Monday, 24 March 2014

SUGARHOUND CLASSIC (AND CONCISE) USED CAR REVIEW: The 2003 Mercedes C180 Kompressor Classic.

I have had the chance to utilise a very nice old car for the past few days, and thought it may be opportune to do a review of it. After all, it was this very model that re-piqued my interest in the marque when a family member bought a C180 Kompressor, new, in 2005. I had a 2004 Subaru Outback 3.0R at the time and when I drove the Merc, I knew I would have to have a new one at some stage, thankfully realising that goal last year. 

First, "the look and the feel". When the Mercedes-Benz designs changed in the early 2000's, they were so different, a world apart from the previous squared-off C-class models. The new design wasn't conservative any more. The reliability was heavily scrutinised as well. Apparently, in a moment of ecological madness, Mercedes utilised wiring looms in some models in the 1990s, including the C-class, that were bio-degradable. 10 years later, the wiring looms would invariably deteriorate, rendering the cars virtually useless, at a cost of a couple of thousand dollars to replace and repair. This wasn't a good look for the best car maker on earth.

Now; back to the car above. When I got into the car, the first two words that sprang to mind were "heavy" and "quality". The doors are heavy and shut with a reassuringly Teutonic "thunk". Normal Mercedes oddities apply; the emergency brake is a footbrake that is depressed to activate and released via a handle adjacent to the steering wheel. 

The cabin is remarkably well soundproofed and the 1.8 litre supercharged 4 can hardly be heard. The engine launches such a heavy car off the mark with ease, and propels the rear wheels of  the car to highway speeds effortlessly.

Road noise is virtually non-existent thanks to the 195/65/15 tyres. My biggest bugbear with modern cars is that the public want something that looks cool, usually with low profile tyres, which makes it handle well, but the road noise factor rises sharply. The tyres on this example were Pirelli P6's, and if it were mine, I would soon replace them with even quieter Yokohama, Goodyear Eagle, or Michelin tyres.

The seats in this car are remarkable. 11 years of use, and the MB-tex is still pristine. No cracks or tears, and they have maintained their shape. The front pair are electrically controlled for recline and height. Fore and aft movement is via a chunky lever. The steering wheel is solid and feels extraordinarily nice in my small hands.Legroom front and rear would serve most people well. 

The steering wheel-controlled radio and single CD player, once a revered piece of technology in this car when new, is now simply ho-hum. If I had this car, I would replace it, but I would put something in that was sympathetic to the marque.

The instrument panel is simple. Almost too simple. 

Check out this wired -in Nokia phone. The late 1990's just called. They want their phone back.


Here are my only two complaints about the car. The plastics on the door handles and surrounds is atrocious (see below). It has aged poorly and has perished.Looks terrible, eh?

Second, I take great notice of something I call "cruising RPM". The worst case I have seen is a Holden (Isuzu) Rodeo ute I had that would cruise at 110km/hr, revving its head off at 3200 RPM.

On the other end of the spectrum, the best I have seen is my Saab 9-3 Turbodiesel that does the same speed, but at a more sedate 1450 RPM.

The C180K is a different beast. At 110km/h, it actually feels comfortable, but is whirring along at almost 2400 RPM, almost 500 RPM higher than a modern counterpart. It's just enough to have the potential to annoy on a long trip. It wouldn't be breaking any fuel efficiency records at that rate, either.


I love this car. Possibly enough to buy one for my daughter to learn to drive in, and keep. It's new enough to be relevant and old enough to be affordable; about $7,000-11,000 in Australia dependant on age and condition. 

4.5 stars out of 5.