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The Honest John Road Test  

Mercedes Benz C Class Estate W203 2001 Road Test

Fri, 02 Feb 2001

If anything, the new Mercedes C Class estate cars feel more sporting than the Sports Coupe. At least, the ones I tried did.

This could be because of the engines. The C320 V6 simply romped up the twisting road over Col de Vence to Corsegoules. The gearbox and engine were creamily smooth, the ride quality was supple, the handling excellent and the sound of the engine when given its head was sublime. Even the traction control system was unobtrusive, but very necessary once we reached the snow-line.

But the gearbox deserves special praise. It's pretty much the same 5-speed auto that has been fitted to Mercedes either as standard or as an option since 1996. The beauty of it is, you can leave it in fully automatic mode all the time. But if you ever need a lower gear, you simple nudge the lever to the left and it is automatically selected and held for the approaching bend. However once you're through the bend and want a higher gear, the box senses this on its own. Try as I might I could not make a better decision about upshifting than it did, so I only used the manual override for downshifts. It also has the facility to select 3rd gear for winter conditions, which proved very necessary when I wanted to park in a scenic spot above the snowline to take a picture.

I returned the car to MB mightily impressed, then took out a C270CDI automatic. If anything, this was even better. With a narrower power band it didn't hold its gears as long, but the huge torque of 295lb ft from 1,800 to 2,600 rpm, and still 260lb ft from 1,600rpm to 2,800rpm, meant it never came off the boil even if you lifted off when driving uphill then accelerated again. An absolutely tremendous car, which makes the extra cost and inferior economy of the C320 hard to justify. It won't be available in the UK until July rather than May, but this model is definitely well worth waiting the extra two months for.

Next, having been less than ecstatic about the C220 CDI Sequentronic Sport Coupe, I tried the same combination of engine and gearbox in the estate. This time it worked fine, even up and down the demanding Col de Vence. It could be that I'd got used to its characteristics, or it could have been the different road, but the upshifts seemed much more positive than in the Sports Coupe. When left-foot trail-braking through well sighted downhill bends on the Col, keeping the power on with my right foot, the ABS worked perfectly to pull the car through neatly and quickly. Obviously few owners who choose the C220CDI estate are going to drive like this, but it seemed that even the C220CDI Sequentronic estate car was more sporting than the sport coupe.

Lastly I took a C200K Sequentronic estate the short distance to the airport. Though the car will be a popular choice, it was far less satisfactory, making exactly the same disappointing anodyne noises I remember from driving the fully automatic C200K saloon. So if the pricing of the C200K and C220CDI come out roughly similar, I'd definitely go for the CDI.

Equipment levels on the estate are as for the saloon. Classic, Elegance and Avantgarde, with a similar options list as for the coupe, but no panoramic sunroof. The rear area is much larger than the old C Class and the loading lip sensibly low. Capacities with seats up and down are shown in the specification section.

If you've always regarded the MB C Class estate as prestigious but lacking the sporty appeal of a BMW 3-Series, then it's definitely time to think again.

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