Four-eye face for the C-Class: the 203 series (2000 to 2006)
- C-Class: a modern classic with fresh, youthful styling
- Technology leader in its market segment
- Sports Coupé makes its debut in the fall of 2000
The new C-Class cast its first glance at the world in March 2000 through four dynamically styled headlights rather than two. For the third edition of the compact class, Mercedes-Benz came up with a particularly fresh and youthful styling – and the appealing looks were matched by a raft of technical innovations. This combination was the defining feature of the Saloon and also the Estate introduced in 2001, and the new Sports Coupé added a new arrival to the C-Class family in the fall of 2000. The Coupé was presented as a new body variant at the Paris Motor Show.
The development of the new model series had taken four years and an investment of 2.7 billion DM (1.38 billion euros). Notwithstanding their sporty character, the previous two series had consistently demonstrated the Mercedes-Benz brand’s ability to transfer its characteristic brand virtues to the smaller category. The 203 series no longer had anything to prove in this area since the C-Class, with over 1.8 million units of the 202 series sold, had established itself around the world as a compact premium automobile.
The success of its predecessor could have been a major challenge for the new C-Class, but the 203 series took this in its stride: the styling and engineering of the new model were winners right from the start, and the third-generation compact class became the bestselling model series of its kind in the history of Mercedes-Benz, with over two million vehicles sold by the fall of 2006.
From its launch in 2000, the C-Class came with a comprehensive package of technical innovations as standard equipment that had never before been available in this market segment. Mercedes-Benz engineers had accorded extra high priority to the aspects of safety and comfort. This leading-edge technology delivered on the promise of the visual styling with outstanding dynamism and motoring pleasure.
The new-look design featuring a modern interpretation of the four-eye face immediately highlighted two of the major qualities of the new C-Class: dynamism and elegance. The Saloon was a youthful, progressive vehicle with the agility of a sports car, based on its newly developed suspension, more powerful engines, and innovations drawing on the latest technological advances. The C-Class combined this dynamism with qualities typical of Mercedes-Benz such as maximum safety, top quality, outstanding comfort and total reliability.
The standard equipment of the new Saloon included some groundbreaking innovations previously available only in top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz models: window bags, adaptive driver and passenger airbags, headlight assist, multi-function steering wheel, central display and fibre-optic cables were just a few examples of the innovations that meant that the C-Class, too, was now the technology leader in its market segment. A total of over 20 technical innovations from top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz models were included as standard equipment in the new C-Class.
Maximum safety was ensured by standard equipment including systems such as the ESP® Electronic Stability Program, Brake Assist, automatic child seat recognition, belt tensioners and belt force limiters on the front and outer rear seats, head restraints on all seats, side airbags in the front doors, the SPEEDTRONIC electronic speed limiter and six-speed transmission.
The front-end structure of the new Saloon included a module with crash boxes made of high-strength steel, bolted to the rest of the body. This made the module easy and inexpensive to replace after a collision. In minor accidents at up to 15 km/h (9 mph), the front module was designed to absorb all of the impact energy, leaving the structural members behind the module undamaged. The Mercedes-Benz engineers had also developed a similar easy-to-repair structure for the back of the car.
The axles, steering and brakes in the 203 series were either newly developed or enhanced. This resulted in outstanding agility, excellent directional stability and high-precision steering, minimal road noise and tire vibration, highly efficient braking, and safe handling even when approaching the critical limits. The suspension innovations included a newly developed three-link front axle with McPherson struts, state-of-the-art rack-and-pinion steering, and generously dimensioned disc brakes with enhanced cooling air flow for optimum braking comfort. The W 203 also featured outstanding aerodynamic qualities, with a Cd value (drag coefficient) of 0.26 and up to 57 percent less lift forces at the front and rear axles.
The Estate version of the C-Class presented at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2001 was closely related to the Saloon. The Mercedes-Benz designers had developed both body variants in parallel, and their front sections featured the same mix of sporty and elegant characteristics. The dynamic image of the Estate was highlighted by the long, distinctively styled roof with sweeping downward lines at the rear, which merge into the rear roof pillars set at a very flat angle. A discreet spoiler integrated at the top of the large tailgate contributed to the outstanding aerodynamic qualities and stability of the new Estate. The design emphasized the Estate’s independent status, without forgoing the acknowledged dynamism of the Saloon.
The new Estate replaced the S 202 series in March 2001. Almost 250,000 units of the earlier model had been produced since the spring of 1996, with remarkable results in the marketplace, particularly in West Europe. Around one third of all buyers of a C-Class model had opted for the Estate, prompting the decision also to offer the new C-Class Estate for sale in the USA from September 2001.
The car’s character as a hard-working lifestyle vehicle was further reinforced by the variable interior configuration. The S 203 was ideal for people with an active lifestyle, with differing transport requirements in their professional and private lives. The compact wagon provided anything from 470 to 1,384 litres of stowage space, depending on the position of the multi-functional rear seating unit.
Seat squabs and backrests could be folded down in the rear as required, across the vehicle or on one side only, providing a flat cargo area of up to 1.5 square metres. The capacity of the largest box fitting into the trunk of the new Estate was 783 litres, eleven litres more than in its predecessor. Standard equipment included a removable shopping box and the newly developed, easy-to-use cargo space cover with integrated safety net.