March 18, 2003
By Jeremy Cato
Mercedes-Benz, the luxury division of DaimlerChrysler AG, invested nearly $2 billion to design, engineer and fully develop a completely new C-class for the 2001 model year, and apparently the money was well spent.
The truth is, this used car report had a tough time finding confirmed, documented evidence of almost any ongoing and widespread quality issues with the C-class sedans from 2001-2003. That is unusual to say the least.
Yes, the World Wide Web does contain a number of Mercedes-Benz “gripe” sites, but it is difficult to take most of these too seriously because in a court of law they would be nothing more than hearsay without documented corroboration. What I can tell you is that my thorough search turned up very few technical service bulletins, safety recalls and official government defect investigations for the C-class (see Buyer’s Alerts).
What’s more, in the latest J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, the C-class ranked well above average in all areas except feature and accessory quality – which was rated just slightly above average.
So it’s not a huge surprise to find that nearly-new C-class cars are holding their used car values quite well. By most accounts we’re talking about a well-built, reliable near-luxury sedan with good ride and handling characteristics and above average reliability.
Now back in the fall of 2000, when Mercedes was launching the redesigned C-class, there was plenty of nervousness about this model. The C-class plays in the volume segment of the luxury market, the so-called entry part that accounts for more than 70 per cent of all luxury cars sales in North America. And we’re talking about a model which world wide accounts for more than a third of all Mercedes’ passenger car sales.
Mercedes may not like to hear this, but it was generally conceded back then that the standard of this class was the BMW 3-series. So Mercedes was bound and determined to trump its German rival with the re-made C-class. I, personally, prefer the road manners of a similarly priced Bimmer, but others disagree and have voted for the C-class with their wallets – a true sign of commitment.
Okay, some key facts about the 2001-2003 C-class. Mercedes-Benz Canada has sold a number of versions, including the base C240 Classic, the C240 Elegance and Sport, the C320 and the excellent C320 Sport.
The two engine choices have been V6s: the base C240 has been and remains a 2.6-litre rated at 168 horsepower; the C320 has had a 3.2-litre V6 with 215 horsepower. At various times Mercedes-Benz Canada has sold either engine mated to a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission.
Not only that, the C-class has come as a station wagon and with all-wheel drive, and a C-class coupe has gone on sale since the launch, too. Obviously the C-class lineup is large and diverse.
In the case of the sedans, we’re talking about a beautifully styled four-door with a front end marked by blended headlights similar to those on the much bigger S-class of 2001. This design is as scientifically sleek as it is aesthetically pleasing: the drag coefficient, a measure of how cleanly the car knifes through the air, is 0.27 – a number which translates into a 16 per cent improvement over 2000 C-class.
Mercedes also made the 2001 cars bigger, though not by much – just 2 cm or 0.8 in. longer, with a wheelbase increased by 2.54 cm or 1 in. Still, the newer cars feel larger and more substantial than the ones they replaced.
Inside, the cabin is handsome, although some Mercedes controls take some getting used to for those unfamiliar with how they work. On safety, no manufacturer short of Volvo is as keen as Mercedes, which means these cars are robust and loaded with features such as standard anti-lock braking (ABS) and smart airbags with built-in transponders that detect compatible child seats (the BabySmart system).
The C-class competes in what has become a fantastically crowded field of near-luxury or executive sedans. If you’re looking for a slightly used car in this price class you should also consider the 3-series, the Lexus IS300 and ES300, the Lincoln LS, the Infiniti I30, Acura’s 3.2TL and 3.5RL and Volvo’s S60 sedan.