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2003 Entry Level Luxury Buyer's Guide
by Steve Siler

Mercedes C-Class
2003 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Looking for all the world like a 5/6-scale version of the mighty Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the C-Class offers about the same proportion of the S-Class' greatness, but for only about half the price. Not a bad deal, eh?

What's more, the C-Class is available not just as a sedan, but also as a hot-looking wagon or a youthful Sports Coupe. Each offers the kind of safety features, build quality and resale value that come with any car with a 3-pointed star on the hood, but for the purposes of this guide, we'll focus only on the sedan and wagon models, since the Sports Coupes compete more with other premium hatchbacks than the sedans in this guide.

At Mercedes-Benz, standard equipment follows your choice of powertrain-no mixing and matching of arrays and engines. The economical C230 Kompressor Sedan is sportier than it is luxurious, powered by a 1.8-liter supercharged four-cylinder engine (189 hp) mated to a six-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic transmission. The C240 sedan and wagon models feature a 168-hp V-6 and emphasize luxury over sport with leather, wood and power seats. Stepping up to the C320 sedan or wagon, you'll get a robust 3.2-liter V-6 (215 hp), a 5-speed automatic transmission, a kickin' Bose entertainment system and more. At the very top of the ladder is the exclusive C32 AMG sedan, which pounds the earth with a pavement-wrinkling 349-hp engine while coddles occupants in a fully loaded interior.

Options on most models include power moonroofs, extra leather appointments, an integrated mobile phone system (which works with the Motorola V60) and a navigation system. Prices start at under $30K for the C230 Kompressor Sedan to about $50K for the hard-to-find C32 AMG, and include TeleAid GPS-based assistance (much like GM's OnStar).