Mercedes-Benz: Mercedes-Benz C320 CDI Avantgarde 2008 Review

Mercedes-Benz C320 CDI Avantgarde fq

I drove the C220 CDI a couple of months before the C320 CDI. What difference does an extra 100 in the model name mean? At lot more power (165kW), a significant amount of torque (510Nm), and an improved interior spec, especially with the AMG kit that this Avantegarde model sports.

One burning question, though, are electric headrests just slightly too much luxury? An electric headrest means a motor with switches that are connected by wires. I know the reason for it — there may be two drivers, one of whom is a basketball player called Tyrone and the other a size 8 marketing manager called Amanda, and the C320 can store three seat position memories, conveniently accessible via buttons on the door. But, do we need it? While automakers are attempting to get better handling and better fuel economy, not all of them are adhering to Colin Chapman’s mantra of ‘absence of weight’ which gave his various Lotus models such stunning performance in relation to fuel economy.

Perhaps Mercedes-Benz doesn’t feel the need to in this diesel demon. It has managed some serious fuel economy feats while I’ve been driving it. The quoted 7.4 litres per 100km (which we managed to better on our normal road test) from a vehicle that is capable of 0-100kph in 6.9 seconds is not far from Series 1 Lotus Elise territory. But then all you can fit in a Lotus Elise is two people and enough luggage for a trip to the movies.

Is Mercedes-Benz creating a rod for its own back, though? Even sub-$20,000 cars are coming with parking sensors and ESP, so the differentiating factors are things like electric headrests, so they become the new benchmark (not that they’re anything new — they’ve been around for years).

Of course, the other differentiators are badge (brand snobbery) and performance (ride and comfort). So, while a Kia Picanto may have reversing sensors like the C320, I’m always going to pick the C320 because of the overall feel. It is a beautiful car not only to look at, but also to drive.

I said of the C220 that it was the most relaxing car I’d driven. Well, the C320 still has the same comfort, but with a Muay Thai kickboxer in the engine bay. It’s a 3-litre V6 turbo-diesel which weighs a paltry 208kg — a result of the aluminium crankcase. This is connected to a seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission to keep the revs in the most appropriate place.

The savage torque is beautifully transmitted to the road by the Agility Control package, which features shock absorbers which detect the driving style. When driving normally the dampers provide a ride that’s like floating in amniotic fluid — tranquil, insulated from the outside world, nurturing. Unleash the full fury of the engine, though, and it takes on a different character, biting into the corners and giving more feedback through the steering.

It may be a beautiful ride, but it’s even more beautiful on the outside, especially in white with the optional AMG sports package wheels.

This is also the Avantgarde version which is the top of the pile over the Classic and Elegance variants. It wears the wide radiator grille that accommodates the large three-pointed star in the middle rather than being on the bonnet. An Avantgarde badge on the flank, and chrome highlights on the bumpers, door and boot handle complement the polished aluminium shoulderline trim and the darker tinted taillights.

The Avantgarde styling is carried back through to the interior with leather inserts and brushed aluminium trim on the doors, and a titanium silver backplate on the instrument cluster.

The seats are trimmed in man-made Artico leather, but surprisingly don’t have an electronic lumbar adjustment as standard. They are suitably comfortable, though.

Our C320 CDI came with the COMAND DVD APS Plus option, containing a reasonably intuitive satellite navigation. The standard voice is a bit more like a newsreader than Audi’s slightly softer-spoken navigator. The 7-inch screen pivots upwards out of the dashboard and shows the audio controls as well as integration for a phone. Voice recognition makes this system invaluable for hands-free operation of the functions available. You can even store up to 1000 MP3 tracks on the navigation system’s hard disk.

There’s nothing significant to complain about with the C320 CDI: the dashboard materials could be a bit nicer, and the engine tone (which is a bit strained and harsh under heavy acceleration) doesn’t will you to use the throttle (perhaps a good thing in these times of escalating fuel prices).

Mercedes has a winning formula with its C-Class range. If you need more practicality there are the Estate variants, using the UK terminology for a station wagon. With a high level of safety (eight airbags and all the driver protection acronyms under the sun), an options and trim list to allow you to determine a unique specification that suits you, desirable looks and sensible fuel economy, Mercedes’ C-Class will undoubtedly continue its successful run.

For full specifications of the C320 CDI, including the options fitted to this car click through to the next page.

Price: from $103,900 (base model); $118,100 as tested

What we like

  • It’s a damn fine looking machine
  • Every interior feature you’d ever need, including electric headrests
  • Rides like a dream, as they’d say in the 1950s
  • Performance + miserly fuel use

What we don’t like

  • Engine tone isn’t so nice
  • I’m not a fan of the dashboard plastic (texture)

Mercedes-Benz C320 CDI Avantgarde Specifications

Paint:

  • Metallic

Trim:

  • ARTICO man-made leather

Equipment:

  • 2-zone “THERMATIC” automatic climate control, separate temperature controls for driver
  • and front passenger, dust filter and air recirculation with Instrument cluster with three
  • displays and three analogue dials
  • 17″ light-alloy wheels – 12-spoke design – 7.5 J x 17 ET 47, tyre size 225/45 R 17
  • ADAPTIVE BRAKE function
  • AGILITY CONTROL steering with safety steering column
  • AGILITY CONTROL suspension with selective damping system
  • Airbags and sidebags for driver and front passenger, windowbags for driver, front
  • passenger and rear-seat occupants
  • Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
  • Armrest in rear with double cup holder and stowage compartment
  • ASSYST maintenance interval indicator
  • Audible warning signal if front seat belts not fastened, lights not switched off or parking
  • brake left on
  • Automatic-locking doors with emergency opening
  • Brake Assist system (BAS)
  • Brake pad wear indicator
  • Direction indicators with one-touch convenience function
  • Electronic immobiliser including “ELCODE” locking system with infrared/radio-frequency
  • remote control and visible locking-verification signal
  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP®) with acceleration skid control (ASR)
  • ELEGANCE lettering on rub strip
  • First-aid kit
  • Foot-operated parking brake with hill start assist
  • Head restraints (5), adjustable; crash-responsive NECK-PRO front head restraints; three
  • rear head restraints, manually height-adjustable
  • Headlamp Assist (automatic headlamps)
  • Headlamp range adjustment
  • Heated exterior mirrors left and right, electrically adjustable
  • Interior lighting switched on automatically when vehicle is unlocked
  • ISOFIX child seat attachment points in the rear
  • Lighting package comprising: Illuminated air vent thumbwheels, Front footwell lighting,
  • Illuminated door-handle recesses inside car, Reading lights in rear, left and right, Exit
  • lights in front doors
  • Luxury multifunction leather steering wheel with 4.5″ display in instrument cluster and
  • leather gearshift lever
  • Outside temperature display
  • Seat occupancy recognition for front passenger seat
  • Side impact protection
  • Side-folding front armrest with stowage compartment
  • Sun visors with illuminated vanity mirror
  • Trip computer in multifunction display
  • Tyre pressure loss warning system

NZ Features:

  • Parameter steering
  • Parktronic
  • Electric passenger seat with memory
  • Anti-dazzle mirror
  • Front driver’s seat with memory package
  • Leather steering wheel
  • Through-loading feature with load-securing facilities and 1/3:2/3 split-folding rear seat
  • Rear sidebags
  • PRE-SAFE
  • Rain sensor
  • Phone pre-installation
  • 7G-TRONIC 7-speed automatic transmission, incl. Cruise control, code 440
  • Cruisecontrol with SPEEDTRONIC
  • Multi-function steering wheel with enhanced screen
  • Electrically folding mirrors
  • Audio 20 with CD changer
  • Paintwork preservation
  • Anti-theft
  • Packaging for export
  • Spare wheel
  • Burr walnut wood trim
  • Interior monitoring system
  • Elegance package
  • Child seat recognition

Options on this model as tested

Advanced agility package $2,700

Comand DVD APS Plus $5,500

AMG Sports package $6,000

Words and photos Darren Cottingham


News: Novitec makes one angry Ferrari F430 Scuderia

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The Ferrari F430 Scuderia is considered by almost every car-loving person on the planet to be one of the greatest cars ever made.

The people at Novitec must be completely mad though, as they have taken the 510hp F430, bolted on a couple of superchargers and now have an ultra expensive Ferrari with 717hp.

The 0-100km/h time is a claimed 3.5sec and the top speed is 350km/h. Utter madness.

News: Koenigseder wide-body Smart ForTwo

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If there was ever a car in dire need of widening, the Smart Fortwo would be it.

Austrian tuning company Koenigseder has come up with a wide-body kit to stop the diminutive Smart being laughed at by the general motoring public. Don’t know if it really works but it does have a tasty looking rear end.

Koenigseder adds flares and 17 inch wheels to fill out the arches and give the little Smart a bit more street cred.

News: Hot Ford Fiesta ST500 for the U.K only

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A special edition Ford Fiesta ST packed with extra equipment is set to be released in the U.K. Priced from £15,000 (NZD$39,000)and called ST 500, it will be limited to just 500 and will be distinguished by unique styling touches and extras.

The Fiesta ST is renowned for its punchy 2.0-litre 150PS engine, sports-tuned steering, lowered and stiffened sports suspension and short-shift, close ratio gearbox which creates its exciting ride. The sporting heritage of the best Ford cars is carried on to this special edition with unique ‘U’-shaped stripes; designed to echo the livery of the classic Escort RS2000, and matching side livery.

The Fiesta ST500′s features include 17in 11-spoke black alloys, red brake callipers and carbon fibre pattern interior trim. The interior also features a Sony audio system and ebony leather heated seats.

News: One-off Rolls-Royce designed by Pininfarina to be shown at Pebble Beach

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Pininfarina will unveil a new Special Project carrozzeria during Pebble Beach Concours based on a Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupè.

The project, named “Pininfarina Hyperion” and is an homage to the great pre war cars. Its style, size and overall presence is truly unique in modern day car production, firmly rooted in the history and heritage of the two Brands at the core of the project.

The private client who has commissioned the car, has graciously agreed to display this latest Pininfarina creation at the prestigious American event.

Pininfarina Hyperion is one of Pininfarina driven projects to be presented in 2008. In fact it follows the presentation of the technologically advanced and avante garde Sintesi concept car at the latest Geneva Motor Show, and it makes its debut shortly before the unveiling of the highly anticipated electric car concept, the Ferrari California and the Maserati Quattroporte MY ’08 – all designed by Pininfarina – at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris.

Road Tests / Car Reviews: Saab 9-3 BioPower Convertible 2008 Review

Saab 93 biopower fq 2

It’s a dark and brooding sky that I wake to on my first morning with the Saab 9-3 BioPower Convertible. It rained heavily throughout the night and water is still cascading down the streets like an urban river.

As I warm up with a coffee and look outside to where beads of water sit on the cloth roof of the Saab, I wonder if I should just stay inside for the day, rather than go touring around the countryside in a convertible.

Upon weighing the options, the prospect of taking a turbocharged coupe out for a blast finally wins out, and I find myself in the comfortable leather seat turning the centre console-located ignition.

The engine comes to life (not all that quickly) and I ponder the eternal question that convertible owners the world over must struggle with everyday. Top up or down?

Despite the outside temperature being represented on the green-lit display as a single digit and the presence of clouds and scattered showers, I decide to down the cloth roof, crank the heater to maximum, and cruise off down the road.

Even though I look like a complete goose driving with the top down in freezing winter weather, I am enjoying myself. At city speeds the seat warmer and heater do their jobs well, but out on the open I question whether it really is a good idea having the top open.

I pull over and put it back up while on the highway and enjoy the warmth. Easing off the highway onto on country roads, I open the top and enjoy the turbo whistle and the odd rain sprinkling.

The 9-3 BioPower is not the quickest car in the world, but thanks to 147kw of power and 300Nm of torque produced by the 2.0 litre turbocharged engine (when running on E85), it gets along quicker than the hushed driving atmosphere inside the car would have you believe.

The BioPower aspect is something that I’m very interested in, both as someone concerned about the future of fossil-fueled cars and as a home-brewer.

I love making beer and spirits at home and after some investigating, I discovered it is possible to distill, at home, ethanol decent enough to use as a blend like E85 in a car that is ‘flexi-fuel’ capable. Who wouldn’t mind sharing a bottle of vodka with their car?

Aside from being a cheaper way to fuel a car (it’s probably illegal anyway), Saab’s ‘Flexi-Fuel’ ethanol technology is a possibility for the future.

New Zealand doesn’t have E85 retailers yet but the U.K has quite a few petrol stations where E85 is available and it may be just a matter of time before we see them here.

It would make sense that Saab NZ wouldn’t release an E85 capable car if there wasn’t going to be E85 fuel available.

Fuel consumption in the Saab was a combined 12.1 l/100km on our test route which included a mix of highway/city and country driving.

On some tight and twisty roads the Saab’s damping feels good with a minimum of body-roll and very little scuttle-shake. Even on bumpy corners it feels composed.

Old-school torque-steer of the variety pioneered by Saab isn’t evident, even when deliberately provoked the 9-3 stays neutral. Like any front wheel-drive car understeer is a possibility, but in the Saab it is not a prevalent unless man-handled.

The steering wheel-mounted gear change buttons are a little clumsy to use when shifting manually but change quite quickly compared to other semi-automatics on the market and make for a more sporting drive.

The dash architecture does let the car down a little as the dials and the green-lit displays on the dash and radio look very dated. The displays are also very glare sensitive becoming impossible to read when the sun shines directly on them. The main controls for the trip computer, stereo and heater are all very easy to use and understand.

The interior really is a nice place to be and has a quality feel which at this price it really should do.

The cloth roof doesn’t do a brilliant job of keeping things quiet at motorway speeds when the rain is coming down but everywhere else it is fine and opens and closes quite quickly, although I did get caught out by a rain shower once.

Hustling the Saab along at seven-tenths is a pleasant experience as it is comfortable and reasonably quick, kind of like a turbocharged lounge chair.

At lower speeds it is a little difficult to judge proximity to other cars and the kerb when parking. The Saab ‘parking assist’ works well but only in reverse, leaving you unsure of how close the sloping nose is to the car in front.

The 9-3 is a good-looking car at the front but the clear lens rear lights don’t suit the mature image of the rest of the car.

Overall the Saab is a handsome, comfortable, reasonably quick car which would please most people looking for a decently luxurious convertible. The Saab is in an interesting position being much cheaper than convertibles from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, but more luxurious than the Holden Astra TwinTop, the Peugeot 307CC and the Renault Megane Coupe/Cabriolet.

Price: from $74,900

What we like

  • Comfortable interior and pleasant ride
  • Front end treatment

What we don’t like

  • Glare-affected displays
  • Dated dash display

SAAB 9-3 2.0t BioPower

  • E85/Petrol engine Four-cylinder in-line, aluminium cylinder head and block.
  • Turbocharger, intercooled. DOHC, 16-valve. Balancer shafts.
  • Ignition/Fuel injection  Saab Trionic 8 engine management. Direct ignition. Multi-point fuel injection.
  • Displacement: 1,998cc
  • Bore/Stroke (mm) 86 / 86
  • 0-100 km/h M6 8.2; A5 9.3
  • Fuel consumption (l/100 km) City/H.way/Comb. M6 11.8/6.6/8.5; A5 13.1/7.7/9.7
  • CO2 emissions combined (g/km)  M6 203; A5 232
  • Luggage compartment    Max trailer load   : 1600 kg
  • Seating Capacity:   4
  • Drive train   : Front wheel drive
    • Manual, 5-speed  Transverse drive unit, full synchromesh, manual gearbox
    • Manual, 6-speed:  Transverse drive unit, full synchromesh, manual gearbox
    • Sentronic five-speed automatic: Electronically controlled automatic transmission with manual shift possibility. Direct mechanical lock-up in third, fourth and fifth gears.
    • Sentronic six-speed automatic 6 speed automatic transmission with Saab Sentronic manual selection, steering wheel buttons standard

Words Ben Dillon, photographs Darren Cottingham

News: Audi launches TTS in New Zealand

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Audi has taken the wraps off a new sports car model. The top model of the TT line, the TTS, is available in both Coupe and Roadster body versions. Its two-litre TFSI engine develops an awesome 200 kW (272 hp) that catapults the Coupe with S tronic dual-clutch transmission from 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.2 seconds and on up to a governed top speed of 250 km/h.

Quattro permanent all-wheel drive translates its sheer power efficiently onto the road, and the Audi magnetic ride shock absorber system guarantees precise handling. The high-tech S tronic transmission can take charge of power transmission as well, shifting faster than even a highly skilled driver.

The TFSI engine in the TTS takes the two petrol direct injection and turbo-charging technologies from Audi and blends them to form a perfect partnership for a sports car. It is not only the 200 kW of output that makes the TFSI so scintillating, there’s its hefty pulling power too — the maximum torque of 350 Nm is constantly on tap from 2,500 up to 5,000 rpm. tronic, which operates with six speeds and two clutches, changes gear at high load and engine speed in a fraction of a second. This, coupled with its dynamic starting performance, knocks two-tenths of a second off the sprint to 100 km/h for both the Coupe and Roadster. Virtually loss-free transfer of power to the road is the task of the standard-specification quattro permanent all-wheel drive, which enables the TTS to accelerate sooner and more reliably than its challengers.

At the heart of this system is a hydraulic multi-plate clutch, which now works faster than ever thanks to a new pressure reservoir. The TTS rolls off the production line equipped with yet another high-tech module — the Audi magnetic ride adaptive damping system. Circulating inside its damper pistons is a special fluid containing minute magnetic particles. When electrical voltage is applied, the fluid’s flow properties change, altering the damping characteristics as well. The driver can choose between two mapped characteristics — Normal and Sport. Normal mode is designed for a well-balanced, comfortable ride, whereas in the Sport plane the TTS harnesses all of the potential of its sport suspension — which lowers the body by 10 millimetres — to deliver uncompromisingly crisp handling.

The TTS is launching in New Zealand in June and will be priced at $109,500 for the S tronic Coupe, and $114,500 for the S Tronic Roadster.

News: Aspid puts a new spin on the Seven concept

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The Aspid is a new sports car from automotive engineering consultancy IFR Automotive, making its world debut at the British International Motor Show. Very much a driver’s car, it offers exceptional performance, agility and style. It is also small, lightweight and ultra compact.

IFR’s luxury two-seater is the result of an uncompromised five-year development programme by a top team of professional automotive engineers who have set out to create a vehicle with distinctive looks, outstanding road holding, the most predictable handling possible, and exceptional levels of performance both on and off the track.

The extensive engineering has resulted in a highly developed sports car with well resolved vehicle dynamics. Notably, the Aspid delivers its track performance without compromising the ease and reliability with which it can be driven about town and in the countryside. Another desirable quality is that it makes the most efficient use of its available space and is extremely well packaged.

As a technology showcase for demonstrating the company’s design and engineering capabilities, the Aspid’s packed with advanced technical features and patented innovations. The strong immensely stiff chassis, for example, underpins the car’s superb dynamic performance and tenacious road holding, while the car’s compactness and low mass ensures excellent fuel economy and correspondingly low CO2 emissions.

The car’s design began with no restrictions whatsoever on the positioning of key chassis and suspension components; a three-dimensional geometric void — literally an empty space — was the start point for constructing the car. This unusual approach successfully delivered the optimum linear relationship between all chassis and suspension variables. The driving characteristics are further underpinned by an optimum weight distribution between front and rear axles and a similar optimum polar moment of inertia; all helping to provide the driver with the finest possible driving experience.

The new sports car has an impressive design and engineering pedigree. Formerly with Prodrive, Rodriquez subsequently joined the Mitsubishi World Rally Championship team as race engineer for Alister McRae and François Delecour. Rodriquez founded IFR Automotive in 2003 and began work immediately on the new sports car project, while handling confidential car and commercial vehicle assignments from industry clients.

Rodriquez has recruited a team of highly experienced automotive engineers, many with a similar top level motorsport background. Chief dynamics engineer Breno Oliveira, for example, also worked at Prodrive. The development of the car has also benefited from the input of Sergi Arranz, an experienced motor industry test driver who was previously head of dynamics testing at SEAT.

The Aspid is the only car in the world to meet both FIA safety requirements and European homologation standards. This means it already has the strength within its main body structure to avoid the need for an additional roll cage; it really can be driven from the road directly onto the race track without the need for any special preparation. And after a hard race the car is robust, durable and safe enough to be driven again on public roads.

Aspid prototypes feature a 2-litre engine; either naturally aspirated to deliver 270bhp or supercharged to 400bhp. The engines are highly modified by IFR, such that the engine block can be sourced from a number of possible suppliers. Power is delivered to the rear wheels through a manual 6-speed gearbox and limited-slip differential.

The lightweight aluminum and carbon structure of the car, which has a mass of just 700kg and the resulting 570bhp-per-tonne (1.75kg/bhp) power-to-weight ratio gives awe-inspiring acceleration on the track, with the car reaching 100km/h in 2.8 seconds.

With a long list of options, no two Aspids will be exactly alike. And with each one tailored to the precise needs of each individual customer the anticipated base price of £75,000 (NZD$198,000) and upwards for this ultra-exclusive super-quick luxury sports car, which is full of quality bespoke parts, can only serve as an approximate guide. Expect fully loaded models to cost twice as much.

So what’s behind the name? Aspid is the Spanish name for the small and very quick snake that killed Cleopatra. It is thought to have been a member of the cobra or viper family and is native to southern Europe. And as we all know vipers and cobras tend to move very quickly.

The Aspid and its main technical innovations will be displayed at the British International Motor Show in London docklands in the north hall (stand N8A) of the ExCel exhibition centre. The show runs from Wednesday 23 July to Sunday 3 August 2008.