- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

BENIDORM, Spain — The C-Class is the hook. In the United States, it is the entry-level Mercedes-Benz, the one that, if it pleases the customer, gets him on the road to bigger and more expensive models.

It also aims to steal sales from the BMW 3-Series and the Audi A4. That’s why the 2008 C300 and C350 models are so important, and why the German manufacturer worked to get them right. But nobody wanted to get so far out as to alienate existing owners, so the new cars are evolutionary, not revolutionary.

The new C-Class was introduced at the Geneva Auto Show, but then the Mercedes-Benz folks offered it for test drives on the hilly and twisting roads in this resort area on the Mediterranean Sea in the south of Spain.

Nearly 4 inches longer and slightly larger in other dimensions than its predecessor, the compact C-Class has taut handling and a fairly choppy ride, as befits a sports sedan.

New styling makes it look as if it had spent some time on steroids.

Especially from the front, it has a bulked-up, aggressive look, with prominent hood and fender lines.

Though there are many models worldwide, just two mechanically identical versions, with two derivatives, are offered in the United States, at prices ranging from $30,000 to $40,000.

There are two Sport models: the C300 with a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine and a six-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed automatic, and the C350 with a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, with the automatic only. Both engines are carried over from 2007.

Together, the C300 and C350 Sports are expected to take 70 percent of U.S. C-Class sales, which totaled 50,187 in 2006.

The Luxury model, projected to account for 30 percent of the sales, is available only as a C300 with the seven-speed automatic. Later, the C300 will be offered with four-wheel drive in both Sport and Luxury models.

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