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
- 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
- Parameter steering
- 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
- 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
- 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