What alternatives should I consider to a used Mercedes C-Class saloon?
Obviously the 3 Series is the primary rival, and you can choose from both fourth- and early fifth-generation models within the same lifespan as this C-Class. Both of those BMWs are sharp to drive, well made and generally more reliable (if a little less comfortable) than the C-Class.
The original Audi A4 was still in production when this C-Class was introduced, and it’s a very attractive and mechanically simple car, but one lacking in rear seat and boot space. In late 2001 the second A4 was introduced and this had improved interior space and quality on its side.