What's New for 1999
The SLK's 2.3-liter supercharged engine gets dropped into the C-Class, replacing the normally aspirated engine of the last C230. Performance has been turned up a notch. In addition, leather seating surfaces are now standard across the C-Class line.
The Baby Benz grew up four years ago when the C-Class replaced the 190E. The new car was substantially improved over the 190, offering better performance and more interior room. This year Mercedes' best-selling models should appeal to Americans even more because of more powerful engines.
The C230 gets supercharged power this year, good for an increase of 37 horsepower and 38 foot-pounds of torque, up to 185 and 200, respectively. The V6 that powers the C280 may not sound significant, but it produces better low-end torque than the engine it replaced while getting better fuel economy. And the V8 sitting under the hood of the C43 empowers the driver to leave just about everybody in its dust.
The C43 supersedan boasts a 4.3-liter engine that produces 302 horsepower at 5,850 rpm and 302 foot-pounds of torque between 3,250 and 5,000 rpm. Replacing the C36 sedan that turned heads from 1995 to 1997, the C43 is the latest combined effort of Mercedes-Benz and AMG, the German tuner that has modified and raced Mercedes cars for the past two decades. With this kind of power, an adaptive transmission and distinctive styling, the C43 fits well into the Mercedes tradition-yet still stands out on its own.
Other technologies that have found their way into the C-Class include side-impact airbags, the BabySmart airbag system that disables the passenger side front airbag when a Mercedes child seat is located in the front passenger seat, and Brake Assist which provides maximum braking if Mercedes has determined that you have stabbed the brake pedal in a panic situation.
The three models available this year are the C230 Kompressor, C280 and C43. Manually rowing the automatic shifter, a C230 Kompressor can now get to 60 mph in just over eight seconds, a two second improvement from last year's model. The six-cylinder C280 is quicker than the C230 Kompressor getting to speed, and getting there quickly doesn't mean changing your own gears. Handling is sure-footed with either car, and braking ability is quite good, although the C230, at 100 fewer pounds than the C280, feels somewhat more agile.
Base prices start just over $31,000 for the C230 Kompressor. The stronger C280 can be had for another four grand and includes the 2.8-liter V6, dual power front seats and an eight-speaker Bose stereo system. And then there's the steroid junkie C43, entering the market at $53 Grand. You may want to consider BMW's 328i, the Lexus ES300 or the Mazda Millenia before buying the Benz, but we can't help but think the C-Class is a relative bargain in this class, especially when considering the small car's ample luxury, spunky performance, and solid construction.