From £15,285
Pricey but pleasant

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The Mercedes C-Class marks a return to the company's old-school values of all-round quality and maturity

25 May 2004

It’s called a Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor Sports Coupé SE, but you can forget the ‘sports’ bit. Though more agile and a better steer than the saloon, this C-class is not sporty. Fast, solid, grippy, good-looking, economical, well-made and comfortable it may be – add ‘expensive’ to that list, too – but not ‘sporty’. It’s not a coupé, either.

What it is, in this newly facelifted form, is a desirable and handsome upmarket hatch. And it had better be way, way upmarket at this price: £28,870 for the test car, which includes £1750 for the ‘Evolution Panorama’ package, giving you a full-length glass sunroof and 17in alloys, among other goodies. Then there’s £1250 for leather seats, and £1000 for bits and pieces like automatic windscreen wipers and a CD changer in the glovebox. Base price is a hefty £24,210 – that’s £5000 too much.

If you can forget that shocking price tag – £28,870 for a 1.8-litre hatch! – the car is excellent. The front bumper and grille are reshaped and improved, and the interior gets new switches, seats and trim. Mercedes seems to have responded well to criticism of the C’s interior quality. This car is solidly built, with fine attention to detail – a great place to be and a proper Mercedes.

On the road, the first impression is one of genuine refinement and quietness. The ride isn’t quite as polished as it should be, lacking subtlety, but it’s comfortable, and the steering is typically solid, meaty Merc: not much feel, but you don’t miss it.

There is genuine pace, too, both in the gears and through them: the torque kicks in hard from low down, and if it wasn’t for the noise, you’d swear you were driving a six. The din is an obvious giveaway, however: the high-pitched ‘zimmy’ sound is about as aurally appealing as a sewing-machine buzz, but you get used to it, and it’s never intrusive.

You also get used to the gearchange, which is so notchy it forces you to use it slowly and deliberately. Not sporty, and therefore pointless: pay the extra £1000 for the smooth-shifting five-speed automatic. If you can afford it.

Bill Thomas

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