Reworked styling, more comprehensive standard equipment and updated engineering were unveiled for the C-Class in June 1997, after more than a million had rolled off the production line in the four years since its launch. Despite their improved equipment offering significant safety and comfort benefits in all four lines, sales prices remained unchanged in accordance with the company's value-for-money strategy.
The facelift centred on the deployment of two newly developed V6 engines with capacities of 2.4 litres and 2.8 litres. In the German sales range, the 125 kw (170 hp) C 240 replaced the four-cylinder C 230 and it provided Mercedes customers with an affordable entry-point into the six-cylinder category. Nevertheless, the C 230 continued to be produced for export and for CKD supplies until June 1998. The 2.8-litre engine that had been premiered in the E-Class back in March now also replaced the tried-and-tested six-cylinder in-line engine with the same capacity in the C-Class.
Both V6 engines were produced at the brand new, state-of-the-art Bad Cannstatt engine plant, and they featured a range of pioneering innovations. A clever selection of lightweight construction materials made the 2.8-litre V6 engine 25 percent lighter than the in-line engine, and the particularly low-friction surface of the alloy cylinder liners – the first to be used anywhere in the world – helped to cut fuel consumption. Use of three-valve technology and dual ignition significantly reduced emissions. Dispensing with an exhaust valve reduced heat loss in the exhaust flow and also created sufficient space for a second spark plug, which brought benefits in the form of short flame travel and optimal combustion control. Overall, these measures helped the new C 280 to achieve a 9 percent reduction in fuel consumption when compared with its predecessor. The ESP electronic stability programme was available for both the new V6 models as an optional extra in conjunction with automatic transmission.
The restyle of all C-Class models included redesigned front and rear bumpers, sporty body-coloured side skirts, dark tinted tail lights and slight modifications to the radiator grill. This set of changes further highlighted the dynamic image of the C-Class. In the vehicle interior, new door panelling and seat covers provided greater comfort.
As well as subtle tweaks to the body design and interior trim, the facelift also included a significant upgrade in standard equipment, including the addition of side impact airbags in the front doors, high-performance seat-belt pre-tensioners with belt force limiters on the front seats, plus electronic brake assist. All facelifted C-Class models except the C 220 Diesel and C 180 entry-level models were fitted with ASR acceleration skid control as standard.
The Mercedes-Benz ELCODE drive authorisation system, operated via an electronic door and ignition key, was also new to the C-Class and provided the ultimate in anti-theft protection and convenience. The ASSYST Active Service System, also a new introduction, made it possible to customise maintenance intervals in accordance with actual operating conditions. As a result, the average interval was extended from 15,000 km to 22,500 km.
In addition to the improved standard equipment, a number of optional extras also became available to the C-Class for the first time in June 1997. They included PTS electronic parking assist (PARKTRONIC), the APS (Auto Pilot System) route guidance system, variable cruise control (only in conjunction with automatic transmission), a rain sensor for the windscreen wipers and xenon headlights with dynamic range control.
Two further C-Class models were launched at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in September 1997. The C 43 AMG succeeded the C 36, of which 5,211 had been built before June 1997. Its newly developed 225 kw (306 hp) 4.3-litre V8 engine with three-valve technology and dual ignition, comprehensive standard equipment, including features such as the ESP electronic stability programme, automatic transmission and automatic climate control, made the C 43 the top model in its series. It was also the first eight-cylinder model available in the C-Class series.
Although the second new model was at the opposite end of the performance spectrum, its launch was no less spectacular. The C 220 CDI, still under the C 220 Turbodiesel designation at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, was the world's first series production car with a direct-injection, common-rail diesel engine. Its 92 kw (125 hp) four-cylinder OM 611 engine generated impressive torque of 300 Newton metres starting from just 1800 rpm, which not only made the C 220 CDI the diesel car with the most torque for its capacity, but also set new standards in fuel consumption and emissions.
This was primarily due to the new common-rail, direct-injection technology developed jointly with Bosch that differs from other direct-injection systems in key aspects. While conventional systems generate pressure afresh for each injection, CDI engines work using a common rail in which pressure is stored and distributed to the injection nozzles via solenoid valves. Mixture formation is significantly improved by variable injection control and the high level of injection pressure, which can be up to 1350 bar and becomes available at low engine speeds, resulting in low fuel consumption and low exhaust emissions. The C 220 CDI was launched in December 1997.
In June 1998, a further CDI model was added to the C-Class diesel range. This was the C 200 CDI, the replacement for the C 220 Diesel which had a naturally aspirated, pre-chamber engine. The new model was powered by a derated version of the engine with the same displacement that was familiar from the C 220 CDI. Compared with its predecessor, the new model was notable for high torque at low engine speeds, much improved performance and lower fuel consumption and emission figures. After the C 200 CDI was launched on the market, the previous C 220 Diesel was only available as a derated, 55 kw (75 hp) taxi model and only in a vegetable oil methyl ester version. Production of the C 200 Diesel export model was also discontinued at the same time.
In August 1999, the ESP electronic stability programme was added to the range of equipment fitted as standard to all C-Class models. Having been introduced as a world first four years previously, this driving safety system was now standard on all Mercedes-Benz passenger car models except the G-Class, V-Class and ML 230.
A new generation of C-Class saloons arrived in May 2000 when the W 203 series was launched in the market following its unveiling in March 2000. At the same time, production of the W 202 came to an end, initially in Sindelfingen and then a month later at the Bremen plant. In just over seven years of production, a total of 1,626,383 saloons had been built; 869,703 of them had been made in Sindelfingen and 756,680 had rolled off the production line in Bremen. The C 180 entry-level model was by far the most successful variant of the second C-Class generation. It accounted for 583,514 of the total number produced, which was almost 36 percent and meant that more of this model of Mercedes-Benz passenger car had been built than any other.