When it comes to prestige, it’s hard to beat the Mercedes three-pointed star. Nothing else can match its road presence – and a second-hand C-Class is an easy way to join the club.
There’s a massive range of engines and trims to choose from, while strong residuals will ensure the initial outlay represents money well spent.
But despite a reputation for solid build quality, some cars are better than others. There are also several glitches that can pose problems – which makes our buying guide essential reading.History
The previous-generation C-Class was launched in September 2000 as a saloon, with estate and three-door Sports Coupé bodystyles following in 2001.
In April 2001, the C270 CDI diesel arrived – four months ahead of the supercharged C32 AMG. A 2.2-litre C200 CDI debuted in June 2003, and quickly became a fleet favourite.
In February 2004, the C-Class was given a facelift, with changes focusing mainly on fresh headlamps and a smarter dashboard. At the same time, the C55 AMG was launched with a 5.5-litre V8. By April 2005, there was a new entry-level C160K Sports Coupé with a 1.8-litre supercharged engine.
The C280 and C350 replaced the C320 from June 2005, which is when the C320 CDI superseded the C270 CDI to top the diesel range. And an all-new C-Class arrived in June 2007.What to look for
Gearbox oil coolers can fail on automatics produced between 2000 and 2003, leading to dropped ratios. Also, if you’re looking at a diesel, check for blue smoke from the exhaust under acceleration. This hints at faulty oil seals, which will ultimately lead to the demise of the turbo – an expensive fix.
Badly fitted door rubbers will cause wind noise when cruising, while the heated rear window can pack up. A full Mercedes service history is vital to keep the 30-year bodywork warranty valid. And don’t assume the badge on the bootlid indicates the engine size – for example, the C280 features a 3.0-litre unit and the C240 a 2.6. Alternatives
The Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series are the most obvious competitors to the C-Class’s prestige and engine range.
You’ll get more for your money – as well as four-wheel drive – if you buy the former, but the 3-Series is the clear choice for driving enthusiasts.
The Lexus IS is the best of the Japanese alternatives, although you will have to go for an expensive second-generation car if you want a diesel.
Whether you want an estate or a sporty car, the C-Class’s huge range of powerplants and trim levels means there’s a model for everyone.
The brand’s reputation has taken a knock in recent years, but the C is one of the models least affected by quality issues. It resembles a mini S-Class, and the arrival of the far more stylish latest generation should ensure bargain prices on the outgoing car.
You can buy an early high-mileage C180 for as little as £5,000, but £8,500 gets you a better-equipped 02-reg C180 Elegance with around 60,000 miles. If you want a bit more power, an 04-plate C230K or C240 auto Elegance SE is £13,300. The same money will buy a 53-plate C320 auto Elegance SE.
Diesels start at £7,400 for an X-reg C220 CDI Classic, but add £3,000 for an 02-plate Elegance. You’ll pay £12,000 for a 52-plate C270 CDI Elegance SE, while not many C320 CDIs have dropped below £20,000. Autos carry a £1,000 premium.