The Independent Road Test: Brief fling with a small executive: Roger Bell finds the Mercedes C280 a solid performer, but one that takes time to appreciate
Saturday 05 March 1994
The C-class cars are not cheap: even the base model, the C180 Classic, costs pounds 17,600. The new flagship C280 Elegance (there are Esprit and Sport trim/
equipment packages, too) starts at pounds 27,400, rising to pounds 37,400 with all the extras, such as powered seats, passenger's airbag, automatic transmission (who buys a 280 manual?), air-conditioning and leather upholstery, etc. It is possible, though pretty silly, to spend more than pounds 48,000.
Even by conventional compact standards, the C280 is not especially spacious, though it is roomier than the 190 model it replaces. It does offer more space in the back than BMW's arch-rival 3-series, but not as much as, say, the Saab 9000, which benefits from efficient front-wheel-drive packaging.
None the less, Mercedes' E-class cars, one size up from the C-class, look vulnerable to its new range. Anyone thinking of trading down a size would be tempted by the smaller, newer car.
The great virtues of the C280 are solidity, integrity and finish. These are the qualities, traditionally reflected in low depreciation, which make the compact Mercedes less expensive to run in the long term than many cheaper rivals.
For the driver, the C280 offers a solid, serene performance, but it does not excel. Its beautiful engine - a straight-six, 24-valve twin-cam - is smooth and punchy. Only when extended does its muted hum give way to a discreet wail. The automatic transmission changes gear almost imperceptibly. However, the switch from 'economy' to 'sport' mode is also almost imperceptible. And the accelerator is tiringly heavy.
Though not the quietest car in its class (that is Mazda's new Xedos 9), the C280 is certainly very refined. Wind whoosh and tyre roar, once the bane of most Mercedes, are well subdued.
I have sat in more comfortable seats - Mercedes favours uncompromisingly firm squabs - and I have ridden on more supple suspension. But the C280's advanced chassis strikes a fine balance between sharp handling, terrific grip and controlled ride.
It is hard to imagine a four-door, five-seater that corners with greater composure or safety.
It is not so much what the C280 does that commands respect, as the great sense of confidence and wellbeing it imparts. Cars do not come better made, or safer. Anti-lock brakes, pre-tensioned seatbelts and a driver's airbag are standard.
The strength of the hefty bodyshell does no favours for performance or economy, but it does give occupants outstanding crash protection.
Reservations? Of course. Though the wood-veneered dash exudes quality, some of the controls are irritating: to switch on the wipers, for instance, you have to take your hand off the steering wheel rather than just flick a finger. And the steering is heavy when parking, despite power assistance.
The C280, however, is a lively, accomplished car, which seems to get better the farther you drive it. Owners who say you must live with a Mercedes fully to appreciate it know what they are talking about. A short test drive hardly does justice to it.
Audi 80 2.6E quattro, pounds 23,038
Smooth V6 engine gives strong, refined performance. Not available with auto gearbox (but front-wheel- drive 2.6E is). Terrific grip and traction. Stylish, solid car with modest, sombre accommodation.
BMW 325iSE, from pounds 23,750
Benchmark luxury compact. Less roomy in the back than the C280, but faster and more entertaining to drive. More economical, too. Five-speed manual version more fun than four-speed auto.
Jaguar XJ6 3.2, pounds 26,950
(auto option, pounds 800). Cheapest Jaguar, roomier and more imposing than C280. Performance not so good, fuel consumption worse. Heavy depreciation and running costs.
Mazda Xedos 9, pounds 24,399
Bigger version of pretty Xedos 6, powered by smooth V6 engine. Lacks excitement, performance and charisma but beautifully made and impeccably finished.
Saab 900 2.5SR auto, pounds 23,145
Lively performance from V6 engine, but too many rough edges to mix it convincingly with C280.
Mercedes-Benz C280 auto, pounds 27,400
( pounds 37,688 with extras as tested). Engine: 2799cc, six-cylinder, 24-valve twin-cam. Transmission: four-speed, two-programme ('sport' or 'economy' mode) automatic, rear-wheel drive. Performance: 0-60mph in 8.0 seconds, top speed 140mph. Fuel consumption: 23- 31mpg unleaded.
Life & Style blogs
Alexander McQueen at auction: What makes a really great piece of fashion?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
No female ejaculation, please, we’re British: a history of porn and censorship
Stressed nurses are 'forced to choose between health of patients and their own'
Pornhub: Kim Kardashian's sex tape is the most-watched porn video of all-time
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...
£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...
£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...
£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...