Mercedes-Benz C200K

Kompressor reigns
This Merc C180 was at best, a non-performing asset.Looks like Daimler Chrysler India had saved the new C200k for a rainy day...

When Bijoy suggested that I do a spot of road-testing while he wielded the camera, it sounded like a great idea. Especially considering that his shutter button finger is always itching to click away with the digital camera, and I could get my hands on the newly re-engined C-class petrol Merc, the  C200 Kompressor. The sky was overcast, the air muggy, and with the promise of imminent and intense precipitation, the mood was set for a black and white shoot. 

I’m not going to wax eloquent about how correct this car looks or about the instant snobbishness which is part of travelling in one – there is a strong nose-uppityness to owning or even driving a Merc. Cocooned within its cabin and having a sight-line through its three-pointed monogram morphs one’s vocabulary a bit – a simple beer becomes a Dom Perignon Millesime, Old Spice reads CK One, Kodaikanal changes to Cote d’Azur, and Timex to Brietling. Music, wafting its way through the six-speaker system, isn’t GO 92.5 FM anymore – it just has to be Johann Bach’s Concerto in D Major or some such. So much so that the C180 petrol, even with its vitamin deficient, weak-kneed 124 bhp (@5300 rpm), 18 kgm (@4000 rpm), 1998 CC engine, did manage to sell reasonably well. 

But enough is enough, the C180 has been creamed in numerous neighbourhood drag meets by the likes of the Mondeo, the Vectra, the Camry and the Accord, and for that matter, its own diesel sibling, the C200 CDi, for performance. And finally, sense has prevailed at DaimlerChrysler India, the C180 has been recognised for the dud that it was, and in comes the bigger and better C200 Kompressor to save the day.

The replacement doesn’t look too different from the C180 – even the headlights have not received the clear-lens makeover the E-class has been bestowed with recently – either in India or, for that matter,anywhere else in the world. So, apart from the bold ‘Kompressor’ badging on the bootlid, nothing much else has changed, either outside or inside. We didn’t have an option – our silver test car, in bare-bones Classic trim, came with a 5-speed auto, ‘Touchshift’ ‘box, but if your bank manager respectfully ushers you into his room every time you make a transaction, the option of choosing a six-speed manual instead, is open to you as well. And while you are at it, may we suggest the more fitting Elegance trim option as well? Payment remittance, between Rs 22.3 (manual) and 24.4 lakh(auto), or more – depending on the options ticked, can be discussed over a little bite and something to quaff, of course.

Does it ride well? Does it handle well? How is interior appointment? What about legroom? And passenger safety? Look, it’s a Merc, and there are a very few things this breed of car cannot do well, but each car in the range has its strengths. While the S500 will offer you that bit of additional, deep-pile legroom or that deluxe posterior massager, the SL500 will rough up 100 kph corners at an unruffled 200 kph, melting the occasional speed gun along the way, and the ML270 CDi, a one-stop road repair crew in itself, will make an autobahn of a series of monsoon potholes.

In the C-class as a genre, the three pointed star and all its associations come at a relative budget, mixing luxury with passenger comfort and driver-uninvolvement. Yes, you read right – uninvolvement. Mercs have this quality – they love to shield passengers from the big, bad world outside, and unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the Merc engineers mandated that the passenger manifest must include the chap clutching at the wheel too... So, a Novocain-doped steering wheel is what you get between your two hands, even though that old Merc-favourite, the worm-and-roller arrangement has been replaced by a more feedback-friendly rack and pinion system. There are a very few things this breed of car cannot do well, I said... this is the most glaring.

 Let’s skip the fact that the C-class is one of a very select few cars in the world to have scored a 5-star rating in the scowling-headmaster European NCAP crash test. Let’s forget it comes with all those suspension and trick electronic bits to keep sunny side up. Let’s also take for granted its levels of ride comfort and interior space. Let’s also forget the few hundred people who have thus far placed their bets on the peanut-eyed nose of a C180 petrol. Or let’s not... But let’s get to the big question now – does the Kompressor perform?

The answer is a resounding yes. With its smaller, but supercharged 1790 CC, 158 bhp (@ 5500 rpm) and 22.4 kgm of torque (@ 3500-4500 rpm), the C200 Kompressor puts itself on Motoring’s select list of recommend-able cars. It manages to keep up quite respectfully with the competition, with the standstill-to-the-ton run coming up in a decent 9.4 seconds, reaching 60 kph in 5.08 seconds along the way. The car shines with the right kind of mid-range urgency, managing 80-120 kph in a suitably abbreviated 8.20 secs and stopping the clock in the 100-140 kph run at 10.25 secs. It also comes with the right kind of top-end performance, managing an effortless 205 kph during the test. This, frankly, is the petrol variant that should have been introduced initially. Well done, Daimler-Chrysler India. Finally.