Following the C180, C200K, C240 and C320 petrol engined models comes the

Big D - the C270CDI powered by a high torque turbodiesel that we first encountered

in the M-Class sport-utility a year ago.

It does not take much imagination to realise that a motor considered strong enough

to propel a 2,2-ton SUV is a recipe for more than ample performance when fitted

to a passenger car. And so it is. Here is a Mercedes diesel that, on the one hand,

will light up its back tyres and display some snaking wheelspin on its way to

giving a number of hot hatches a run for their money, while on the other will

provide frugality and decorum befitting a premium saloon. An entertaining and

appealing mix, something not readily associated with mainstream Mercs of the past,

oil-burners in particular.

Although DaimlerChrysler is currently treading a sticky path globally, the Mercedes-Benz

division of the conglomerate must be more than pleased with the progress of its

W203 C-Class. There is a world-wide waiting list for every model in the range;

it says something for the marque's reputation that prospective owners are

prepared to wait in the face of some more readily available and equally attractive


M-B's entrant into the turbo-diesel sector may, on paper at least, appear

to smack of overkill. When assessing compact saloons, almost inevitably heads

turn towards the BMW 3-Series range as the benchmark, but in this case it appears

as though these two traditional rivals have purposely avoided each other. BMW

has both a 320d and a 330d to call upon, but locally offers only the 320d with

a manual gearbox. Mercedes has a trio of C-Class oil-burners: a naturally aspirated

two-litre and two turbodiesels - one of 2,2-litre capacity, the other 2,7.

For SA, the only choice is the 2,7 mated with an autobox. A direct comparison

is obviously not possible, but is the C's five-cylinder a sledgehammer

to crack the 3's four-cylinder nut?

Step inside the Mercedes's Elegance cabin, belt up, insert the ignition key-plug

and give it a quick twist, then wait a second or two for the car's electronics

to take over the starting procedure. The common-rail turbodiesel clacks into life

and settles immediately into a generic, but subdued, clattering tickover. Pull

the Tippshift's selector down its dogleg gate into D, squeeze the drive-by-wire

accelerator, and a hefty slug of torque overcomes inertia to set you on your away

without any apparent effort. Effort? With the aid of a variable nozzle turbo and

charge-air intercooling, the twin-cam 20-valve motor produces its whopping 400

N.m of maximum torque from 1 800 to 2 600 r/min. It will spin to 4 600 r/min -

peak power of 125 kW occurs at 4 200 - but it is hardly necessary to try to make

the crank dizzy. In top gear, keeping the engine's revs on the torque plateau

encompasses a speed range of 95 to 137 km/h, making for wonderfully relaxed cruising.

If more oomph is needed quickly, either activating the accelerator's kickdown

or tipping the gearshift to the left to engage a lower gear brings about a satisfying

dose of extra thrust. Moving across the gate from D automatically engages fourth

gear, and subsequent actions select the lower ratios sequentially. (Tipping to

the right reverses the procedure.) The 'box will not change down if, by

doing so, maximum revs will be exceeded. But of more significance is that it does

not change up as soon as maximum revs are reached. Instead, a soft limiter kicks

in, a feature that gives the driver more sense of being in control. "Thinking"

electronic transmissions, such as Tiptronic, can annoy by changing up without

being bid.

And the tyre-smoking? Well, yes, if you want to. Mercedes diesels are most readily

associated with taxi operation around the world, but hop in a C270CDI with the

instruction "follow that car" and you will not be left for dead

before reaching the end of the first block. With traction control switched off

and the brake pedal depressed, once past 1 800 on the rev counter the rear wheels

are already rotating. Release the brakes and put pedal to the metal, and the Merc

will smoke plenty rubber. There is something a bit decadent about such hooliganism,

but M-B does tout the new C-Class as a more sporting drive...

Mentioning smoke, though, we have to say that the test car did a good impersonation

of a harbour tug on occasion. However, we learnt from M-B that it was fitted with

a catalytic converter unsuited to local high-sulphur diesel, and that production

vehicles will be equipped with a compatible cat. And the car's rubberware

was not to spec, either. The tyre inflation decal referred only to a 225/50 -

the spare was this size - but the road wheels were shod with 205/55s, which

have approximately 6 mm greater rolling circumference, so would not significantly

affect gearing and, therefore, performance.

But the rest of the car was up to Mercedes-Benz's customary high standard

of quality, comfort and specification, including the foot operated park brake

(can you imagine a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4 with such a device?), and the multi-function

column stalk and attendant cruise control wand of which their location and action

is always a topic of heated debate amongst CAR's test team. They are Merc

quirks that are unlikely to help convert Beemer or Audi owners to the three-pointed

star. The lack of a fold-down rear seat may be a put-off, too.

However, the electronic wizardry will doubtless appeal. No less than 40 pages

of the classy handbook are devoted to the "multi-function steering wheel/multi-function

display". There is a mind-boggling number of settings that can be called

up, altered, played with or deleted. Other highlights include side-to-side climate

control with auto mode and a charcoal filter, a six-CD shuttle in the glovebox,

headlight "auto on" facility and beam height adjustment, electric

window operation (all with one-touch up and down), indicators with a one-touch/three-flash

operation, cell 'phone pre-wiring, a remote powered bootlid opener, and

sat-nav for where digital mapping is active.

Original article from Car