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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For The C-Class is a comfortable, refined and well built saloon with a touch of class

Against It's tricky to use the foot-operated parking brake with a manual gearbox

Verdict It's not quite a mini S-Class but it's very accomplished nevertheless

Go for… C180 Classic SE

Avoid… C350 Sport

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Saloon
  • 1. There are widespread reports of problems with the electronics and software
  • 2. The automatic gearboxes aren’t bullet-proof, so check if the transmission is jerky or has a tendency to hang on to the gears
  • 3. The car's basically sound, but you should keep an ear out for odd noises from the suspension
  • 4. If you can find one, the supercharged C180 introduced in late 2002 is the engine to go for. Otherwise, track down the 143bhp 2.2-litre, which was available from launch
  • 5. There are several trims to choose from, but Classic SE gives you everything you could want
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Mercedes-Benz C-Class Saloon full review with expert trade views

Many people automatically default to the BMW 3 Series as the compact executive of choice, but they are missing a trick by ignoring the C-Class. It’s an excellent car and scores an easy four out of five in every category.

Performance is good thanks to a range of strong engines, but so too is refinement and the hushed saloon has the ability to shut out wind, road and engine noise. Handling is crisp with tight body control and accurate, precise steering, but none of this comes at the cost of comfort - the Merc’s ride is smooth and composed on all surfaces.

Inside, the dashboard looks sporting and modern, and there's plenty of room, good cabin stowage and an excellent boot that will swallow four people's luggage. The only downsides are a foot-operated parking brake and the lack of space for a fifth adult in the rear seats, mainly because the transmission tunnel in the floor limits the space for feet.

Trade view

Kurtis Williams

Modern styling of old model. Go for the Kompressor engines. Expensive to buy

Kurtis Williams
Buyer,
Lex Vehicle Leasing

Our favourite is the C180 in Classic SE trim. This supercharged 143bhp engine was introduced in late 2002 and has enough power to do the C-Class justice, whereas the previous 129bhp 2.0-litre can struggle.

Classic SE trim gives a good level of kit with a CD player, air-con and alloy wheels. Safety is excellent with anti-lock-brakes, brake-assist, and six airbags, plus stability and traction control.

If you don't fancy our favourite, there’s a huge range of other engines to choose from, all the way up to the manic 362bhp V8 found in the C55 AMG. More sensible are the 143bhp 2.2-litre and 170bhp 2.7-litre diesel that were available from launch.

Other impressive units include the 163bhp 2.0 Kompressor and the 150bhp C220 CDi and 224bhp C320 CDi diesels. There was a minor face-lift in summer 2003 but the big one was in spring 2004. With chassis revisions and an interior revamp, these cars are well worth tracking down.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Petrol values in retreat, spec crucial, C220 CDI Avantgarde Auto perfect

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The C-Class isn’t especially cheap to run, but the good news is that even if you are buying a late version it is going cost less to buy than the equivalent BMW or Audi, which tend to hold onto their value better.

However, of those three, the C-Class will be the most expensive to maintain. Along with Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz sets the most expensive labour rates in the industry, although no rivals can match Merc’s 30-year paint and perforation warranty.

Insurance costs are reasonable if you stay away from the big engines. Our recommended C180 Kompressor Classic SE attracts only a group 12 rating, which is lower than the equivalent Audi, and the C180’s 37.2mpg makes it more economical than the A4 1.8-litre turbo, too. For maximum fuel economy, though, the engine of choice is the C200 CDI; introduced in mid-2003, it returns 44.8mpg.

Trade view

Kurtis Williams

Modern styling of old model. Go for the Kompressor engines. Expensive to buy

Kurtis Williams
Buyer,
Lex Vehicle Leasing

While most cars will feel rock solid inside, the C-Class has not been without its problems and there are plenty to look out for. Electrical faults have not been uncommon, but a thorough check of all the components should reveal any glitches. Engine software problems are harder to spot, but they can result in poor performance and low fuel economy.

The C-Class’s automatic gearboxes aren’t bullet-proof, either. On your test drive, check if the transmission is jerky or has a tendency to hang on to the gears for too long. Also listen out for knocking noises from the suspension.

Alternator failure and faulty diesel glowplugs are not unknown, so insure that the car’s service history is fully up to date. As with any car, log on to www.vosa.gov.uk to check what recalls the C-Class has been subjected to.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Petrol values in retreat, spec crucial, C220 CDI Avantgarde Auto perfect

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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