It doesn't sound like a Mercedes," opined my passenger. She had a point. The supercharged, sixteen-valve, 1.8-liter DOHC in-line four in the C230 Kompressor has the aural quality of a vacuum cleaner. It's a pity, because the engine actually is a good performer, making 189 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque--21 horsepower and 15 pound-feet more than the C240's 2.6-liter V-6. Mercedes claims the C230 sedan can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds.
The engine is an all-new piece, not the one found in the 1999-2001 C230 Kompressor. Despite the new four's smaller displacement (the old car had a full 2.3 liters under the hood), Mercedes decided there was currency with the C230 moniker. Whatever the nomenclature, this is the new entry-level C-class sedan, aimed at younger (read: less affluent) buyers.
The C230 Kompressor is one of two new C-class Sport Sedans (the C320 Sport Sedan is the other); the models obviate last year's $3000 Sport option package. The cars have a restyled front end, textured aluminum cabin trim, and broadly bolstered seats. The C230 has a six-speed manual gearbox (a five-speed automatic is optional) as well as seven-spoke wheels with 225/45ZR-17 tires and a sport-tuned suspension that is calibrated differently than the old sport package's.
The C230's price--a low, low $28,710--is likely to be its most compelling aspect to most buyers, because it includes such niceties as automatic climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, and partial leather seats. A CD player is not part of the deal, however.
Despite the engine's unmelodious note and the stick shift's rubbery and imprecise linkage, the C230 is the most entertaining, most agile C-class model. The suspension gives much better body control with seemingly no diminution of ride quality, and the car feels better balanced than the heavier V-6-powered cars.
The C230 sedan finally reveals the inherent goodness of the C-class chassis: It feels like a real competitor to the BMW 325i. Too bad it doesn't sound like one.