Saturday, 17 November 2007

First Drive: New W204 Mercedes-Benz C200 Kompressor

By Dr Long

One of the most anticipated replacement models to come from Mercedes-Benz of late is the new C-Class (W204), the compact luxury sedan that has been and will still be the bread-and-butter vehicle of this German carmaker.

Completely redesigned and larger than the W203, the first model to be available in Malaysia is the supercharged 4-cylinder C200 Kompressor. Here is how it fares on the road in and around the roads of Malaysia’s administrative capital, Putrajaya (and Cyberjaya).

Interior wise, the larger dimensions are aptly appreciated, notably up front with bigger seats and to me at least, more generous elbow rooms laterally. Cabin ergonomics are good except for the centre console and gear lever which I found set a tad too high. Similarly the surround of the horizontal centre console is of hard plastic, something which M-B probably felt could be skimped upon since most drivers would not have noticed…or is that always the case? That said, the new C200K’s overall cabin ambience is still classy, airy, and most importantly premium. All interior switches and stalks operate with crisp and firm Teutonic efficiency that spells quality. Mercedes-Benz is clearly back in the game after some misses with the W203 C-Class and prior to this, the W210 E-Class.

No review of a Mercedes is complete without a mention of its trademark smooth ride and solid, yet supple damping. The new C200K is all that with a little body roll in-built into its somewhat soft suspension setting. Perhaps the OE Pirelli P-Zero Rossos were a little on the softer side? I found the steering a tad on the lighter side, though the much publicised agility afforded by it was pretty much spot on. In fact, the rack responsiveness was so familiar that I suspected it was pinched in entirety from the facelifted E200K! Needless to say, the new C’s tracking composure and high speed stability are of no issue, as expected.

The improvised (M271) supercharged 4-pot is torquier now with a wider powerband felt above 2800rpm to near 5200rpm. However, the tougher gas pedal in the tester seemed to have taken a step backward to the days of the old Benzes. Honestly, my pre-facelift W211 E200K has a lighter throttle pedal feel. The left foot operated parking-brake lever has a quite loose springy feel, with little steps of creakiness, something not found in the W203. What’s the story here M-B? This doesn’t convey an upmarket feel, in my honest opinion. Reminds me of the VW Touareg I have tested sometime back.

Externally, the 12-spokes 17” alloys look the part, giving the Elegance-spec C200K a prestigious yet subtle elegance (pun intended). New metal sheets with side chromed door/body stripes relegated nearer to the sill level gives the impression of a larger car, with both front and rear designs in cohort to give better road presence to this junior exec. Framing shots of the car’s frontal visage, most have noticed a less-than-desirable gap at the upper border of the classic Merc radiator grille, resulting in an illusion that the bonnet wasn’t closed properly. This can be attributed to the fact that the multi-slats grille is now permanently cradled by the bumper, instead of the hood previously. Interestingly, a noted top automotive blogger/journalist has also pointed that the 335i coupe has a somewhat similar ‘defect’ here. I reckoned this may push even more C200K Elegance buyers to swap for the Avantgarde grille after taking delivery of their (Afterall, the Avantgarde BIG-Star grille is indeed, frameless.) Incidentally, both wing mirrors appeared somewhat a little too large (and square) and seem a tad incoherent with the new C's overall taut but fluid design.

On the move, the new C200K has not strike me as sprightly. Like mentioned before, the gas pedal felt a little too ‘resistant’ while the throttle response was still a tad muted for quick initial take-off. It is reasonably powerful once it gets going (say after 30km/h or so), with the Kompressor whine louder and higher pitched than its predecessor. The engine can get buzzy, as always, more so at extreme high revs but I am darn sure the all-aluminium M271 improves with mileage – the tester has only about 1300km on its odometer. In all fairness, the petrol motor was neither raucous nor gruffy at any rate. I have driven dozens of these 1.8L supercharged 4-pots in various guises, at varying clocked-kilometers ‘credentials’ and this lump does get better with age!

So there you have it, the new Mercedes-Benz C200 Kompressor tested on local roads. Before I conclude, I discovered Merc’s COMAND dial worked pretty well here, with maybe just the LCD screen a teeny too small. Then again, DaimlerChrysler Malaysia (DCM) has most likely saved the larger pop-up LCD for the upcoming C230 V6 Avantgarde next year.

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