Review and Test Drive: 1997 Mercedes-Benz C280 Elegance

Der Kleine Mercedes Offers Comfort, Safety, and Teutonic Engineering

By Jonathan Spira on 23 March 2022
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While it seems as if the Mercedes-Benz C-Klasse, or C-Class, has been around forever, it was only introduced in 1993 as a replacement for the so-called “Baby Benz, the 190 range, of which 1.9 million models were sold and which had become somewhat dated in size, styling, and performance

In addition, Daimler-Benz had been focused on refining its high-end models such as the S-Class and SL-Class.  The moniker of “Baby Benz” for the 190 had not always been intended as a compliment.

Now it its fifth generation, the C-Klasse was the smallest car in the Mercedes lineup until 1997, when the A-Class made its debut.  It’s now in the middle of the lineup.

Starting in the late 80s, the developers at Mercedes-Benz set out to build a spacious yet compact vehicle with a mixture of both new and proven components and features.  Compared to the outgoing 190, it was to have more comfort and more utilizable space,

The result was a design that unites typical Mercedes styling features in what Mercedes said was a “new way.”

Mercedes designers under the direction of Bruno Sacco started to sketch out the new C-Klasse in 1986, which itself had only gone on sale in 1982.  Engineers targeted what the automaker called a “considerably larger interior” with be no more than xx” (3.9 cm) added to the exterior length.  They were tasked with adding “new and striking [for the time] design elements” to the C-Klasse to give it an unmistakable identity in the Mercedes family of vehicle while at the same time not breaking with traditional Mercedes design cues and elements.

The result, in a design by Olivier Boulay,  was a vehicle that appealed to contemporary tastes without succumbing to passing trends.

The C280 has the traditional Mercedes look from its rectangular grille with its tri-star logo to its short high rear deck. Many of the styling cues were derived from the flagship S-class, including its coupe-like lines. The C280’s lower appearance is mostly due to its wide stance and low-front/high- rear semi-wedge design. Both the wide headlights and triangular high-mounted rear lights wrap around the corners of the car for visibility and safety. The rear lights have horizontal grooves which act as channels so air passing through effectively cleans them and keeps the light and the vehicle visible from behind.  This was a design that dates back to at least the mid 1970s as I recall going with my parents to our Mercedes-Benz dealership, Helms Bros., in New York City and the salesman made prominent mention of the rear turn signal design and the concept was something that greatly impressed my father.

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