One way for a car company to build on the success of a particular hot selling model is to expand the model lineup with additional body styles. And that’s exactly what Mercedes-Benz has done with their popular C class sedan. This week we look at two new C class offerings, the C class sports coupe and the C class sport wagon. But is more of a good thing really better?
Well, in the case of the new 2002 Mercedes-Benz C230 Sports Coupe and C320 Sport Wagon, it’s really a matter of perspective. As these two cars, although members of the same family, have been built to serve very different purposes and buyers.
For instance, the C230 sports coupe is aimed straight for the heart of the young, and most likely single or newly betrothed, upwardly mobile demographic. Who, while looking for their first taste of entry level luxury, aren’t quite ready to embrace the maturity associated with a sedan, and certainly not a wagon.
When viewed from the front, the C230 sports coupe shares a similarity in appearance with both the sedan and wagon. But in reality, no body panels are shared with either car. In fact, the C230 is seven inches shorter than the sedan, and between its upward swept rear quarter panels, you’ll find a large hatch that opens to 10.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up, and 38.1 cubic feet when folded.
Powering the C230 sports coupe is a new version of the 2.3 liter, supercharged, DOHC, 16-valve in-line 4 cylinder used in the SLK roadster. This “kompressor” engine with its Roots- type supercharger, pumps out 192 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Mated to the standard 6-speed manual transmission, a 5-speed “Touchshift” automatic is optional, we hit 60 in 7.4 seconds, and on through the quarter mile in 15.6 seconds at 92 mph.
Delivery of power is smooth, with no strong “hit” of power like we felt on our last SLK 230. But, our testers found the C230’s shifter too vague and rubbery for true enthusiast driving. On the other hand, a trip through the low speed slalom revealed the C230 to be near neutral in handling, with just a touch of understeer if pushed hard. On those occasions the rear end also lightened up somewhat, but was kept in line and firmly planted by the standard ESP stability program. ASR traction control is also standard.
Much of the C230 sport coupe’s exemplary handling behavior can be attributed to the sport tuned suspension that comes standard on the car. This front and rear multi-link set up is the same one that helped earn the C320 Sport sedan our Drivers’ Choice Award as the best sport sedan for 2001. It also shares the same brakes, 4-wheel 11 inch discs, with 4-channel ABS and Brake Assist that brought us to a stop from 60 in 120 feet. No complaints here, as stability, pedal feel, and ABS feedback are all very good.
No complaints about the interior either, which is a mix of both the familiar and new, if clearly done on a budget. Standard upholstery throughout is a tight woven cloth, with 8-way manually adjustable seats in front, although full leather and power are optional.
The driver faces a manually adjustable tilting and telescoping steering wheel, with steering wheel-mounted controls that operate more than 50 different functions. A unique-for-Mercedes binnacle houses the analog gauges and message center, while to the right the rather standard for Mercedes center stack layout is surrounded by real aluminum trim. The climate controls, however, are different than those we’ve seen before, with dual zone temperature settings and automatic operation.
What remains the same is the full complement of interior safety features we’ve come to expect from Mercedes. Like the side impact airbags in the front and rear and a head curtain protection system, all standard equipment.
What has not been expected from Mercedes in the recent past is a budget price. And in that regard, the new 2002 C class sports coupe sets a new precedent, as the base price, and the out-the-door price of our tester, is just $25,595. That’s a considerable amount of content, for a reasonable amount of cash.
At the other end of the C class spectrum is the new 2002 C320 Sport Wagon. The sport wagon was designed and developed simultaneously with the C class sedan. And from its 3.2 liter V6 and 5-speed Touchshift automatic transmission, to its highly accessorized interior and control layout, to its well balanced handling and almost S-Class ride, the sedan and this wagon strike us as nearly identical, nearly being the key word here. As from the rear seats back, the sport wagon’s commodious cargo hold that offers 25.2 cubic feet of room seat backs up and 63.6 cubic feet folded, is a major addition that separates the two.
That, and price. Base price on the 2002 C320 sport wagon is $39,095. With options and destination, our tester rang up to a rather hefty $45,020. Now that’s only a couple of grand more than the sedan for a lot more versatility.
With the impressive C class sedan in its various configurations, the Mercedes-Benz C class lineup already resembles a well oiled hockey team headed down the stretch. The addition of the C230 sports coupe and C320 sport wagon, as well as a hot new 349 horsepower C32 AMG sedan, all for 2002, could be compared to signing a few high powered players to the team before heading into the playoffs. It’s a move that’s sure to keep the competition in check!
Engine: 2.3 Liter, Supercharged, Dohc, 16-valve In-line 4 Cylinder
Torque: 200 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 92 MPH
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet
EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 29 MPG Highway