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Long-term Update: 2003 Mercedes-Benz C230K Sport

Flashes of a well-rounded sports sedan

Bill Klein
Jul 29, 2004
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Tuesday morning, keys are tossed to me as I sit at my desk. Keys belonging to the Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor Sport sedan sitting in the company garage. I hadn't been behind the wheel of a Benz since my days as a garage monkey when I put myself through college. My impressions of Mercedes-Benzes were that they were first and foremost luxury cars with only a hint of a sports car's spirit in certain higher-end models, and only if you pushed them hard enough.

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Walking up to the car, knowing it was all mine--at least for a week--I took a good look at it for the first time. Definitely a Mercedes but with a slightly more aggressive look than what I usually see at the local "land of gracious living" golf courses. Color-keyed door handles and a factory tint help add some sporty touches. The 17-in. seven-spoke alloy wheels with 225/45ZR17 tires are what set it apart from the standard model, though. The clear-coated aluminum wheels contrast nicely with the Pewter Silver paint job. The gap between the wheels and the fender lip is just a bit too big for me to label it sport. A 25- to 40mm drop would help in both the looks and handling departments.

Finding a comfortable driving position was easy courtesy of the tilt/telescoping steering column and eight-way adjustable semi-power seat. The front seat's side-bolsters kept me firmly planted during those more spirited trips to the store. Outward vision overall was good except for one area: over my left shoulder. I was staring at the B-pillar. This made merging with traffic and certain left turns more work to find a safe spot in which to move in.

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Clearly, the drivetrain is where the most attention was paid in order for Mercedes to call this a sports sedan. With nearly 190 supercharged horsepower and just a few ticks more torque at 192 lb-ft, it never felt underpowered. Would I like more? Sure, who wouldn't? With max torque available from 3500 to 4000 rpm, neither being locked up in typical SoCal rush hour traffic nor trying to keep up and get past some of the slower cars on the road was a problem at all. Find an open spot, hit the throttle, aim and you're there. Downshifting optional. Spend some time in the upper rpm and it feels like the motor wants to, and can, rev higher. It pulls strong all the way up to and past peak horsepower at 5800.

When starting from a stop, 6000 rpm comes quickly due to a short first gear. Shift there or be prepared for a serious bog about 200 rpm later, when the engine's electronics kick in. Even when you do hit the shift point spot on, then row to the next gear and mash the gas pedal, throttle response is not as instantaneous as I would like. Quicker throttle response and a short-throw shifter could take a tenth of a second or so off acceleration times. Of the few cars I have driven with electronic throttles this seems to be a common trait. Must be some sort of emissions thing.

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Our car is equipped up front with a Sport three-link independent suspension with stabilizer bar and a Sport Multi-Link with gas pressure dampers out back. During normal, day-to-day driving the suspension is very compliant. Shocks and springs soak up road irregularities with ease and provide good road feedback. No nose dive under heavy braking or squat during accelerating. A very comfortable ride on long, straight and fairly smooth roads.

Push the car hard and things go from controlled and balanced to that "what just broke?" feeling. Body roll and understeer reared their ugly heads and put an end to the fun. The passenger's seat side-bolster made a perfect ramp for my cellphone as it headed for the great outdoors through the driver's window while I was driving around a particularly fast and wide corner. The car just nosed over on the outside front wheel. If not for a well-timed shoulder block my phone would have disappeared forever. That was the only time the vehicle gave any hint to its curb weight of 3,185 lb. Perhaps a refining touch to the high-speed compression damping of the shocks, stiffer springs, a larger front bar or even a small rear bar would help to level the car out and keep the front end planted during such aforementioned sporty moments.

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The C230 Kompressor Sport Sedan reminded me of the many outstanding qualities that made driving a Mercedes seem so special, setting my standards for what a luxury automobile should be. The distinctive Mercedes look, build quality, safety record, reliability and functionality, as well as the comfortable interior and the many luxury appointments, further proved it. Only minor refinements to a few systems would be needed to unleash the hidden potential of this car and turn it into the well-rounded sport sedan it currently only shows in flashes.

By Bill Klein
12 Articles



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