Mercedes-Benz C350 W203 Review: Future Classic
Mercedes-Benz C350 W203. Looking for a car with lasting value? Joe Kenwright of Unique Cars magazine steers you in the right direction
Mercedes-Benz C350 W203
As more European manufacturers use their upper model numbers to designate tiny four-cylinder engines - with varying degrees of forced induction to replicate the power outputs of their big-engined predecessors - the chances of a pure and linear driving experience in a compact rear-drive model are growing slimmer.
One of the best value Mercedes-Benz stealth models was the rare and virtually-unannounced W203 C350, current from September 2005 until June 2007.
Free of the hot-rod image, hardcore feel and high running costs of the AMG models, the C350 combined the refinement, comfort and subtlety of other W203 variations with a big boost in performance, courtesy of its new drivetrain - a 200kW/350Nm V6 and state-of-the-art seven-speed automatic. That 350Nm was on tap from 2400 to 5000rpm. And it was quick - 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.4sec.
The 350 actually stood for 3498cc of full-blooded atmo petrol engine from the big S350. Installed in a relatively agile and tight structure weighing just over 1500kg, or just 15kg more than the four-cylinder C180K, it came alive. The new transmission gave owners a choice of seamless high performance with a satisfying, progressive delivery, or the easy-going fuel economy of a powerful engine freed from limousine duty.
Suspension and tyres were subtly upgraded to match, but not enough to stop drivers from exploiting less-than-perfect local roads away from city centres. It is this ability that distinguishes it from its more tiresome and vulnerable German rivals, set up for billiard-table-smooth autobahns.
The C350's almost 'basement' C200 looks and $100,000 price tag ensured that it remained exclusive, despite a comprehensive equipment list that included leather, power front seats, and full 'Command' system with sat-nav and phone functions.
It came in two, identically-priced, top-shelf specifications - Avantgarde or Elegance. The former had a more aggressive, sportier feel with different wheel sizes front and rear, black highlights, and metallic-look cabin accents. The Elegance came with the full wood-and-leather pack and a more muted cabin presentation.
More importantly, both were based on the mid-life September 2004 upgrade of the complete W203 range, placing several teething issues behind this series. As later models, they were the ultimate V6 C-class, following this subtle clean-up of one of the sweetest and most unpretentious Mercedes-Benz designs for some time. Most easily picked by its three-bar grille, the C350 featured the redesigned front bumper, clear-lens front lights, side skirts and wider 17-inch wheels with wider track, and sportier rear bumper. Inside, the instrument cluster and centre console had the later, fresher look while seats, trim quality and general feel went up a notch or two in quality.
As the more aggressive appearance of newer Mercedes-Benz models becomes more accessible, current C350 pricing under $40,000 could still drop before it levels out. Its intangible rewards should more than compensate.
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