheel hubs to select different functions in the display. It takes a while to learn all the functions, but once learned provides needed information with just the push of a button or two.

It’s easy to find a good driving position. The front seats offer 8-way power adjustment, plus there’s a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and 3-position memory for each front seat. The ignition key is programmable and holds memory information for seat adjustment, steering wheel, rear view mirror and the automatic climate control for the driver’s preferred settings.

As with most Mercedes-Benz automobiles, the front power seats, head restraints, and steering wheel are adjusted using buttons on the doors that resemble a seat profile. The advantage of this is that the buttons are visible and intuitively easy to understand. The disadvantage is that the driver has to swivel their left wrist in a rather awkward manner to grip the buttons.

The centre control stack includes buttons for the front seat heaters (optional), rear wiper/washer, ESP off (anti-skid control), power door lock buttons, and an airbag-off button for the front passenger seat when young children or child seats are present.

An AM/FM/cassette player is standard in the C320, but my car had the optional Bose stereo CD changer system. The standard automatic climate control system has separate driver and passenger temperature adjustments. To increase the temperature, you press the red button; to decrease the temperature you press the blue button. The system includes automatic fan and airflow control, a humidity sensor, and dust and pollen filters. A unique feature is the ‘REST’ mode – while the car is parked, it helps keep the cabin warm with residual engine heat, or ventilate the cabin on hot days.

2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
Photo: Grant Yoxon
Click image to enlarge

Other noteworthy interior features include a hidden, pop-up cupholder behind the shift lever, a coinholder, and lighter/power point. Between the driver and front passenger is a handy dual-level storage bin and armrest, however the lower level contains an unidentified electrical device that consumes much of the storage space.

The rear seating area of the C320 Wagon offers generous legroom and headroom – the front seats are raised allowing optimal footroom for rear passengers, and the roof is tall, enhancing headroom. The C320 Wagon is not quite wide enough to seat three rear adult passengers comfortably, but there are three rear 3-point seatbelts and three head restraints. It’s worth noting that all three rear head restraints will flip down when not in use to increase rear visibility for the driver, an excellent feature. The only problem is that the rear passengers have to remember to flip them up again later.

When there is no centre rear passenger, the outboard passengers can use a fold-down centre armrest which includes two pop-out cupholders. Rear passengers also have their own air vents, seatback storage pockets, and an ashtray.

Eight airbags standard

The C320 Wagon has eight standard air bags, including a side-impact air bag in each door, and dual stage front airbags that can inflate at either of two rates, depending on the severity of the collision. If a child rides in the front passenger seat, a BabySmart compatible child seat turn’s off the front passenger’s front air bag. In addition, there are Head Protection Curtains that deploy from above the windows in a side impact to help prevent head injuries.

All three rear-seating positions have adjustable head restraints and three-point seat belts, while outboard rear seats have electronic belt tensioners, belt force limiters and belt height adjustments.

Smooth, powerful 3.2 litre V6 engine

The C320 Wagon has the same 215 horsepower 3.2 litre SOHC 18 valve V6 engine as the C320 sedan. It offers 215 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 221 ft-lb of torque between 3000 and 4600 rpm. This engine features twin-sparkplugs and three-valves per cylinder, a unique design which offers high power and torque as well as clean emissions. The C320 Wagon is rated as a Low Emission Vehicle.

Fuel consumption is reasonable for a V6-powered wagon: 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg) in the city and 8.6 l/100 km (33 mpg) on the highway, but it uses Premium gasoline.

A driver-adaptive 5-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift manual mode is standard equipment. This transmission will adjust its shift points to suit different driving styles, emphasizing performance or economy. The transmission is operated with a floor shifter that includes a Winter mode for second gear starting on slippery surfaces, and a Sport mode for more aggressive gear changes. The Touch Shift feature allows the driver to shift manually without a clutch pedal, a feature which enhances the sportiness of the driving experience.

The C320 Wagon has a fully independent suspension for improved ride and handling: a front 3-link design with coil springs over gas-pressurized shock absorbers, and stabilizer bar. At the rear is an independent 5-link setup with antilift, antisquat and alignment control, and stabilizer bar. Gas-pressurized shock absorbers and coil springs are separate.

The steering system is rack and pinion with variable power assist. Brakes are standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD, a system which applies more brake pressure in an emergency stop.

Driving impressions

2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon Sport
2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon Sport
Photo: Mercedes-Benz
Click image to enlarge

The C320 Wagon’s smooth, powerful 3.2 litre V6 engine has a very even power progression that’s somewhat deceptive – the C320 Wagon accelerates faster than you realize – Mercedes-Benz claims a 0 to 100 km/h time of just 7.2 seconds, a very fast time for a compact station wagon. But as a passenger, you hardly notice the performance – the car is even rather slow off the line, but then picks up speed in a rapid, but smooth progression. The transmission slides seamlessly between gears almost as though the transmission were full of molasses – there is no lurching or bumpiness in the drivetrain.

Though gears can be manually selected, a rev limiter prevents downshifts that would cause the engine to overrev – however, the transmission won’t automatically shift to the next gear.

In automatic mode, the five-speed automatic transmission adapts to changes in road grade by delaying upshifts when ascending hills to provide more power and when descending for engine braking. The adaptive nature of the transmission means that a driver who drives enthusiastically will find the transmission holds each gear longer for quicker acceleration. A leisurely driver will find the transmission shifting later for smoother upshifts and better fuel efficiency.

I found the C320’s cruise control very easy to use. Simply push up on the stalk behind the steering wheel to set speed or accelerate, push down to decelerate, and push back to switch off. Speed can be adjusted on the fly without touching the accelerator or brake.

The ride is very comfortable, the fully independent suspension smoothing out bumps surprisingly well and the standard Michelin MXV4 Plus 205/55R-16 inch tires providing a good combination of grip, ride and low noise levels. However, like most Mercedes-Benz automobiles, the C320 Wagon’s ride is a bit soft with some lean in the corners. It’s a different experience to what you’ll find in a BMW or Audi. Still, the C320 Wagon’s front engine/rear-wheel-drive layout provides a balanced front to rear weight distribution, and handling is satisfyingly neutral when pressed to the limit.

ESP (electronic stability control and traction control) is standard equipment on the C320 Wagon. This automatic anti-skid system helps maintain directional stability when cornering on slippery or uneven surfaces. If the ESP system detects a difference between where the driver wants to go and where the car is actually going, it automatically applies selective braking to one wheel to put the car back onto the driver’s intended path. It sounds far-fetched, but it actually works, and can prevent a nasty accident during bad weather.

At highway speeds, I found the cabin to be quiet with very little wind noise or engine noise, and just a little tire noise. On the freeway, the engine does a lazy 2,400 rpm at a steady 100 km/h, and 2,800 rpm at 120 km/h

Outward visibility is very good – there are three side windows for easy lane-changing, and the rear window has a low ledge making it easier to see the car behind when parking. The C320 has a fairly tight turning circle (10.7 metres/35.3 ft) and is easy to park for both the above-mentioned reasons.

As compact vehicles go, the C320 Wagon offers a maximum combination of luxury, practicality, comfort, safety – and prestige. It’s a lot of car in a relatively small package – as it should be for over $50,000.

Options expensive

Speaking of money, options for the C320 Wagon can boost the price of the C320 Wagon well over $60,000. Options include: anti-theft alarm $605; Bose sound system $1,130; COMAND navigation system $4,190; glass moonroof $1,930; headlamp washers $440; multi-contoured left front seat $630; rain sensor wipers $205; ski sack $365; Tele-aid emergency assistance $2,030; and xenon headlamps $1,595. If you add all of these to the price of the base Wagon, the price comes to $65,970 – not an inconsiderable sum.

For more info, see Mercedes-Benz Canada’s web-site, www.mercedes-benz.ca.

Technical Data: 2002 Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon

Base price $52,850
Price as tested $58,310
Type Four-door, five-passenger compact wagon
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 3.2 litre V6, SOHC, 18 valves
Horsepower 215 @ 5700 rpm
Torque 221 lb-ft @ 3000 – 4600 rpm
Transmission 5 speed automatic Touch Shift
Tires 205/55R-16 all-season performance
Curb weight 1585 kg (3495 lb.)
Wheelbase 2715 mm (106.9 in.)
Length 4544 mm (178.9 in.)
Width 1728 mm (68.0 in.)
Height 1440 mm (56.7 in.)
Cargo capacity 714 litres (25.2 cu. ft) rear seats up
  1,800 litres (63.6 cu. ft.) rear seats down
Fuel consumption City: 12.3 l/100 km (23 mpg)
  8.6 l/100 km (33 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Major components 5 yrs/120,000 km

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