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Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sport Coupe 2001 Road Test

Fri, 02 Feb 2001

Forget the previous Mercedes Benz CLK. The new Mercedces C Class Sports Coupe is an entirely different sort of animal.

For a start, note the emphasis on 'sports'. Not a word that could honestly be used to honestly describe any derivative of the old C Class, including the CLK coupe and cabrio. The steering of the older car was far too light for that.

The new C Class does have some meat in the helm. And, though the new coupe feels like a boulevard cruiser on the motorway, get it onto a tricky, uneven, badly surfaced road riddled with hairpin bends and it really comes into its own. Throw the car into a corner and, despite the traction control taking over, you can actually feel every nuance of the front wheels biting again after the understeer.

It's got some performance, too, provided you pick the right model. For the time being this has to be the 197bhp 230 Kompressor. It emits a pleasant snarl rather than the strange, anodyne noise of the 163bhp 200K. And, when allied to the standard 6-speed manual gearbox, it's got enough grunt to be considered sporting. Whether a BMW 330 or 328 owner would agree is a different matter, but it's in the same league as the 323i.

Daimler Chrysler make a big thing of 'tronics' with the new car. You can have a 'Linguatronic' voice-activated car phone and audio system; 'Parkatronic' sensors front and back to tell you when you're too close to the car in front; 'Speedtronic' cruise control with audible speed warnings; and a 'Sequentronic' semi-automatic gearbox.

We tried Sequentronic box allied to the 143bhp (232lb ft torque) 220 Common Rail Direct Injected diesel. Not the sort of engine you'd normally expect to find under the bonnet of a 'Sports Coupe'. The change lever is arranged so that 'N' is over to the right, with 'R' behind it. The lever is sprung to sit in the middle where pushing it forwards promotes a downchange and pulling it back gets you an upchange, which is the natural way this sort of shifter should work, just like in rally cars and Touring Car racers. But it will obviously confuse anyone who has managed to get themselves used to the back-to-front Tiptronic arrangement. Slip the MB's lever over to the left or just leave it and you get a fully automatic shift.

In the coupe I found that the Sequentronic worked best on downshifts, but was slightly slurry on upshifts unless you lifted massively to help it find its way. But, having found the six-speed manual an odd match with the 2.2 CDI in the C Class saloon, I was happier with the Sequentronic in this car.

All the C Class Sports Coupes are very well equipped with a long list of standard goodies. These include MB Assyst service indicator, adaptive front airbags, side airbags, ABS, Automatic Child Seat Recognition, air conditioning, Brake Assist, electric reverse kerb view door mirrors, ESP, 2/3 split-folding rear seats, outside temperature gauge, Speedtronic cruise control, and multi-adjustable seats and steering wheel. There is only one trim level, with optional Evolution and AMG Evolution equipment packages, and a long list of optional extras including a Panoramic Glass Sliding Sunroof that turns most of the top into glass.

My main criticism of the car has to be its 'integrated rear spoiler' which apparently does a great job to promote downforce on the back, but splits the rear window horizontally like that of an Audi A2, making it very hard to see at a glance exactly what's going on behind. And I also have to have a go at the foot operated parking brake, which is fine in an automatic when you can left-foot brake anyway, but almost impossible to use in a manual in steep and tight conditions.

But don't let that put you off. If you're after a prestigious coupe that's also good to drive, Mercedes now offers you one. BMW, Audi, Peugeot's 406 coupe and posher VW sales are likely to suffer as a result.

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