- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2001

Going where it has never before been in this era, Mercedes-Benz has introduced a C-Class sports coupe aimed at car buyers who want to graduate from mass-produced brands to a luxury brand model.
"This car gives us an opportunity to go after a new class of people we've never had before," said Ken Enders, vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA.
"The entry-level is the biggest opportunity for Mercedes," Mr. Enders said. That's because until now Mercedes has had only 3.6 percent of the entry-level segment, compared to 42.6 percent of the high-luxury segment and 19.6 percent of the midluxury niche. Mr. Enders expects the new coupe to more than double Mercedes' share of the entry-level category.
The new coupe's base price of $24,950 should be low enough to attract buyers who might otherwise opt for the Acura RSX or Toyota Solara or Celica. Mr. Enders admires that the C-Class sedan is more expensive than most entry-level customers will go for. But he believes there is more to lure buyers than just the lower price.
Despite being the least expensive Mercedes, the sports coupe is as technologically advanced as other Mercedes models, especially in the area of safety. For instance, the C-Class sedan has eight air bags. The coupe even has side air bags for rear-seat passengers, even though there are no rear doors. In addition, the car has side air curtains that deploy from the roof to cover side windows in the event of a side impact. Of course, there are front air bags and side air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger.
The coupe has the same body structure as the C-Class sedan, which scored high marks in 40 mph frontal offset crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Also included are active safety features, such as stability control, brake assist with anti-lock and a suspension that allows the driver to steer around potential obstacles without losing control.
Living up to its designation as a sports coupe, the C-Class offers lively performance and handling. Its 2.3-liter, 192-horsepower, four-cylinder engine can propel the car from 0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds with its six-speed manual transmission. The car's five-speed automatic transmission, which accomplishes the same feat in only 1/10-second longer, uses touch shift, enabling the driver to shift gears manually without using a clutch.
Like the six-cylinder engine in the sedan, the four-cylinder engine in the coupe has a dielectric oil quality sensor. This is located in the oil pan and constantly monitors the oil level, as well as the buildup of contaminants in the oil. By comparing this data with the length of time the car is driven and the type of driving, the system informs the driver of when oil changes are needed, which may be anywhere between 10,000 to 20,000 miles as opposed to the usual 3,000 miles on most cars.
Mercedes is so confident of this system that it doesn't provide scheduled oil changes by miles driven. The system is so effective that Mercedes does not even provide a dipstick to check engine oil level, allowing the dielectric sensor to do the job of monitoring oil level automatically.
Mr. Enders says Mercedes expects to sell about 8,000 of the new coupes this year and about 16,000 in its first full year in the marketplace. He adds that the car was created for the U.S. market.
The C-Class coupe is the model that Mercedes needed to cope with the growing luxury-category offerings from mass-produced brands such as Honda and Toyota. Mr. Enders says that luxury-class offerings from mass-produced brands have soared by 200 percent in the last five years. Now he feels confident that Mercedes can compete with those new models.
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