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Long-term Update: 2003 Mercedes-Benz C230K Sport

Getting the most out of the smaller 1.8L engine

Sherri Collins
Sep 6, 2003 SHARE

What's a C230 sedan doing with a 1.8-liter engine? We're about to find out. Despite its smaller capacity, the supercharged 1.8-liter four is just as powerful (okay, it makes 3 bhp less) than its 2.3-liter forbear, outputting 189 bhp and 200 lb-ft of torque. Where you might notice the difference is in the rpm range. Horsepower peaks at 5800 rpm, compared to 5500 for the 2.3L. The torque range is also a bit higher and shorter: 3500 to 4000 rpm versus 2500 to 4800 rpm. The result is a compact sedan that is 0.4 sec. slower (7.6 vs. 7.2) in the 0-to-60 mph blast than the 2002 version. However, if you're buying a car for its 0 to 60 speed only, you're probably not considering a compact luxury sedan anyway.

We here at european car don't mind the very slight decrease in performance (not that many would or could tell the difference) as the new C230K Sport more than makes up the difference in a number of areas. The engine's smaller size means the sedan weighs less--3,250 lb compared to 3,306 for the 2.3L--which, in turn, translates into better fuel economy. The 2003 version averages 21 mpg city and 30 mpg hwy--the previous model was rated at 19/29 mpg city/hwy.

Our long-termer bears the designation "Sport," meaning it came, as standard, with a sport-tuned suspension, sport body cladding, aluminum interior trim, seven-spoke 17-in. wheels with high-performance tires and a six-speed close-ratio manual transmission. The sport-tuned suspension setup is comprised of two separate lower links with a strut, coil springs, twin-tube gas shocks and a stabilizer bar at the front, and independent multi-link with gas shocks at the rear. The vented disc brakes, sized 11.8-in. at the front and 11.4-in. at the rear, are the ones found across the C-Class lineup--excluding the C32 AMG, of course. And all the stability-enhancing systems, Electronic Stability Control (ESP), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), ABS and Brake Assist, are also standard.

The body cladding, a la sport, consists of a redesigned front bumper, sculpted side sills, chrome accents and a rear apron. The changes, though subtle, give the sedan a more playful, less serious appearance, as do the snazzy 7.5x17-in. seven-spoke EVO alloy wheels, which are wrapped appropriately in 225/45 Michelin Pilot Sport high-performance tires.

On the inside, the C230K's sport status is denoted by cross-hatched aluminum trim where wood would normally reside--center console, and door and dash inserts. The look is refreshingly clean and modern. The front sport seats have leather seating inserts and are eight-way semi-electric adjustable.

But that's not all our new long-termer has on it. The standard equipment list alone is what we've come to expect from Mercedes-Benz. The climate control system is dual zone and features a dust filter. The four-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel is manually adjustable for tilt and telescope and it has multiple functions--audio system adjustments, cruise control, trip computer, Flexible Service System readout. The shift knob and door handle pulls are leather wrapped as well. The cupholder in the center console is of typical M-B overengineered design, but it does serve its purpose well and is fun to watch unfold (I've got to get out more). One other nifty feature that all vehicles should come with is the automatic rear headrest fold-down button. One touch and the rear headrests neatly collapse, affording the driver a better rear view of following traffic.

The aforementioned feature brings me to the lengthy list of safety and security equipment that Mercedes-Benz always incorporates into its cars. On the safety side there are dual front airbags, head protection curtains and side airbags in the front and rear doors. The front and rear outboard seatbelts have pretensioners and force limiters, and there is a BabySmart child-recognition system. In case of a collision the occupants are afforded extra protection by a steel-reinforced cabin and front and rear crumple zones.

Security items include an antitheft alarm with engine immobilizer and anti-tow and M-B's SmartKey with remote access. For additional piece of mind--and sanity of pocketbook--the C230K Sport comes with a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty, a 24-hour roadside assistance program and a 4-year/50,000-mile maintenance commitment.

Obviously, the standard features on the C230K are impressive, but as befits european car's love of extras, our long-termer also came with a healthy set of options. The Lighting Package ($750) adds bi-xenon headlights and a headlight washing system. The Value-added Package ($1,600) includes autodimming driver and rearview mirrors (not my favorite feature as you can't deactivate it manually), a rain sensor for the intermittent wipers, a glass sunroof and a power rear-window shade. Separate options include the Tele-Aid system ($775), a premium sound system ($625) and a factory installed six-disc CD changer ($400) mounted handily in the glovebox. Even the color is special; the Pewter Silver paint adds on another $655. The MSRP for the C230 Kompressor Sport Sedan is $27,990. Our options total $4,805 and the destination and delivery charge is $720, giving us a grand total of $33,515.

That's not a bad price for an entry-level luxury sedan, especially one that wears the three-pointed star. Mercedes-Benz has been promoting the inherent value of its vehicles, not just the luxury aspect. During the upcoming year european car staffers will report back on whether or not the new C230K Sport sedan represents value for the sport-minded driver. Stay tuned.

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By Sherri Collins
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