Car Corner
Test Drive Mercedes-Benz C280 Sport

June 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

I recently had the opportunity to drive a friend’s 1999 Mercedes-Benz C280 Sport. This vehicle is most impressive. But don’t let me get too far ahead of myself.

For starters, let’s get on with the basics. The C280 is a small sized luxury sedan. It has a 194hp V-6 engine and 5-speed automatic transmission. It provides seating for 5, and has enough legroom, front and back, to accommodate a wide range of passengers.

So how does it drive? The Benz drives remarkably well. Others might say great, but I am used to driving a brutish Z28. (By the way, my friend traded in his Z28 for the Benz.) The steering is a little sharper than my Z28, but I blame my car’s 6 years of life accumulating 47K miles.

The steering wheel is nicely sized. In fact, it is one of the best compromises between thick enough for sporting character, and not too thick to seem like it doesn’t belong. I found this most refreshing in a sedan. The steering has a lighter feel than my Z28 (Duh!). All in all turn in is great, and overall it is a joy to work the steering wheel.

As for power, the C280 has plenty of power for almost anyone. I myself would prefer more than 194hp. But the Benz puts it to good use. It accelerates very smartly, and you never feel a lacking of power in any kind of everyday motoring. The engine is smooth as glass.

I did not slam on the brakes of my friend’s car (I still wanted to be friends), but standard braking is excellent. I would assume Mercedes-Benz’s ABS is as good as any on the market.

All in all this is a very competent car. But Mercedes-Benz does not stop there. This car is more than just a very good performing compact sedan. It has a lot of features for the money.

How much money? About $38,000 - $40,000 depending on options. What do you get for this many green backs? All the usual power accessories are present like power everything, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, 10-way power seats, full leather interior, trunk mount CD changer, power sunroof, etc. The Sport option provides larger anti-sway bars, firmer shocks, and an upgrade to lower profile 16 inch wheels and tires (standard is 15 inch). But it is the unusual things you get that make this car special. They include:

Brake Assist - This detects when the driver is braking for an emergency and provides full power assist. This is due to most people not braking enough initially in an emergency situation.

Traction Control & Slip Control - Traction control is simple enough, but the Slip control kicks in when the car is experiencing understeer or oversteer to help get it back on track.

Power Windows - with one touch down and up for all windows.

Keyless entry - and an inferred key. No mechanical key. A code is transmitted to the dash when the key is placed in it. This code is a rotating code making the ability to copy the key almost impossible.

Auto dimming mirrors - This really works. I noticed it myself. Both the driver’s side and rearview mirrors dim as headlights approach from behind. And it dims the appropriate amount, not just all or nothing. Very cool.

Overall I was impressed with this vehicle. However, I have a brother-in-law and another friend that own Acura 3.2 TLs. For about $10K less they get slight roomier cars with over 30 more horsepower. The Acura doesn’t have everything the Benz does, but many items in the Benz will go unnoticed.

If you are in the market for a luxury sedan with a sporting edge the Benz is classic German design and feel. It seems very reasonably prices for a Benz. But I would test drive a BMW 328i before making up my mind. If you are on a tighter budget, think about the Acura. It has very plain styling, but is a very pleasant car for the money.

I personally would have a hard time justifying the money for the Benz. I prefer more bang for the buck. I would look for a more powerful car to replace my Z28. In its current form, the Z28 is still the best back for the buck in the performance market.

Mercedes-Benz sells a version of this car with a 4.3 liter V-8 (C43) with over 300hp. That should provide all the power even I need. It costs about $15-18K more, and at that price I would have to think hard about the Lexus GS400.

Many thanks, Robert, for providing the material for this column.