The world debut of the new C‑C lass model series 203 took place in March 2000 following around four years of development and investment totalling 1.36 billion euros. In May, sales of the saloon commenced through European company-owned outlets and sales partners. The aim was to sustain the success of the previous model of which more than 1.6 million units were produced. In many countries it was the number one among comparable premium saloons. Model series 203 vehicles offered a comprehensive package of technical innovations as standard that had never before been available in this market segment. During the development of the new Mercedes‑Benz C‑CLass, more attention was paid to safety and comfort than ever before in this vehicle class, with leading-edge technology also delivering outstanding dynamism and driving enjoyment.
The attractive design and modern interpretation of the twin headlamp face immediately highlighted two of the major qualities of the new C‑Class: dynamism and elegance. The saloon was a youthful, progressive vehicle with the agility of a sports car based on its newly developed suspension, more powerful engines and other technological innovations. The C‑C lass combined this dynamism with qualities typical of Mercedes‑Benz such as maximum safety, top-quality workmanship, great comfort and a high level of reliability. At 4.53 metres long and with a wheelbase of 2715 millimetres, the saloon was ten millimetres bigger than its predecessor from model series 202. The wheelbase had actually grown by 25 millimetres, which was particularly advantageous in the interior.
The outstanding torsional stiffness and stability of the body were impressive: considering measurements of static deflection alone, the new C‑Class Saloon proved to be 50 percent more stable than its predecessor. One factor here was the use of high-strength steels. The drag coefficient fell from a Cd value of 0.30 to 0.31 for model series 202 to just 0.26 to 0.27 (depending on engine type and tyres). With a Cd value of 0.26, the new C 180 was the most aerodynamically efficient notchback saloon in its market segment. At the same time, Mercedes‑Benz engineers reduced the lift on the front and rear axle by up to 57 percent on the new C‑Class, thereby creating ideal preconditions for outstanding handling.
One hallmark of the second-generation C‑Class was the systematic addition to the standard equipment package of groundbreaking technical innovations previously available only on top Mercedes‑Benz models: windowbags, adaptive driver and passenger airbags, Headlamp Assist, multifunction steering wheel, central display and fibre-optic cables for transmitting information were just some examples. These and other developments made the C‑Class the technology leader in its market segment. A total of over 20 technical innovations from top-of-the-range Mercedes‑Benz models were included as standard equipment in the new C‑Class.
Maximum safety likewise came as standard thanks to systems such as the Electronic Stability Program ESP®, Brake Assist (BAS), automatic child seat recognition, belt tensioners and belt force limiters for the front and outer rear seats, head restraints for all seats, and sidebags in the front doors. The SPEEDTRONIC electronic speed control regulator and a six-speed manual transmission were also standard equipment. Compared to the previous model, the standard equipment of the new C‑Class had been upgraded by some 3700 Deutschmarks (or just under 1900 euros).
As for the preceding series, three separate design and equipment lines were available. While the CLASSIC entry-level model was more restrained, the ELEGANCE line did its name justice with superior appointments and embellishments such as chrome trim, light-alloy rims and a leather steering wheel. The AVANTGARDE was the ultimate C‑Class with blue-tinted glass, interior trim parts in structured aluminium and 16‑inch light-alloy rims. Emphasising the avantgarde character of this model variant further still, the bumpers and side skirts were distinctive in design.
For the first time, state-of-the-art systems from the S‑Class were now available as optional extras for the C‑Class. Examples were the sensor-controlled, luxury automatic climate control THERMOTRONIC, the new COMAND display system, DynAPS dynamic route guidance or a Bose sound system which automatically compensated for driving noise. The innovative LINGUATRONIC voice-operated control system previously only available for the telephone could now control the car radio and CD player in the C‑Class if desired.
Dynamism and driving pleasure – seven new or further developed engines meant that the two outstanding characteristics of the new C‑Class were guaranteed. Delivering up to 20 percent more power, the engines offered up to 43 percent more torque, thereby creating ideal preconditions for a dynamic motoring experience. The power output from the four petrol and three diesel engines ranged from 85 kW (115 hp) to 160 kW (218 hp).
A newly developed 2.0-litre, supercharged engine made this C‑Class model the most dynamic vehicle in its displacement category. The belt-driven supercharger gave the 120 kW (163 hp), four-cylinder engine the performance characteristics of a car with a larger six-cylinder engine. Impressive torque of 230 newton metres allowed the new C 200 KOMPRESSOR to accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h in just 9.3 seconds. The top speed was 230 km/h while nevertheless retaining exemplary fuel consumption figures: compared to the previous, non-supercharged C 200 featuring approximately 20 percent lower output and torque, the new C 200 KOMPRESSOR consumed only 0.1 litres more fuel over 100 kilometres.
Also new within the C‑Class was the V6 engine with a displacement of 3.2 litres, 160 kW (218 hp) and torque of 310 newton metres, enabling superior performance and a leading position in this market segment. Mercedes‑� Benz achieved great progress in the area of exhaust gas emissions: at the time of market launch, the new C‑Class's petrol engines already complied with the stringent limits of the 2005 Euro 4 emissions standard.
The diesel models also offered impressive performance. With a top speed of 230 km/h, the new five-cylinder C 270 CDI was 27 km/h faster than the C 250 TURBODIESEL before it. This was made possible by a variable turbocharger and modern common rail direct injection, which also reduced the fuel consumption of the new C‑Class by 14 percent compared to its less powerful predecessor. The same technology was also used in the four-cylinder C 200 CDI and C 220 CDI, which again were both more powerful and more economical than earlier models.
An advanced control and display concept boosted comfort and driving enjoyment onboard the C‑Class. Thanks to the new multifunction steering wheel and central display in the speedometer, the C‑Class driver was able to program more than 50 individual settings and access important information simply by pressing.
High-grade materials in the interior underlined the premium nature of the new saloon by creating pleasant tactile qualities and a feeling of spaciousness. The armrests, new multifunction steering wheel and gear lever formed a perfectly ergonomic unit. Fore-and-aft and height adjustment for the steering wheel as standard, plus the versatility offered by electric seat adjustment helped to optimise comfort.
The vehicle body proved innovative. Its front end structure included a module with crash boxes made of high-strength steel bolted to the rest of the body. This made replacing the module after an accident quick and inexpensive. In minor accidents at up to 15 km/h, the front module was designed to absorb all of the impact energy, leaving the support elements behind the module undamaged. A similar, easy-to-repair structure was developed for the rear area as well.
The C‑Class achieved top values in key areas of chassis development. Mercedes‑Benz engineers had gone to great lengths to newly develop or enhance the axles, steering and brakes, in order to exceed the already high standards of the previous model. This ensured exemplary agility, straight-line stability, steering precision, road roar and tyre vibration characteristics and braking performance, as well as superior driving characteristics even when approaching critical limits.
Innovations in chassis and suspension technology included a newly developed three-link front suspension with McPherson struts, modern rack-and-pinion steering and large disc brakes with improved cooling air flow for the highest possible level of braking comfort. In terms of construction, the multi-link independent rear suspension was fully revised and retuned.
In the spring of 2001 the Mercedes‑Benz C 32 AMG became the new top-of-the-range model in the C‑Class portfolio. It was premiered in January at the Auto Show in Detroit where the new C‑Class Estate was also unveiled. With a newly developed V6 supercharged engine, the C 32 AMG Sports Saloon opened up a new dimension in torque for the C‑Class with a peak value of 450 newton metres at 4400 rpm. More than 400 newton metres were available from 2300 rpm, remaining constant up to a rated engine speed of 6100 rpm. In terms of torque, this made the new model the world champion in its class. The C 32 AMG completed the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.2 seconds, reaching a top speed of 250 km/h (electronically limited). With NEDC combined fuel economy of only 11.5 litres to travel 100 kilometres (premium fuel), the vehicle demonstrated that sporty performance did not necessarily have to harm the environment. Further proof of this is the fact that when it was launched, the new C 32 AMG was already compliant with the stringent requirements of the D4 standard.
In the C 32 AMG model, power was transmitted by a five-speed automatic transmission with Touchshift, with the engineers from Mercedes‑AMG GmbH having adapted the shift characteristic curves specifically for sporty driving. This resulted in more immediate gear changes at all speed ranges. The completely newly designed chassis ensured agile handling combined with a high level of comfort. Compared to the C 320, the C 32 AMG was equipped with new spring damper elements all round. The vehicle body was also some 30 millimetres lower at the front and rear axle. At 7.5 inches (front) and 8.5 inches (rear) wide, the 17-inch AMG light-alloy wheels guaranteed close contact with the road. Tyres of size 225/45 R 17 were fitted at the front and size 245/40 R 17 at the rear.
The newly developed AMG braking system facilitated exceptional deceleration. In conjunction with assistant systems such as ABS, ESP®, ASR and BAS (Brake Assist System), excellent driving safety was assured.
Visually speaking, expressive AMG body design disclosed the Mercedes‑Benz C 32 AMG's unmistakable affinity with other high-performance cars from Mercedes‑AMG GmbH. A powerfully contoured front apron with integrated fog lamps, special side skirts and the chunky rear apron expressed the dynamic qualities of this new top-of-the-range C‑C lass model. The image was harmoniously enhanced by the striking rear silencer with the oval, chrome-plated twin tailpipe typical of AMG, which created an unmistakeable engine sound. Exclusive style and exquisite appointments were also found in the interior. Examples included the special instrument cluster with a 300‑km/h speedometer, the new shape of the AMG sports steering wheel in leather and the standard AMG sports seats covered in fine nappa leather, which offered optimised lateral support thanks to their sporty moulding.
All other C‑Class Saloon models also benefited from the work of AMG experts on the C‑Class from the spring of 2001. That is when AMG body design and AMG light-alloy wheels became available as an option irrespective of the engine or design and equipment line.
In summer 2002 Mercedes‑Benz introduced a new generation of innovative, four-cylinder engines for the C‑Class, which would later be adopted by other Mercedes model series as well. The new units scored highly on fuel consumption, torque characteristics, power delivery, lightweight construction and running smoothness. There were four variants of the advanced 1.8‑litre engine to choose from – all featuring the unique TWINPULSE system which brought together various technologies such as supercharging, intercooling, a four-valve-per-cylinder design, variable camshaft adjustment, Lanchester balancer and adaptive drive dynamics to minimise fuel consumption while maximising driving enjoyment and running smoothness.
The power output of the new four-cylinder engines ranged from 105 kW (143 hp) to 141 kW (192 hp). From late 2002, Mercedes‑Benz offered a 125 kW (170 hp) direct-injection petrol system in the C 200 CGI for the first time. This was the world's first engine of this kind to combine groundbreaking direct injection with supercharging and dynamic balancer. The abbreviation CGI on the rear of Mercedes models indicated the presence of advanced engine technology and stood for "Stratified Charged Gasoline Injection". Despite the new engine's increased output, direct petrol injection resulted in a fuel saving in excess of 19 percent compared to the equivalent predecessor C‑C lass model.
During the further development of direct petrol injection to CGI, Mercedes‑Benz engineers primarily focused on fuel consumption and exhaust gas emissions. That is why the CGI engine also included a NOx storage catalytic converter to adsorb nitrogen oxides during lean-burn operation and to release them again in short regeneration phases, in order to form harmless nitrogen with the help of other exhaust emission components. Thanks to this technology, the C 200 CGI was able to beat future Euro 4 limits by a considerable margin.
In comparison with previous models, the economy and dynamic driving experience of the three new Mercedes‑Benz four-cylinder models with conventional port injection were also impressive: the new C 180 KOMPRESSOR accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.7 seconds and reached a top speed of 222 km/h, making it 1.3 seconds faster on the sprint than the existing C 180 Saloon and 12 km/h faster overall. At 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres (NEDC combined cycle) fuel consumption was bettered by one litre, an improvement of more than 11 percent for the new C 200 KOMPRESSOR compared to the previous model. The variant of the new four-cylinder engine in the C 230 KOMPRESSOR with the highest output and torque (141 kW/192 hp; 260 newton metres) outdid the fuel consumption of its predecessor by 0.7 litres for every 100 kilometres.
Mercedes‑Benz engineers achieved these exemplary consumption figures for the new four-cylinder units mainly by moving the operating points to engine speed ranges with optimal thermodynamic efficiency. Decreasing the displacement to 1.8 litres also had a noticeable effect on consumption thanks to reduced friction and improved thermodynamics. The four-cylinder C‑C lass models continued to stand out as a result of their agility and dynamism. One reason for this was the supercharging deployed by all new-generation engines. Thanks to this aspect, high torque was available from idle speed which in turn gave a 13-percent longer overall gear ratio. This meant that the new engines were largely derestricted and therefore particularly economical to operate.
The world's only combination of supercharging with Lanchester balancer resolved a further conflict of aims in the development of four-cylinder engines thanks to the TWINPULSE system: balancer shafts compensated for vibrations caused by the principles involved, delivering exemplary running smoothness for this displacement category. Owing to their mechanical supercharging and state-of-the-art engine technology, the new Mercedes‑Benz engines were thus able to combine the pulling power and quiet running of a six-cylinder engine with the economy of a four-cylinder unit.
The permanent all-wheel drive system 4MATIC, which had already proven itself in practice on the Mercedes‑Benz E‑Class for some years, was offered for the C‑Class for the first time from autumn 2002. Perfectly teamed with the standard Electronic Stability Program ESP® and the electronic traction system 4ETS, this system helped drivers to cope with critical situations in a safe and controlled manner. In adverse weather conditions such as ice, snow or the wet, as well as when moving off, accelerating or on poor road surfaces, the C‑C lass's new 4MATIC models attained even more traction and dynamism.
4ETS also accomplished the ride comfort typical of Mercedes‑Benz, because this system worked without conventional differential locks which affect comfort and handling on other all-wheel drive passenger vehicles. Instead, 4ETS braked spinning wheels in a targeted way while at the same time directing drive torque to the wheels with good traction. Electronic traction control thereby had the effect of three differential locks. A single-stage transfer case transferred engine drive torque to the front and rear axles in the ratio 40:60 respectively. Mercedes‑Benz offered the innovative 4MATIC powertrain system for the V6 C 240 and C 320 Saloons. 4MATIC models were equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission as standard.
Also in autumn 2002 the C‑Class proved to be the safest vehicle in its market segment: the results of crash tests based on the European NCAP standard (New Car Assessment Programme) led the Euro NCAP Organisation to award the C‑ � � Class five stars – maximum points for this test procedure. At this time, only two vehicles in the world had achieved this outstanding result. This confirmed that the C‑Class's innovative safety concept corresponded to the latest findings from Mercedes accident research and offered protection for occupants at the highest level, reflecting everyday traffic realities. The C‑Class’s standard safety package included adaptive driver and passenger airbags, side and windowbags, belt tensioners, belt force limiters, automatic child seat recognition and, from 2002, a more sophisticated seat belt reminder system. The saloon's front end structure was also adapted to real-life accident situations by incorporating a three-stage system of protection, which would take effect depending on the severity of the impact.
Also contributing to vehicle safety was the fact that the innovative DISTRONIC autonomous intelligent cruise control became available in this vehicle class for the first time from the autumn of 2002. This system was already known from the Mercedes‑Benz CL, SL, S and E‑Classes. It detected vehicles in front with the help of a radar sensor in the front end and calculated the distance and relative speed between two vehicles based on radar reflectivity. If the distance from a vehicle in front decreased, DISTRONIC automatically reduced acceleration or – if necessary – engaged the brakes, in order to maintain the desired distance. If the distance increased once more, the system would accelerate to the predefined speed.
As an option, Mercedes‑Benz now provided powerful bi-xenon headlamps for the C‑Class for low and main beam. Compared to conventional H7 bulbs, this type produced up to 180 percent higher luminosity, thereby making night-time driving even safer. The bi-xenon equipment package also included dynamic headlamp range control and a high-pressure cleaning system. Headlamps with a clear glass look and special lens optics for the indicators further enhanced this headlamp design.
The model series 203 C‑Class proved to be a bestseller within the first three years of production, with the one millionth C‑Class of model series 203 rolling off the line at the Mercedes‑Benz plant in Sindelfingen on 13 March 2003. The engineers ensured this success was sustained with a number of improved details: in spring 2004 (four years after the model series launch), Mercedes‑Benz gave the successful C‑Class a facelift to significantly enhance it in terms of engineering, equipment and design. Up to this point, Mercedes‑B enz had sold a total of more than 1,260,000 units of model series 203.