In May 1996 the Europe-wide market launch of the C‑Class Estates commenced. Model series S 202 was Mercedes‑Benz's first foray into the sporty, compact estate segment. In terms of safety, comfort and environmental compatibility, the estate bore all the typical features of the C‑C lass. The load compartment volume, however, set a new benchmark in this vehicle class at up to 1510 litres (loaded to roof level according to the VDA measuring method). Even when used in the normal way, the cargo volume of model series S 202 beat the competition: loading the boot to the visible edge of the rear window without folding down the rear seats still gave a capacity of 465 litres.
The C‑Class Estate not only offered more space and versatility than the saloon; it was also exemplary with regard to passive safety. In the event of a frontal collision the estate behaved like the saloon and, in the case of a rear impact, actually outperformed the saloon's already high safety level. In addition, Mercedes‑Benz introduced a whole of raft of structural design measures to protect occupants even more effectively in the event of a side impact. These included B-pillars with a triple-layer construction, high-strength cross members and lateral impact-resistant seats with additional impact absorbers. Rear passengers benefited from three head restraints and three three-point seat belts, while a display made it possible to easily verify whether the backrests were properly locked into position.
Like the saloons, the C‑Class Estates were available in the following design and equipment lines: CLASSIC, ELEGANCE, ESPRIT and SPORT. At market launch, there was initially a choice of three petrol engines and two diesel powerplants: besides the 2.2‑litre, four-cylinder diesel and the 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbodiesel, the four-cylinder petrol engines were available with displacements of 1.8 litres, 2.0 litres and 2.3 litres. Although the three petrol engines were based on the proven units from the corresponding saloon models, revised versions were used as deployed in the saloons from August 1996. The 1.8 and 2-litre engines were equipped with a variable intake camshaft, and the microprocessor-controlled fuel injection system with pressure sensor (p engine management) was changed over to the Bosch Motronic‑ME system with hot-film air mass metering. The 2.3‑litre unit was developed from the 2.2-litre engine and was similar to the engine known from the E‑Class.
A third diesel variant with a displacement of 2.0 litres and a four-valve design based on the 2.2-litre unit became available from June 1996, but not in Germany. The C 200 Diesel Estate was reserved for exporting to Portugal where it was offered in place of the 2.2-litre variant for tax reasons. The C 200 KOMPRESSOR Estate and thus another export model was added to the range in September 1996. Like the corresponding saloon, it was delivered exclusively to Greece, Italy and Portugal. From August 1996, a special taxi version of the C 220 Diesel became available with a derated engine (55 kW or 75 hp) for use with biodiesel only.
All models in the original range were equipped with a five-speed manual transmission as standard; the alternative was the new five-speed automatic transmission with torque converter lockup clutch and electronic control. The C‑Class Estates were manufactured in Bremen where the multipurpose saloon and four-door vehicles were built.