By on September 1, 2021

The Nineties W202 C-Class was Mercedes’ second-ever compact car offering, after its debut small car the 190. Not made of the heritage-level materials of the 190, the W202 cars were largely trashed at the bottom of their depreciation curve a decade ago by second and third owners.

Said trashing is why today’s very clean example is so unusual.

Mercedes realized by the Seventies it would have to reach a bit lower on the societal ladder to increase sales and profits. The company spent a lot of time and money on the development of the W201 190, but that’s a story for another Rare Rides.

The 190 had a very long production life and continued from 1983 through the 1994 model year before its replacement. By 1986 Mercedes was working on a replacement, the eventual W202. The W202 would end up with stiff competition from other makes outside BMW after its introduction, as nearly every luxury manufacturer expanded into the upscale compact game in the Nineties.

Mercedes legend Bruno Sacco started the design work in 1987, but his design was not chosen for production. There were two distinct design directions by late in 1988: Sacco’s design and one by Olivier Boulay who’d just joined Daimler in 1987. Boulay’s design won, and the C-Class’ production look was decided in January 1990. Boulay still works for Daimler in China and was responsible for the Maybach 57 and 62 you know and love.

The W202 entered production in May of 1993 and shipped for model year 1994. More technologically advanced than the ancient 190, the C-Class sported a lineup of modern engines that varied extensively by market. At the lower level was an inline-four of 1.8- to 2.3-liters displacement, and next up was a 2.0-liter supercharged (Kompressor) inline-four, a 2.8 I6, V6s of 2.4- to 2.8-liters, and some diesels: 2.0-, 2.2-, and 2.5-liter displacements, with four or five cylinders. The AMG range had three different offerings, too: A 3.6 I6, 4.3 V8, and the range-topping 5.4-liter V8. That important engine debuted with the C-Class and spread across the range into the E, G-Wagen, and the SL among others.

Though other places also received a wagon to supplement the sedan range in 1996, wagon-hating North America was not on the list. Instead, only sedans were delivered, and the most basic one was the C 220 (later revised into the supercharged C 230). Worth noting, Mercedes did not wish to tarnish its luxury image with the cheapest C-Classes that sported tiny diesel engines and wheel covers, so those were outside the product offering. C 280 was the mid-level trim and represented I6 and V6 power, alongside eventual AMG offerings. AMG variants for North America sat roughly an inch higher than their European market twins since North Americans preferred more ride comfort.

Only one notable revision occurred to the C-Class, a visual refresh for 1997. New wheels, exterior trim, bumper covers, color-match side skirts, and smoked look rear lamps. The C-Class continued until the 2000 model year when it was replaced by the much worse, cost-cut W203. Maybe we’ll talk about that one later.

Today’s Rare Ride was for sale recently on Facebook in Illinois. A later run C 230 with a supercharger, it had just 88,000 miles on the odometer. Burgundy over cream, the exterior looked very clean and the inside like new. Your author hadn’t seen one that clean in a very long time, or really any first-gen C-Class in a while. It sold for a reasonable $5,995.

[Images: Mercedes-Benz]

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37 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1999 Mercedes-Benz C 230, the First Modern Compact Mercedes...”

  • avatar

    My Dad had a 1998 C280. With the exception of Corey-level issues with the sunroof after 60,000 miles (leaks, rattles), it was a good driving car. The back seat was really small for a car of that size, and the front seats were as hard as church pews, especially after 4-5 hours, but good power and very smooth transmission. After 90,000 miles, the nickel and diming phase kicked in and it was traded in for a newer E-class, but the less said of that lemon, the better.

    I think this era of M-B was the last “real” M-Bs out there. Real German vault design inside and out. Styling that still looks good today. A no fuss interior. His car still had a tape player and a dock for his old Motorola phone in the center console – hidden and out of sight. Still wonder why the steering wheel couldn’t tilt or telescope – car makers figured out ages ago how to do that with an airbag fitted wheel. And that 5-speed automatic was SLOW on the downshifting…you had to really floor it on the highway.

    I still see some of these on the streets today. Some are totally clapped out, but others you can tell have been babied and still look good.

    Side note to Corey…the VW saga continues. New recall over the engine computer, the overhead SOS/info/maintenance call buttons fell into the overhead console and took out the microphone so no hands-free calls for now, and a violent idle with a cold engine and the a/c on (it wants to sputter). 8,500 miles. I cannot imagine any situation that has me keeping this car one mile past the expiration of the warranty. It’s back to the shop…

    • 0 avatar

      I agree on the last of the “real,” a sentiment supported across the internet forums.

      I got that recall notice on the ECU, and the reasoning behind sounded suspicious to me. “Easier service tracking?” What?

      • 0 avatar

        They didn’t even bother mailing me anything about the recall. I just got an alert logging into my VW Service Account when I was making the appointment to fix this month’s problems. I’m going to have to dig deeper into the recall language – I don’t like anything with “tracking” in it with cars, unless they are tracking the car’s trip to a Mazda (or other maker) lot for trade-in.

      • 0 avatar

        You got a different recall – this is mine:

        In the event of a catalytic converter failure, which could negatively impact tailpipe emissions, existing diagnostics may not properly illuminate the check engine light (MIL) due an error identified with Rear O2 Sensor monitoring. Additionally, under certain conditions, the engine may stall at low speeds (such as while the vehicle is slowing down or coming to a stop), or when the vehicle is already at a stop with the engine running.

        Update Engine Control module (ECM) software.

    • 0 avatar

      “Corey-level issues”

      A classification is born.

    • 0 avatar



  • avatar

    “ Still wonder why the steering wheel couldn’t tilt or telescope – car makers figured out ages ago how to do that with an airbag fitted wheel.”

    Mercedes engineers felt that they had placed the wheel in the proper position and as such adjustment wasn’t necessary.

    • 0 avatar


      Volvo does something similar these days. They are the *only* luxury brand not to offer power tilt/telescoping steering columns on any of their models (unlike Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Lexus, Porsche, Cadillac, Lincoln, INFINITI, Jaguar, Land Rover, etc). The line that Volvo has apparently been feeding everybody is that they increase the risk of injury versus a manually adjusting system, which just doesn’t sound right.

      I was dismayed that my 2017 XC90 Inscription T6 (a $74,000 vehicle when new) didn’t have one.

      • 0 avatar

        About that C280 w/o an adjustable wheel. Everyone who drove that car ranged from 5’4″ to 6’2″. It had the power seats, but no memory. Needless to say, having some adjustments in the wheel would have been helpful and likely would have made a few minutes of seat adjusting moot.

      • 0 avatar

        So did it come with a manual tilt/telescoping setup instead?

    • 0 avatar

      Ve have plazed ze veel vhere it should be und you vill like it, ja?

  • avatar

    Do any of you eggheads know why supercharging fell out of favor for turbocharging in all but top trim muscle cars?

    • 0 avatar

      Turbo charging is “free” it doesn’t put drag on the engine while supercharging causing a lot of drag, so turbo is more efficient.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it was due to how the power is produced. Superchargers need horsepower to make horsepower and in a small 4 cylinder, I don’t think the gains were there. Now with turbos being smaller and lighter with easy packaging, and the only power need being exhaust gasses, I think that’s why turbos won out with smaller engines.
      Opinions and counter arguments?

    • 0 avatar

      Super chargers are driven mechanically (or electrically) off the engine. In the case of a Hellcat it might be siphoning off 75bhp. A turbocharger on the other hand is powered by exhaust gasses that would otherwise be wasted. So turbochargers are much more efficient.

      • 0 avatar

        So what’s the case in favor of superchargers?

        • 0 avatar

          Instant on and no lag. Still can get gains with a larger engine. Plus the supercharger whine in a Hellcat is one of the best ever!

        • 0 avatar
          Stanley Steamer

          There are 5 ways of driving a supercharger off an engine;

          Electric motor
          Turbine (Known today as a “turbo”, originally called a turbosupercharger)

          • 0 avatar

            Stanley Steamer, I like the distinction that the turbo is really a variant of the supercharger, with a different power source.

            One other advantage of the belt-driven supercharger is that it’s more compact and requires fewer parts. That means it can be much easier to install on top of an existing engine design. You don’t have to redirect a lot of exhaust plumbing to complete the installation. Fewer limited-production parts can make it less costly to engineer the conversion.

  • avatar

    I’m always interested in what the car market was like in the past. In 1984 the cheapest 190e was $23,430 which is $62,771 today. By 1994 the base price was $29,950 or $55,833 today. The price today? $41,600.

  • avatar

    To me, the C-Class is one of those Vehicles Which Never Should Have Been Built.

    Here are the lifetime sales figures:

    If I had the profit figures (and I don’t) I could make my case better. Anyway, we would all be better off if Mercedes had never made these.

    How would I be better off you ask, since no one is forcing me to buy or drive a C-Class?
    a) 92.834% of C-Class drivers do not drive like typical Mercedes drivers – which makes it [slightly] more difficult for me to anticipate their behavior on the road.
    b) Without the C-Class, there would be more ‘real’ Mercedes vehicles in the global car parc [industry term – look it up] and I would have a better chance of obtaining one for myself (supply and demand – the part of ‘economics’ which actually works in the real world).

  • avatar

    Two points popped into my mind after reading the article:

    1) The car was well built yes (my old man had a C280 with the in-line 6 when they first came out), but it fared badly in the Euro NCAP crash test. The Volvo S40 of the same era (the half Mitsubishi that everyone seems to hate) earned 4 stars while the Benz earned only 2.

    2) Maybe the US had different trim packages but the Canadian market C Class did come with steel wheels with cover on the base models. The pre-facelift C220 and the post facelift C230 Kompressor base (badged as “Classic”).

  • avatar

    Corey, why do you call the W202 “The First Modern Compact Mercedes”, when the W201 was the first one? And the W201 was so much better?

    Last year, a local car lot had a 1984 190E for sale, with under 100,000 miles, for $4,995. I wanted it so bad, but; 1) I didn’t need it, and 2) my wife would have killed me for buying it.

  • avatar

    The C of that era had an optional telescoping wheel, $100 in the US (IIRC); it only moved a couple inches though. Drove my 1996 18+ years before a LOL t-boned my family and destroyed it (we walked away, no injuries). Drive a 190E 2.6 for 5 years before the C. I think it was more an old-school Mercedes than the C was – built like a tank, doors closed like a bank vault, every control felt like it would last forever. I especially recall the power window switches were so stiff it almost hurt to uses them. The C was much more mass-market, but still worthy.

  • avatar

    I looked at some C-series before buying my Lexus GS and found the materials quality to be really underwhelming, peeling plastic ‘chrome,’ faded paint, split seams in the seating were common.

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