Mercedes-Benz has been making luxury cars for a good while. They started with inventing the automobile in the literal sense, and they transpired into one of the ultimate purveyors of luxury sedans, SUVs, and even compact cars. Mercedes models became go-to vehicles for the jet set, world leaders, and CEOs the world over. About 50 years ago, if you wanted a Mercedes-Benz, your choice was very limited: you could only have the best car that they offered.

Eventually, Mercedes came around and realized the potential of entry level models, and they first started seeing success with such models when they began offering the 190. When the 190 retired in the '90s, Mercedes introduced the C-Class. Although it was a pretty decent entry level sedan, a multitude of issues plagued it. The W203 C-Class, which they introduced in 2000, aimed to fix all of these issues.

2000-2007 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

8.00 / 10
Key Features
  • Supercharged I4 and V6 power
  • RWD or AWD
  • Available manual transmission
  • Model: C-Class
  • Engine/Motor: Various
  • Horsepower: 189-268 hp
  • Torque: 210-260 lb/ft
  • Drivetrain: Longitudinal front-engine, RWD / AWD
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual / 5-speed automatic
  • MSRP: $31,750 (base when new, without inflation)
  • Sedan, wagon, and coupe body styles
  • Great features and equipment
  • Stately styling
  • Practicality isn't the best
  • Reliability concerns
  • Difficult to find some variants

The Second Generation Mercedes C-Class Was A Big Improvement

Mercedes C-Class W203 Front Quarter Paprika Metallic Red

The year 2000 saw the introduction of the second generation, or W203 C-Class. Following on from the W220 S-Class, which introduced an all-new design language for the automaker, as well as a major focus on class-leading and innovative features, Mercedes brought the second gen C-Class in line with their new philosophy. New styling, new features, and a much bigger focus on technology and features. This is more important than you might think, because the preceding first generation C-Class wasn't exactly the last word in luxury and features.

To be more specific, in Europe, you could buy a brand-new first generation C-Class with crank windows, no air-conditioning, a manual transmission, and a diesel engine with just 74 hp. Mercedes decided that they wouldn't repeat that mistake with the second generation C-Class, which dramatically improved on standard equipment, and also added some new features for good measure.

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One of the most obvious changes between the first and second gen C-Class is the exterior design. While most people bash on this era of Mercedes-Benz design, the C-Class does a surprisingly good job of it. The front features the infamous double-circle headlights, which actually incorporate themselves well with the rest of the car. The front bumper is also pretty simple, changing only a little bit depending on the trim level that you have. The side profile is classic sedan, while the rear end features a fairly simple design, and the standard 2000s Mercedes taillight design.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the C-Class design, which is especially interesting to analyze from a modern perspective, is the size. The W203 C-Class is nine inches shorter than the current W206 C-Class, and its wheelbase is six inches shorter. The W203 C-Class is actually far closer to a compact hatchback in sizing than it is a modern sedan of its type. Different times indeed.

The W203 C-Class was available with a whole catalog of powertrains, and a handful of trim levels. Mercedes offered the sedan, the highly controversial Sportcoupe, and the station wagon body styles in the States and Canada, but the sedan is the most common one. Assembly of the W203 C-Class took place in a variety of different facilities all over the world. Aside from Germany, Mercedes built the W203 in Malaysia, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, and a few other countries. The W203 carried on until 2007, and afterward, the W204 took its place in the lineup across the world. The C-Class competed with everyone's favorite BMW 3 Series, the E46, the Audi A4, the Jaguar X-Type, the Lexus IS, and the Infiniti G35.

Four-Cylinder And V6 Power For The Mercedes W203 C-Class

The W203 C-Class in North America was available with a broad lineup of powertrains, most of them being V6 units. While most people know and praise this generation of C-Class in Europe for its diesel powertrains, which is why in some countries in the continent they still use them as taxicabs, North America only got gasoline power on the W203. The entry level powertrain is the controversial C 230 Kompressor. In the earliest W203 C-Class models, this version used a 2.3-liter supercharged four-cylinder putting out 194 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. Later on, the C 230 Kompressor switched to a still-supercharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder, which dropped power slightly to 189 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. Both iterations could accelerate to 60 in about eight seconds, and they both topped out at 150 mph.

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While it's somewhat of a conundrum, the C 230 with no Kompressor used a V6 engine. Specifically, it was a 2.5-liter unit putting out 201 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. This engine actually performed worse than the Kompressor, with a 0-60 time closer to nine seconds, and a top speed of 146 mph. The confusion continues with the C 240, which uses a slightly larger 2.6-liter V6, but puts out 173 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, which drops the 0-60 time to a slightly anemic 10 seconds.

Things finally start to pick up with the C 320, which was available on the earlier W203 models. This model used a 3.2-liter V6 with 215 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque. This gave the C-Class some much-needed acceleration improvements, dropping the 0-60 time to around seven seconds. The 4Matic AWD model was just a little slower. After 2005, Mercedes replaced the C 320 with the C 280, which used a 3.0-liter V6 with 228 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque.

If you want the absolute top-of-the-line C-Class without there being an AMG badge on the rear, the C 350 is the one to go for. This was only available in the final couple of model years for the W203, and it offers by far the best performance outside the AMG models. With 268 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, which allowed it to reach 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, while the top speed was a respectable 160 mph. Some W203 C-Class models offered a six-speed manual transmission, but most of them came with a five-speed automatic.

The W203 Mercedes C-Class Made Major Improvements To The Interior

Mercedes C-Class W203 Sportcoupe Interior Pre-Facelift Driver's Side

As previously mentioned, the W202 C-Class had a pretty spartan interior, and you had to spend a good amount to get decent equipment. The W203 improved on that a fair bit, as it actually offered a decent catalog of standard equipment. One of the most interesting thing about the C-Class' interior is how much it changed after the facelift. The pre-facelift cars had a giant central speedometer, reminiscent of the Smart Fortwo, and a completely different infotainment system and center control stack.

The facelift C-Class essentially brought over the W211 E-Class interior, along with a brand-new steering wheel, and a more conventional instrument cluster with both an equally sized speedometer and tachometer next to each other. Some of the available equipment included dual-zone climate control, iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, front and rear parking sensors, and Mercedes' COMAND navigation system.

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Reliability on the W203 C-Class is fine, certainly not as bad as some people make it out to be. Most owners advise getting the cars from the final few model years, from 2005 onwards. The balance shaft on pre-facelift C 320 models had a tendency to crack, and the front suspension wears quickly on most of them, due to the size and weight of the engine. The biggest problem has to be the rust, however.

The ideal combination would be a 2005-2007 car with a detailed service history and maintenance records. If you find one like that, and you continue to take care of it and maintain it, you should be good to go. The W203 C-Class seats four or five passengers, depending on the body style. The smallest Sportcoupe offered a little under 11 cubic feet of cargo space, the sedan offered 16 cubic feet, and the wagon offers 17 cubic feet.

You Can Pick Up A Mercedes W203 C-Class For Next To Nothing

Mercedes C-Class W203 Front Quarter Capri Blue Driving

This is perhaps not entirely surprising, as most Mercedes-Benz models from the early 2000s have depreciated heavily. That includes this one as well. values the W203 C-Class at around $10,500. That amount of money should get you a decent W203 with a full service history, but they will have higher miles.

Around $15,000 should get you a lower mile example, once again with a full service history, and maybe even slightly better equipment. In any case, the W203 Mercedes C-Class is a solid example of the entry-level Mercedes-Benz sedan breed, and definitely an interesting used buy.