Mercedes-Benz owners that drive the company’s normally-aspirated 4-cylinder models have always been the “poor relations” when it comes to performance. Their cars, despite having all the luxury and refinement of other Mercedes, are always outpaced by V6 and V8 models. So for 1999, Mercedes-Benz has decided to give owners of its 4-cylinder C-Class sedans a boost, and one that should help them keep up with the Jones’.
Because adding a supercharger means a big power increase. Something that the entry level 4-cylinder Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan definitely needed. And in the 1999 C230 Kompressor, Kompressor being German for supercharger, the difference is immediately apparent.
But first, the numbers. Borrowed from the SLK roadster, the 2.3-liter supercharged, intercooled 4-banger makes the same 185 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. But, that’s 37 more horsepower for the C230 than before, with an equally impressive 38 more pound-feet of torque! All fed through Mercedes’ latest 5-speed adaptive automatic transmission, and standard-for-1999, ASR traction control system.
Which, when put to the test, pushes this car to 60 in an impressive 7.6 seconds, and through the full 1/4 mile in 15.7 seconds at 89 miles-per-hour. Not only does that beat Mercedes’ 0-60 claims by a half second, but it’s almost as fast as the discontinued but still formidable C36 super sedan! Though it did so with noticeably more vibration and noise than the company’s normally silky smooth sixes. Shifts are firmer than in the last 5-speed C-Class that we drove, but never harsh.
This performance carries over to the street, where the new powerplant delivers significantly more power for passing, and does so with impressive fuel economy. EPA estimates are 21 city/29 highway, while we managed 24 miles per gallon in every-day driving.
But while the drivetrain sees big changes for 1999, the C230’s double-wishbone front and 5-arm multi-link rear suspension remains the same. As do the 15-inch alloy wheels, shod with 205/60R-15 tires. Larger 16-inch wheels, as well as firmer suspension calibrations, are available as part of the optional Sport Package.
In standard form, our Kompressor test car produced solid, predictable handling. Front plow is pronounced, with the tail then drifting out in a smooth, predictable manner. The recirculating-ball power steering is quick and surprisingly precise, but lacks feel when worked hard. But the chassis feels very tight, with little body roll.
Braking is by 4-wheel discs, with standard anti-lock and Brake Assist. Stops from 60 averaged 121 feet, with plenty of pedal feel, and rock-like stability. Just what we expect from a Benz.
We also expect lots of luxury, and a very high level of build quality. But while the well-equipped, if compact-sized, interior features some lovely wood trim on the dash doors and center console, the quality of plastics used seems lower than we’re used to in this prestigious brand.
Safety equipment, however, lives up to the Mercedes’ reputation, with both front and side airbags for front seat occupants. Seating is also first rate. The standard cloth-and-leather bucket seats are firm and supportive, with 10-way power controls. Full leather is optional. More side bolstering is our only wish. The gauges are large, clear, if incomplete, as are those on all Mercedes products. But unlike other C-Class models, the Kompressor’s climate controls are manually controlled, but as well laid out as any.
Stereo changes for ‘99 come in the form of integrated controls for the sound system, optional CD changer and cellular phone, all in a single unit. Plus some tricky fiber-optic technology on the inside.
Rear seat room is adequate for adult passengers, and the wide seat is very supportive. And the headrests fold with just a touch of a button, when you need a better view of what’s behind you. The trunk is also quite roomy, offering a useful 12.9 cubic-feet of space.
So except for some funky dash plastics, the C230 Kompressor is what we’ve come to expect from the Mercedes C-Class. A solid, superbly made, entry-level luxury sedan. But one with an extra kick in the tail, thanks to its new force-fed 4-cylinder engine.
But it’s an extra kick that does not kick up the price. With more power and extra equipment, the Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor still carries a very reasonable base price of $31,795. With premium paint, sunroof, and CD changer, our test car carries a final price of $34,255.
Now ask yourself this question: For the same money, would you rather have this car or a Lexus ES300? We think the answer is a no-brainer. The Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor is serious value, and even more importantly, serious performance. It puts the budget conscience 4-cylinder Mercedes driver on an equal footing with six cylinder compatriots. And occasionally, it might even put them ahead.
Engine: 2.3-Liter Supercharged Intercooled 4-Cylinder
Torque: 200 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.7 Seconds @ 89 MPH
60-0 MPH: 121 Feet
EPA Mileage: 21 MPG City 29 MPG Highway