- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

Just like many people, automobiles often undergo a rejuvenating makeover when they reach that certain stage in their lives.

Count the Mercedes-Benz C-class models among them. Company officials are not saying that the popular lineup had some sort of midlife crisis, but they freely acknowledge that all the 2005 sedans, station wagons and coupes have undergone a face lift and more than half have even visited the corporate trainers to improve strength and agility.

Unlike the motivation behind many a 40-year-old’s makeover, however, vanity never played a part. Instead, the changes to the best-selling Mercedes cars resulted from a hard business decision.

To boost sales, the company has widened the distinction between C-class models to increase their appeal to two different segments of the driving public — the traditional luxury car buyer and the more youthful driving enthusiast.

Traditionalists may still choose among the midsize C240 sedan, C240 wagon and the C320 sedan, all available with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. They will find their need for comfort and luxury well served.

The bigger marketing push, however, will occur among the five rear-wheel-drive sports models, all of which will put added emphasis on driver enjoyment.

By far the most muscular of the sport sedans is the new C55 AMG, a limited-edition heart-stopper formed by grafting the front end of a Mercedes-Benz CLK coupe onto a C-class sedan in order to accommodate a 5.5-liter V-8 engine.

The casual observer will observe little visual difference between the C55 and the rest of the lineup. The brawny power plant generates 362 horsepower and, in combination with the five-speed automatic transmission, will propel a standing sedan to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.

The C55 also comes with special AMG-designed front bucket seats, four-gauge AMG instrument cluster, 18-inch alloy wheels, extra-strong brakes and steering-wheel buttons for manual shifting of the automatic transmission.

It has a base price of $53,900, and replaces the 32 AMG, which featured a supercharged, 349-horsepower V-6.

The remaining cars in the sports lineup are updated carryovers from 2004 — the C320 sedan, C230 sedan, C320 coupe and C230 coupe.

Suspensions have been recalibrated, steering ratios have been lowered for more direct response, the six-speed manual transmission has a more precise linkage and even the pedals have been adjusted for easier heel-and-toe downshifts. All of these models are also available with a five-speed automatic transmission.

Power plants are unchanged. The C320 models retain the 3.2-liter, 215-horsepower V-6 engines and the C230 models keep their supercharged 189-horsepower, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engines.

Among the new exterior features of these sports models are redesigned bumpers and grilles, 17-inch alloy wheels with high-performance tires, clear headlamps and revised taillights.

Inside, they have new instrument clusters with a full-size tachometer, a revised center console, more supportive seats and aluminum trim.

Base prices range from $25,850 for the C230 coupe to $37,350 for the C320 sports sedan.

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