2005 Mercedes-Benz C230
2005 Mercedes-Benz C230. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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The first Mercedes to wear a C-Class badge appeared in 1993, when it replaced the 190 sedan as the company’s least expensive model. Dubbed the W202 according to Mercedes’ internal platform naming convention, this first C-Class quickly became one of the brand’s best-selling models worldwide. Given that, the second-generation C-Class (known internally and by Benz heads as W203) had big shoes to fill.

When the W203 was introduced in 2001, it could be had as either a C240 or C320. The C240, strangely enough, got a 2.6-litre V6 making 168 horsepower, and could be paired with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic; the C320 got a 3.2-litre V6 good fro 215 horses, which was offered exclusively with the five-speed auto. The 2002 model year brought a bunch of new models. The C230 Sport Coupe was actually a three-door hatcback, powered by a supercharged four-banger, and could be had with manual or automatic transmissions. An AMG-tuned version joined the lineup again, with a supercharged version of the 3.2-litre V6; it was badged the C32 AMG. Finally, a wagon was added too; it came only with the 3.2-litre V6 and auto tranny.

2005 Mercedes-Benz C230
2005 Mercedes-Benz C230. Click image to enlarge

2003 brought even more new model designations. The C230 Sport Coupe used a supercharged 1.8-litre engine, and there was a C240 wagon, which, like the sedan, could be had with a six-speed manual. Also, Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system could be added to the C240 and C320, wagon or sedan. The AMG sedan and Sport Coupe remained rear-drive only. In 2004, a C230 Kompressor Classic sedan was added, powered by the Sport Coupe’s 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder.

In 2005, the AMG version got a new 5.5-litre V8 and a new model designation – C55 – to go along with it. And 2006 brought a whole bunch of new engines: gone were the 1.8-litre four-cylinder and 2.6- and 3.2-litre V6’s, and in their places were 2.5-, 3.0- and 3.5-litre motors. Model designations were new too: C230, C280 and C350. The entry-level C230 could still be had with a six-speed, but a C350 Sport got it too, which was a nice addition for the enthusiast crowd.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, wagon and Sport Coupe
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, wagon and Sport Coupe. Click image to enlarge

City cycle fuel consumption ranges from about 10 L/100 km to 13.5 L/100 km for non-AMG versions, while highway consumption is lowest with the 1.8-litre engine and manual transmission, at 6.8 L/100 km; the high end for non-AMG models is about 9 L/100 km. If you go for an AMG car, expect consumption to be something like 15 L/100 km in the city and 10 L/100 km on the highway.

As seems to be common with Mercedes-Benz vehicles in recent years, reliability is sub-par. Consumer Reports used vehicle verdicts on the W203 C-Class range from average to poor, listing trouble spots like the suspension and fuel delivery system, but the biggest issues are crabby climate control systems and lots of electrical faults. Browse C-Class forums on the web, and you won’t have trouble finding anecdotal evidence.

The climate control problem is discussed at MBWorld.org (); some members there also say they’ve also had a problem linked to Mercedes’ Electronic Stability Control Program (ESP); information can be found here and here.

2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport Coupe
2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport Coupe. Click image to enlarge

At MercedesForum.com, members talk about a driveshaft vibration that dealers seem to have a hard time diagnosing and W203 owners at RoadFly.org generally seem to agree with CR’s poor reliability rating.

Back at MBWorld.org, there are discussions about faults that tend to occur everytime the battery is disconnected and reconnected, and here’s a thread detailing DIY fixes for a variety of squeaks and rattles. I’m not sure how common these out-of-place noises are, but I’d sooner let a dealer fix these sorts of things under warranty, especially in a luxury car.

Safety-wise, the second-generation C-Class earned four stars for driver and front passenger protection in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) frontal crash tests, and five stars for front and rear seat occupation protection in side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the C-Class a “good” rating in its frontal offset crash test, though its side impact test revealed a chance of torso injury (rib fractures and/or internal organ injury); the IIHS gave the car an “acceptable” rating in that test.

2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 wagon
2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 wagon. Click image to enlarge

According to Canadian Red Book, used values range from a high of $46,950 for a 2006 C350 4MATIC sedan, to a low of $13,725 for a 2001 C240 sedan. For about $20,000, you could get a 2003 C240 Elegance sedan, while a C320 from the same year is worth about $25,175.

If you’re looking for a sporty high-end sedan, a BMW or Audi would be a better bet, as Mercedes’ cars tend to be a little less involving than those brands’ offerings. However, don’t count on any of the three being the most dependable car you’ve owned, and maintaining a high-end German car out of warranty can get expensive quickly. I’d suggest looking for one that’s had all the major issues (finicky climate control, fast-wearing suspension components and electrical troubles) dealt with already, and then get that car looked at by a trusted mechanic.

Online resources

Benzworld.com and MBWorld.com seem to be pretty useful, though dedicated repair/maintenance forums would be a nice touch. Much of the discussion in the general W203 section deals with cosmetic upgrades. The W203 forum at MercedesForum.com could be great, if only it were busier. Over at RoadFly.org, the W203 C-Class forum, is likewise useful, but not terribly busy.

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Owner Reviews on autoTRADER.ca


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001018; Units affected: 119

2001: Certain vehicles were equipped with an incorrect SAM (Signal Acquisition and Activation Module) electronic control unit that does not cause the front side marker lights to illuminate as soon as the master lighting switch is moved to the headlamps “ON” position. Correction: Headlamp function will be checked and, the incorrect SAM unit will be replaced.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003199; Units affected: 4

2003: On certain vehicles, the nut on the bolt which connects the steering gear to the steering coupling may not be tightened correctly. Loosening of the nut could result in a slipping of the connection over time, increasing the risk of a crash. Correction: Dealer will inspect the vehicles and tighten the nut if necessary.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003338; Units affected: 310

2004: On certain vehicles, the seat belt buckles may have a burr on a metal component of the locking mechanism. The presence of the burr may prevent the seat belt from locking under certain circumstances. Correction: Dealer will replace the affected seat belt buckles.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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