“The redesigned 2001 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans have all-new aerodynamic styling, two newly available V6 engines, a new standard 6-speed manual transmission, a revised suspension, new rack and pinion steering, a stiffer body structure, and new head curtain airbags and dual-stage front airbags.”
New standard V6 adds refinement to redesigned C-Class
The second-generation 2001 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans, introduced this month, remain roughly the same size as before, but significant improvements have been made in performance, refinement, and safety. Specifically, the redesigned 2001 C-Class sedans have all-new aerodynamic styling, two newly available V6 engines, a new standard 6-speed manual transmission, a revised suspension, new rack and pinion steering, a stiffer body structure, and new head curtain airbags and dual-stage front airbags.
Surprisingly, prices have not increased significantly, except on the Sport models. Base 2001 C240 Classic models with an automatic transmission start at $38,950, just $500 more than the 2000 base model. Top-of-the-line 2001 C320 models are priced the same as their 2000 C280 predecessors.
Two new V6 engines
The previous 185 horsepower 2.3 litre supercharged four cylinder engine in the 2000 C230 Kompressor has been replaced by a 168 horsepower 2.6 litre SOHC V6 engine in the new C240 model. (Mercedes-Benz spokesperson, Arden Nerling, said the decision to call it ‘C240’ and not ‘C260’ was a marketing decision designed to keep a wider gap between the C320 and the C240.). Though the C240 has less horsepower and torque than the C230 Kompressor, the new V6 engine is considerably quieter and more refined, giving the impression that this is more than just an entry-level model.
Like other Mercedes-Benz V6 engines, the 2.6 litre V6 has three valves per cylinder and twin sparkplugs, a design which enhances torque and improves emissions. It also offers new variable intake manifolds for increased low-end torque. Fuel consumption is reasonably good for a V6 engine: 11.6 l/100 km (24 mpg) in the city and 8.2 l/100 km (34 mpg) on the highway.
Apart from the technical benefits of this V6 engine, the prestige value of having a standard six cylinder engine in an ‘entry-level’ car is considerably greater than that of a four cylinder engine, supercharged or not.
2000 model year C280 models, which had a 194 horsepower 2.8 litre V6 engine, have been replaced by the 2001 C320 sedan which offers a 215 horsepower 3.2 litre V6 powerplant and a standard 5-speed automatic transmission.
New 6-speed manual transmission
For the first time, the C-Class is available with a manual transmission, a new 6-speed manual (borrowed from the SLK sports car). It’s now standard on C240 models but is not available on C320 models. The manual transmission adds a sportier driving feel to C240 models, and allows Mercedes-Benz to compete with rivals BMW and Audi, which offer standard manual transmissions.
All C-Class cars are available with a 5-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift (a manual mode for clutchless manual shifting). In automatic mode, this transmission automatically adapts shift points to a driver’s driving style and road conditions, and includes a Winter mode (second gear start) for driving on slippery roads.
Revised suspension, steering
Though it retains a four-wheel independent multi-link suspension, the C- Class front suspension has been redesigned to provide better wheel control and damping in addition to improved impact absorption in a crash. At the rear, minor modifications have improved handling predictability at higher speeds.
For those who want sportier handling, an optional Sport package includes higher rate springs and shocks, larger stabilizer bars, and larger 225/50R-16 inch performance radials on unique five-spoke alloy wheels.
A new rack and pinion steering system replaces the previous recirculating ball system. This provides quicker, more responsive steering and a more driver-oriented feel. New, larger brake components have resulted in a 15% improvement in braking force.
Even base C-Class models have an impressive amount of standard safety features. New this year are head curtain airbags which protect both front and rear passengers in a side impact or rollover. Also standard are front and rear side airbags and new dual-stage front airbags which deploy with less force in lower speed collisions.
Five three-point seatbelts and five adjustable head restraints are standard. Both front and rear seatbelts are height adjustable and have force limiters. Rear head restraints fold down when not in use so as not to restrict vision to the rear.
All C-Class models have the BabySmart child seat recognition system which disables the front passenger airbag if the child seat is in place.
Not seen, but equally important, are new impact boxes in the front body structure which absorb crash energy in collisions up to 15 km/h leaving the vehicle’s main structure unaffected.
As before, Mercedes-Benz’ sophisticated anti-skid system, called Electronic Stability Control (ESP), is standard on all C-Class models. This system uses sensors which detect steering angle, wheel speed, lateral acceleration, and yaw (rotation on a vertical axis)- a computer then brakes one wheel momentarily to straighten the car out if it goes into a skid.
Brake Assist, an automatic braking system which provides maximum braking force in panic braking situations, is standard.
New interior design
The new C240 is about 25 mm longer and 5 mm wider, with a slightly larger interior than before, and is very comfortable for four adults, but perhaps not five. Rear headroom and legroom is generous but the shape of the roof at the sides may bother some taller rear passengers in the outboard seats.
All C-Class cars feature a new instrument layout with a large semi-circular central speedometer which has a built-in LCD display with vehicle functions such as radio, trip computer, clock and extra gauges. The display can be operated via buttons on the steering wheel much like a scrolling menu.
Also new this year is dual zone climate control with separate driver/front passenger temperature controls – standard on most C-Class models. An AM/FM/cassette player is standard, but a CD player is optional.
Some thought has gone into the placement of controls. For example, the power window buttons on the doors are almost horizontal rather than vertical so that they face the driver and are easy to operate. A rotary headlight switch is located on the left side of the dash and an elecronic ignition key switch is located to the right of the steering wheel. The door lock switch is on the centre console as is a release button which automatically lowers the three rear head restraints for improved visibility.
There’s a separate stalk for cruise control on the steering column, but I found it was out of reach of my fingers when in the ‘9 and 3’ driving position. A tilt-telescopic steering wheel is standard.
The power-operated seats on the C240 model are unusual: the recline and height adjustment features are power-operated but fore-aft adjustment is manually-operated. C320 models have complete power operation for all functions. Two temperature front seat heaters are standard. Wood trim lines the dash and doors.
Interior storage space has been increased substantially: the door pockets are double the size and the glovebox is three times as large as before – although an optional 6-disc CD changer will take up most of that space. Between the driver and passenger is a roomy, dual-level storage bin/armrest. A unique hide-away cupholder in the centre console area can be released by pressing a button – only Mercedes could make a cupholder this fancy! Rear passengers also have a fold-down centre armrest with two slide-out cupholders.
The trunk is roomy with a flat, carpeted floor and an open plastic storage on the left and right sides. The trunk can be opened with a remote key, and has a latch on the outside and a handle on the inside. The V-shaped trunk lid restricts the width of the trunk opening somewhat, but not significantly. A folding rear seatback is available as an option.
While the new 2.6 litre V6 engine is more refined than the previous supercharged four cylinder powerplant, it’s not as powerful. 0 to 100 km/h takes about 9.2 seconds. Compare that with a time of 7.8 seconds for the C320 sedan with the 3.2 litre V6 engine.
Still, there’s never a sense that the C240 is underpowered. The 2.6 litre V6 engine is so well mannered that you can forgive it for being less than blindingly quick. As a luxury car, not a performance car, the C240 is a capable automobile that has sufficient power for its size and weight.
I enjoyed the new 6-speed manual transmission – shifts are short and gear changing is quite a pleasure – however, first gear was geared a bit too low for my tastes – I had to change gears before I reached 30 km/h. In addition, the clutch engagement point was too close to the floor, and the accelerator pedal effort seemed rather high.
Despite these quibbles, the manual transmission breathes more performance and excitement into the base 2.6 litre V6 engine which redlines at 6000 rpm. The manual transmission will appeal to sporty-minded drivers – oh, and it knocks $1,500 dollars off the price of the automatic-equipped C240.
The 5-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift, is as smooth as warm molasses, but the kickdown times in automatic mode were a bit slow when passing. Perhaps its adaptive shift control would adapt to my driving style over time, but I only had one day with the car. New rack and pinion steering improves steering responsiveness though steering effort is not quite as firm as I would have liked.
At highway speeds, the C-Class’ ride is very comfortable, and it rides like a larger car than it really is. The new, stiffer stronger body structure provides a solid, noise-free ride, and with an aerodynamic drag coefficient of just 0.26, there’s very little wind noise. The engine is also quiet, revving along at just 2,400 rpm at 100 km/h in top gear. However, I found that on rough asphalt roads, some road noise and suspension noise comes through the body into the passenger cabin. Overall, I thought the C240 made an excellent high-speed touring car as well as a good city car because of its compact size and good outward visibility.
One small point – the right side mirror is partly blocked by the windshield pillar, decreasing its size and usefulness.
Prices for 2001 Mercedes-Benz C-Class models, with the exception of Sport models, have remained at or near 2000 model year prices. Manufacturer’s suggested retail prices are as follows: C240 Classic $37,450 (man)/$38,950 (auto), C240 Elegance $42,850 (man)/$44,350 (auto); C240 Sport $47,350 (man)/$48,850 (auto); C320 $49,950; C320 Sport $54,450.
Future C-Class models
In addition to a four-door sedan bodystyle, Mercedes-Benz will be offering a C-Class coupe and a wagon in the Fall of 2001. A high-performance C32 model will also make its debut at that time. Finally, in the Fall of 2002, a C-Class 4Matic (all-wheel-drive) sedan and wagon will arrive.
|2001 Mercedes-Benz C240|
|Price as tested||$44,350|
|Type||4-door, compact luxury sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.6 litre V6, SOHC, 18 valves|
|Horsepower||168 @ 5500 rpm|
|Torque||177 @ 4500 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic w/Touch Shift (std. 6 spd manual)|
|Curb weight||1460 kg ( 3219 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2715 mm (106.9 in.)|
|Length||4528 mm (178.2 in.)|
|Width||1728 mm (68.0 in.)|
|Height||1425 mm (56.1 in.)|
|Trunk space||339 litres (12.0 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.6 l/100 km (24 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.2 l/100 km (34 mpg)|
|Warranty||Whole car: 4 yrs/80,000 km|
|Powertrain: 5 yrs/120,000 km|