Class with a capital 'C'

ANDY ENRIGHT puts a price on prestige with a look at the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.There's an established pecking order in the executive car arena that Mercedes did a great deal to disrupt when they launched the C-Class in September 2000.

ANDY ENRIGHT puts a price on prestige with a look at the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

There's an established pecking order in the executive car arena that Mercedes did a great deal to disrupt when they launched the

C-Class in September 2000.


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Until this point, you bought a BMW 3 Series if you wanted any entertainment behind the wheel, whilst the C-Class had traditionally performed a more staid supporting role, wooing the customer who preferred the low-key image.

With its sleek styling and sparkling chassis, the second-generation C-Class upset that particular 'apfel-kart' with some verve. As well as a fundamental change in approach, new thinking for interior styling was ushered in - the conservative blandness of the old car replaced by some adventurous design touches.

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One thing didn't change. As a used prospect, the C-Class is still an almost unimpeachable investment. Here's what to look for.

History

Launched in 2000, the range kicked off with the C180, a 129bhp four-cylinder saloon and was joined by C220, C220 CDI, C240 and C320 models. Estate versions followed in 2001 with the 354bhp C32 AMG supersaloon also swelling the ranks. Summer 2001 also saw the Sport Coupes going on sale and the C270 CDI saloon and estate models added to the line up. In autumn 2002, all four-cylinder engines were replaced with greener, more frugal 'Twinpulse' units and a Classic SE specification was added.

What you pay

Opening value for the first 2000 X-plate C180 Classic models with the manual gearbox is about �4,600 with the late C200 Kompressor still hovering around the �5,425 mark such is demand. The 2.6-litre C240 Classic starts at �5,100 and the C320 Elegance will cost about �5,650. Diesels arrived on 2000 X-plates and range from �5,725 for a C220 CDI Classic to �7,225 for a C270 CDI estate with the auto box in ultra-plush Avantgarde SE trim.

The C-Class Sports Coupes showed up on 2001 Y plates and prices today range from �5,825 for the C180 up to �8,125 for the C230 Kompressor auto on a 52-plate.

What you get

At first glance, it's hard to decide exactly what size this car is, so cleverly packaged are the lines clearly derived from the larger

S-Class. You discover pretty quickly mind you, after taking a seat in the back of the saloons and estates. There's supposed to be more space but it doesn't feel like it. For rear seat passengers, any Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra or Peugeot 406 would be preferable. Judged by any other criteria however, the Mercedes wins hands down.

Even if you opt for the base Classic trim level rather than plush Elegance or sporty Avantgarde. ABS, Brake Assist, traction control and ESP dynamic driving control (to help you out if you enter a corner too fast) are all standard. So are no fewer than six front airbags.

What To Look For

Don't worry if your C200 Kompressor engine sounds a little rough - they all sound that way. You should be concerned if the interior of your C-Class is less than pristine as some of the plastic mouldings don't really come up to scratch. Many of the interiors were also finished in very pale greys and mushroom colours and will therefore get grimy in short order.

There should be no major mechanical defects, but check alloy wheels for signs of kerbing and make sure the anti-lock brakes and traction control systems work effectively as the electronics have been known to fail.

Trade experts reckon these cars are most desirable when specified in an attractive metallic colour with automatic transmission, air-conditioning and leather upholstery. You might bear that in mind when choosing a car as the right specification will make selling on easier.

Overall

Opt for a used second-generation Mercedes C-Class and, aside from the initial whack in the wallet, you really can't lose. They are reliable, fun to drive, relatively spacious and are undoubtedly the classiest option in the junior executive market sector.

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