Mercedes-Benz C-Class Essential History
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, also known by its internal code name, W201, rolled onto the American car scene in late 1993 as a 1994 model, replacing the 190E (W201) as Mercedes’ compact car. The rear-drive C-Class was initially offered in 147-horsepower, four-cylinder C220 and 194-hp straight-six C280 variants, with the numbers denoting engine displacement (i.e. 2.2 and 2.8 liters). The 268-hp C36 AMG model joined the lineup for 1995; at the time, the C36s were converted—engine and all—from factory-built C280s.
The year 1997 saw a torquier 2.3-liter engine for the entry model, now called C230, while the C36 was bumped to 276 hp and got a fifth cog for its automatic transmission. The AMG model was cut for ’98, but C280s got a new 194-hp V-6, and the five-speed automatic spread throughout the line. For ’99, Mercedes addressed the C230’s sluggish acceleration by supercharging the engine, raising output to 184 hp. A new AMG model, the C43, featured a 302-hp, 4.3-liter V-8.
The next-generation W203 C-Class appeared for the 2001 model year with a pair of V-6 engines: A 170-hp 2.6 for the C240 and a 218-hp 3.2 for the C320. The lineup expanded in 2002 with the addition of the C230 sport coupe, with a 192-hp supercharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder. There were now also a C320 wagon and a C32 AMG sedan, which had a 349-hp, supercharged version of the C320 engine. For 2003, all-wheel drive became available on sedans and wagons (including the new C240 wagon), and the C230 sport coupe changed to a 1.8-liter supercharged engine.
Mercedes facelifted the W203 for 2005, including a new dashboard and instrument cluster. The C32 gave way to the new C55 AMG, which had an enlarged proboscis to accommodate a 362-hp, 5.4-liter V-8. There were more changes for 2006: The wagon and coupe were axed, and the new sedan lineup comprised the C230 with a 201-hp, 2.5-liter V-6, C280 with a 228-hp, 3.0 liter V-6, and C350 with a 268-hp, 3.5 liter V-6. The C55 AMG also returned but was axed for 2007.
Mercedes introduced the W204 C-Class in 2008 in C300 and C350 models, the former split into Sport and Luxury trims while the latter was available only as a Sport model. The C300 was powered by a 228-hp, 3.0-liter V-6, available with a manual transmission in the Sport model, while the C350 got a 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. The AMG C63 had a 6.2-liter V-8 with 451 hp, with a 481-hp Development Package introduced for 2011. Changes were minimal until 2012, which saw the introduction of a new two-door coupe as well as a four-cylinder C250 with a 201-hp, turbocharged 1.8-liter engine. The C350 got a power bump to 302 hp, and the new C63 Black Series delivered 510 hp. For 2013, the C300 got a 248-hp version of the 3.5-liter V-6. The new top-line C63 was the 507 Edition with 507 hp.
The current W205 C-Class sedan was all new for 2015. The 241-hp C300 used a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while the C400 got a turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 with 329 hp. The C63 AMG had a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with either 469 or 503 hp. Meanwhile, the coupe remained on the W204 platform, with C250, C350 and C63 models keeping their previous powertrains. The coupe disappeared for 2016, while the sedan added a C300d model with a 190-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel, a 250-hp C350e plug-in hybrid, and the C450 AMG with a 362-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Highlights
The humble C-Class has been a bread-and-butter car throughout its history, one designed to bring people into the brand and get them hooked on the three-pointed star—or at least that was its role before the CLA-Class came along. We doubt any of the more humble C models will end up in collections in the future. The AMG models, however—now that’s a different story. The AMG Cs have frequently shared powertrains with their larger brethren, and we don’t have to explain the advantages of stuffing the biggest possible engine into the smallest possible cars. AMG models of all generations and body styles are great to drive and are well worth having.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Buying Tips
We’d gravitate toward the AMG models, though also some of the lesser-known historical C-Class examples—the short-lived 300d diesel, or the wagons, or the W203 coupes, or even those few early W202 models that were available with a manual transmission. Whatever you buy, be sure to get it inspected by an experienced Mercedes mechanic. Aging German cars can be cantankerous, and Mercedes parts can be expensive.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Articles on Automobile
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Recent Auctions
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1993 (for the 1994 model year)
- Model codes: W202 (1994-2000), W203 (2001-2007), W204 (2008-2015), W205 (2015-)
- Entry-level replacement for the 190E (W201)
- Replaced as the low-end Mercedes-Benz by the 2014 CLA
Mercedes-Benz C-Class History FAQ
What does the C in Mercedes C-Class stand for?
Some have surmised the “C” in C-Class stands for “Compact.” However, this is unlikely, as the German word for compact begins with a K—”kompakt.” Likely it was a letter chosen at random, one not registered by another automaker.
Which Mercedes-Benz C-Class is best?
The best of the C-class models have been the AMG cars—C36, C43, C55, and C63. However, the C350 Sport models have also earned a reputation as good performers.
Is the Mercedes-Benz C-Class a good car?
Yes. The C-Class offers the luxury and presence you expect from a Mercedes-Benz, at a reasonable price. However, the C-Class, like other Mercedes models, can get expensive to maintain as it ages.
Is the Mercedes-Benz CLA better than the C-Class?
No. Even though the CLA is one of Mercedes’ four-door coupe models, it is a smaller, front-wheel-drive car positioned lower in the lineup than the C-Class.