Mercedes C-Class

The C-Class got smart in 2000. While the 1993 original was solid, it wasn't stylish - crucial when your rivals are the desirable BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. Inspired by the S-Class, the millennium model is arguably the best-looking compact saloon of modern times.

The C-Class got smart in 2000. While the 1993 original was solid, it wasn't stylish - crucial when your rivals are the desirable BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. Inspired by the S-Class, the millennium model is arguably the best-looking compact saloon of modern times. The Merc has had time to prove it's reliable, too - we have seen cars with 250,000 miles. For the price of a mid-spec Ford Focus, it's tempting used. Facelifted this year, the saloon, estate and three-door Sports Coup� hatch share the same well equipped interior. Base petrol engines can be gruff, and avoid early South African-built four-doors. But the C320 or a diesel will do nicely.Checklist * Electrics: the heated rear screen and electric windows can be troublesome. Air-con may also prove problematic, so switch on and ensure it blows icy cold. * Doors: excessive wind noise and leaks can arise through failing door seals, which have been noted on some cars. Listen carefully and check carpets for signs of water. * Trim: all cars have sub-standard plastics in places; early models suffer some trim rattle. Paint quality can also vary, so look for blemishes on non-metallic examples. * Wheels: C-Class wheel alignment is sensitive, so examine the tyres for signs of uneven wear. Tendency for the car to 'wander' on roads also suggests a problem here. * Warranty: the 30-year Mobilo Life warranty demands main dealer servicing - and it's invalidated if a check has been skipped. From 2002, some entry-level cars lack air-con - a must on this vehicle.Driving impressions The C-Class has weighty steering, a long-travel accelerator and feels composed on the road. It also seems larger and more dignified than it really is. Ride quality is superb, refinement at speed faultless - only the coarse entry-level petrol engines are a letdown. Later supercharged units were vastly superior. Avoid the poor manual transmission, settle into the supportive seats and enjoy a relaxing drive.Glass's View The C-Class is more expensive than the equivalent BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 models, which has driven up discount levels. Diesels and supercharged petrols, badged Kompressor, are the most popular engines. Models with manual gearboxes are not as desirable, and worth less due to general prestige market dislike and the awkwardness of the foot-operated parking brake. The range-topping Avantgarde trim is worth the extra cost, as it makes the car easier to sell on. Jeff Paterson, senior editor, Glass's GuideLife With A C-Class For me, the C-Class has a lot more prestige than the equivalent BMW or Audi. Somehow it feels much more composed, regal and upmarket. Mine has now covered 65,000 miles and so far it's proved faultless. Jeremy Timms, Ludlow, Shropshire I've always had Mercs, but this one falls short of the quality I expect. It's a lovely car to drive, but it's had a few electrical faults and the trim rattles. Leonard Weller, Eastbourne, West Sussex

Verdict

Mercedes was caught out with the previous C-Class, which was eclipsed by the BMW 3-Series. The Merc now equals - and in some guises betters - its adversary. While the C-Class lacks the handling edge of rivals, firm seats and a supple ride make it a satisfying cruiser. It also boasts impressive grip and well weighted steering. We'd go for the auto, though, as this is easier to use and hill starts are less fraught without the manual's foot-operated parking brake.

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