Wheels: Mercedes-Benz C180 AMG Line tested
Words by Hanjo Stier
Ahh, the carefree days of early adulthood. My memories include Brollocks, Terrace, Bohemia, Mavericks and other Stellenbosch places but are dominated by the cars I came into contact with back then. One of them was a then-new Mercedes C180 and almost 20 years later I finally got a chance to test one of its direct descendants in earnest.
A best friend of mine was working in the movie industry and for reasons we never quite established he ended up being the chaperone of a German film star. As was becoming for such a famous person, the company hired a new Mercedes C-Class and my buddy would visit me whenever the VIP-ness was otherwise occupied.
I still have some photos of us driving to dinner where the words “rental” and “gentle” were carelessly tossed around; and we finally agreed on a nickname for the boggo-standard, poverty-spec, white C180. I’m afraid it’s unsuitable for print but goes along the lines of “not a chance” or “forget about it”, alluding to the wheezy 1.8 engine’s inability to properly propel its sizable host.
Oh, how the times have changed, to finally bring us back to this new C180. Even though Mercedes (and its rivals) lost the plot with badge numbering years ago, they somehow stuck to the C180 moniker, at some point garnished with the words “Kompressor” for its supercharged run through the 203/204 series.
What struck me as interesting was the reaction of a smitten passer-by who admired this bronze metallic car with its AMG Line goodies. “Oh, it’s the C180!” he yelped with a sense of familiarity. “My, but it’s very good-looking these days.” It appears that the entry-level C-Class is a victim of its own success…
Elsewhere, people might snigger to themselves about your budget luxury car – which is why Europeans get the option of deleting that boot-lid badge straight from the factory – but it seems that South Africans love their ‘180. “Look at it in here, it’s amazing!” whispers my next infatuated passenger while gently touching the modern centre console.
“How much is one of these?” she smiles and rubs her husband’s shoulder. My answer is somewhat delayed until I have a chance to whip my phone out and exclaim: “About six hundred thousand.” Once my besotted passengers have departed and I’ve got some time to dig deeper, I discover that the base model costs about 615k and this AMG Line a devilish R666,669.
The updated W205 C-Class (face-lifted a few months ago) remains Mercedes’ bread-and-butter range and so enjoys impressive real estate on the brand’s price lists. All-wheel traction is reserved for the half-crazy C43 AMG which spans the otherwise rear-wheel drive body styles – sedan, coupé or Cabriolet (convertible).
There are six AMG’s, seven regular models and 10 AMG Line derivatives available while every new C-Class is “only” shipped with a new nine-speed automatic transmission. It’s that new gearbox which impressed everyone the most and also conjured up memories of another old Benz: my very own C280.
Again, back then they actually contained what was written on the tin so my 0929 Nautical Blue W202 packed a 2.8-litre petrol straight six with 144kW (196hp) or 270Nm and an old-school four-speed automatic gearbox for 0-100 in 8.5 seconds (my best run was around 8.7) and a top speed of 227km/h.
This new C180 counters that with a 1.5L inline four cylinder turbo-petrol engine and just 115kW (156hp) or 250Nm. Doesn’t sound like a fair match, does it? Well, thanks to 20 years of engineering prowess, turbo power and more than double the gear ratios, this car does 0-100 in 8.3 seconds (our best run was 8.78) with a top whack of 225km/h.
How’s that for progress?
Two decades of development can certainly be felt in the car’s mid-range tractability, handling, steering, lights, climate control, sound system, gauges and gadgets. Interior space, ride comfort, fuel tank size (66L) and cargo room (480L) aren’t real improvements. The only downsides are noisier tyres and an uninspiring engine sound.
Right then. The C180 hasn’t lost its luxury appeal or German versatility and with AMG Line trinkets it even managed to turn a few heads. And in the 20 years since I last drove one, it’s even closed the gap to a big six while being much safer and way more economical with the contents of its petrol tank.
So much for the “good old days”.
Each C180 is sold with a two-year warranty and six-years / 100,000km maintenance plan.
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