Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic
C240 4Matic near Montebello, January 2003. Click image to enlarge

By Haney Louka
Photos by Laurance Yap

I’ve seen Mercedes Benzes all over the place, but I never thought I’d find them on the bandwagon.

While some car companies jump from one fad to another faster than candidates at a Tory leadership convention, the Stuttgart automaker is known for staying the course in the midst of changing tides. Most notable among Mercedes-Benz staples are three-valve-per-cylinder engines and, until now, rear wheel drive.

In response to competitors such as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, and Volvo, who offer all wheel drive models to varying degrees in their lineups, Mercedes is now following suit. Acknowledging that more and more buyers are asking for all wheel drive in their luxury rides, Mercedes has added this important active safety technology to all sedan model lines, right down to the entry-luxury C240 Classic tested here.

The Lineup

Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic

Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic

Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic

Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic

Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic
Click images to enlarge

While C-Class pricing starts way down in the mid-$30s for the two-door hatch, C240 sedans start at $38,450 for the Classic. Add 4Matic all wheel drive, and $42,900 becomes the price of entry, with a five-speed automatic being part of the package.

My test vehicle came equipped with anti-theft system, sunroof, and heated front seats for a total as-tested price of $46,030.

Major standard equipment includes eight air bags (2 front, 4 side, and 2 head curtain bags), dual-zone climate control, leather seating inserts, stability control, multifunction steering wheel, real wood trim, and seven speaker audio.

Other C-Class models to receive the 4Matic treatment are the C240 Sport Wagon ($45,150), C320 sedan ($54,200), and C320 Sport Wagon ($56,450).

Nuts and Bolts

The C240 is powered by a (go figure) 2.6 litre, 18-valve V6 that produces 168 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. M-B says that the three valve, twin-plug cylinder design allows for quicker cylinder charging and helps the C-Class achieve Low Emissions Vehicle certification.

While six-speed manual transmissions are standard equipment on stern-drive C-Class cars, 4Matic models get a five-speed automatic as part of the deal. It’s a “driver-adaptive” unit that automatically adjusts its shift mapping according to road conditions and driver’s needs.

4Matic all wheel drive is a rear-biased system that incorporates a mechanical centre differential to send 65% of the engine’s power to the rear wheels. Electronic traction control varies the torque at individual wheels so that the car remains mobile even if only one corner of the car has traction.

The 4Matic Benzes share suspension bits with their rear-drive stablemates: a strut setup in front with twin-tube shock absorbers and twin lower links, and a five-link independent rear suspension with stabilizer bars at both ends.

A vented disc at each corner provides stopping power with 4-channel anti-lock brakes (one sensor at each wheel) on duty to prevent wheel lockup.

Inside and Out

Model year 2001 saw the redesign of the entry-lux C-Class – a change that brought a stylish family resemblance to all levels of Benz cars. Not much has changed since, which is a good thing. The C-Class has a timeless design that will do well as the years pass.

The Classic model, as tested here, does represent the bargain basement of the C-Class though, and as a result is home to a couple of decidedly downmarket styling cues: the door handles are black (not body coloured as in higher-end models) and the wheels are steel with plastic wheel covers.

If this were a $16,000 Nissan Sentra, that would be okay. But in a forty-something thousand dollar Benz? Disappointing.

There’s nothing downmarket about the interior though. All of the usual Benz amenities report for duty here, including plenty of quality leather and tastefully restrained use of wood. Leather didn’t make it to the steering wheel rim; that’s another extra cost item.

Once I found the proper seating position using the Benz’s myriad controls, the cockpit proved to be a pleasant place to spend time. It’s about as classy as they come in this segment – one of the benefits of buying an entry-level car from a luxury maker rather than a top-end car from a mainstream manufacturer.

There are a few ergonomic foibles that should be addressed though. Eight buttons on the steering wheel control dozens of functions from reading the coolant temperature to displaying trip computer data to setting user preferences. It’s a confusing maze of menus that makes sense only after repeated exposure or studying the owner’s manual thoroughly. And something that I always gripe about with these cars: the controls for the cruise are located on a stalk to the left of the steering column just above the turn signal stalk. I can’t count the number of times I set the cruise instead of my turn signals.

The Driving Experience

The 4Matic delivers everything I expect from a Benz with the added security of all wheel drive. And it’s not the poseur part-time all wheel drive that starts life as a front-driver, it’s the real deal. The kind of system that’s truly useful for more than just straight-line acceleration.

That expected behaviour includes a solid, quiet ride, smooth powerplant, and comfortable cruising. Even though this represents the affordable end of the Benz spectrum, it certainly possesses the DNA of its pricier siblings.

The C240 4Matic tips the scales within a few pounds of the A4 1.8T quattro and 325xi, but the 168-hp motor seems a little overwhelmed until the engine starts singing in the upper octaves. It never sounds or feels strained – it’s a model of composure – but a bit of patience is required before the thrust comes on.

Exacerbating the perceived lack of grunt at low revs is another Benz quirk: the throttle requires a heavy foot for even small increases in speed. That high resistance makes it feel a little more sluggish at low speeds.

To Sum It Up

Adding the option of an additional pair of driving wheels makes the C-Class more attractive to buyers who want the very best in active safety technology. To Mercedes-Benz fans, it offers style, luxury, and of course safety that few can match in its class. It does come at a dear price, though, and the competition is stiff.

But kudos to Mercedes-Benz for offering all wheel drive on all of its sedan and wagon models. Even if they didn’t come up with it first.

Shopping Around

  • Audi A4 1.8T
  • BMW 325xi
  • Jaguar X-Type 2.5
  • VW Passat 4Motion
  • Volvo S60 AWD

Technical Data: 2004 Mercedes-Benz C240 4Matic

Base price $42,900
Price as tested $46,030
Type 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
Layout Front engine, all wheel drive
Engine 2,597-cc OHC V-6 with three valves per cylinder
Horsepower 168 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque 177 @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic with manual mode
Tires 205/55 R16 91H all season steel-belted radials
Curb weight 1,595 kg (3,520 lb)
Wheelbase 2,715 mm (106.9 in)
Length 4,526 mm (178.2 in)
Width 1,728 mm (68.0 in)
Height 1,400 mm (55.1 in)
Trunk capacity 430 litres (15.2 cu. ft)
Fuel consumption City: 12.8 L/100 km (22 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.0 l/100 km (35 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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