5 February 2004

Blink and you might miss the facelifted C-Class, unveiled this week by Mercedes-Benz. However, lurking beneath the same-again exterior are numerous changes to the chassis, engines and cabin to perk up the four-year-old design.

Externally, C-spotters must adapt to three louvres on the grille instead of today’s four, new bumpers and clear-lens headlamps, augmented by optional lights which turn with the steering wheel.

The major difference, however, is the arrival of more powerful petrol and diesel engines, headed by the new 362bhp C55 AMG. This will be Mercedes’ first V8 C-Class and the company claims its 376lb ft peak torque will help the C55 sprint to 62mph in 5.2sec. It will be differentiated from other models by a 80mm longer nose – to accommodate the V8 – sporty side skirts and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Other new engines include a supercharged 189bhp 1.8-litre four-cylinder in the C230 Kompressor and an upgraded C220 CDi with 148hp, up 7bhp.

Inside, drivers get standard climate control as well as updated switchgear.

Since its launch, the C-Class has jostled with different BMW 3-series models for class honours. Now, Mercedes is making modifications to the chassis, steering and standard six-speed manual gearboxes in a bid to make it even better to drive.

All models get a wider track – up by 12mm – and 16-inch alloys, while other changes include a thicker rear anti-roll bar and more direct steering ratio.

Mercedes is staggering the launch of the facelifted C-Class. The estate and Sports Coupé models arrive first in May, while the saloon hits UK showrooms in July.

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