Classic CARmentary: 1998 Mercedes-Benz C280

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as in insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

Although we started with the Corolla, this was actually my very first CARmentary, which ran on March 1, 1998.  While I may appear to heap a little too much love on this non-AMG C-Series Mercedes, please keep in mind that up until this point, the only upscale German car I’d ever driven was an old, beat up BMW 320i. 

Those of us who contribute to Curbside Classic are fortunate that Paul lets us run pretty much whatever we write.  If you’ve ever spent any time in the Show (or side-Show in my case), managing editors are not quite so liberal.  In my first draft, I attempted to eschew the “This is the car, these are its features, this is how it drives, etc.” car review format.  It was a disaster.  The managing editor gave me the opportunity to re-write it, and what finally appeared only bore a slight resemblance to the review that I submitted.

It’s clear that I was trying to emulate the snarky irreverence of Car & Driver, but I probably hadn’t yet earned the journalistic chops to pull that off.  Furthermore, the readers who read AAOW were unlikely the same readers who read C/D, so a more subdued approach was called for.  Just for fun, I’m running both versions below for your entertainment.  That’s the beauty of the 350-word review.

This is the version I submitted:

It is a dream fulfilled. You finally earn enough money to afford the entry-level Mercedes – your way of saying, “I am a success; I am SOMEBODY!” The smell of rich leather trim hits you the minute you open the door, and as you slide into that black, stark, Teutonic interior, you are reminded that European cars are an entirely different breed. You close the door, and it doesn’t close. This baby’s solid, and those doors require EFFORT.

Turn the key, drop the 5-speed automatic into drive and floor it. The rear tires spin, but only for a second. Traction control has kicked in. Your speed starts building. Fast. Before you know it, you’re passing 80, and it feels like a Sunday drive in the park.

It is meant to be driven. When a malcontent appears in your rear-view mirror with his brights on, it’s okay. The mirror dims automatically; you just drive. When it starts to drizzle intermittently, it’s okay. The wipers know when your windshield needs to be swept; you just drive. As night falls and the temperature outside drops, the temperature inside will stay at 72°F; you just drive.

And drive is what you do. Fast. The C280 is built for drivers, not passengers. The ride is firm – the penalty for outstanding handling. The rear quarters are cramped as a result of rear-wheel drive, the chosen configuration of great sports cars. Rear-seat passengers have to raise their own head rests, as they must otherwise remain folded so the driver’s view is unhindered. This is your car, no one else’s.

The more you drive it, the more your confidence builds. You find yourself pulling away from stop signs a little harder, taking on- and off-ramps a little faster. Driving gloves and leather jackets become an integral part of your wardrobe. Cars with wire wheel covers, column shifters, and beige velour interiors make you sick to your stomach. Driving becomes a viable alternative to flying. You’re safe in the Mercedes. It will take care of you.

You remember that Montana has no speed limit. You remember that you have some vacation time.

This is the version that was published:

This is a car made especially for drivers who love to drive.  But that’s typical of Mercedes, always putting the driver first.  The look is restrained.  But that’s Mercedes, too – a classic elegance that never goes out of style.

The C280, Mercedes’ entry-level sedan, isn’t boxy like a Volvo or slick like an Audi, but is undeniably a Mercedes.  This is the German automaker’s contender in the near-luxury segment, competing with the BMW 328i, Lexus ES 300 and Cadillac Catera.  The C280 was totally redesigned a couple of years ago, but the biggest news for 1998 is a new V6 engine replacing last year’s inline six.  Although it puts out the same 195 horsepower, it hits its torque peak earlier for slightly better acceleration.

The real beauty is the handling and performance.  Turn the key, shift into drive, and floor it.  The rear tires spin, but only for a second because the traction control has kicked in.  Your speed builds rapidly and before you know it you’re passing 80; it feels like a leisurely drive in the park.

The C280 makes it easy for you to concentrate on driving.  When a thoughtless driver appears in your rear-view mirror with bright lights on, the mirror dims automatically to reduce the glare.  When a light drizzle begins, you just turn on the wipers, and a sensor will automatically determine how often the windshield needs to be swept.  The pace will even pick up automatically as the drizzle turns to rain.  As night falls and the outside temperature drops, the automatic climate control will keep the inside a comfortable 72°F.

The stark, Teutonic interior immediately reminds you that European cars are an entirely different breed.  The car is solid: you need a little muscle to close the door.  The seats become a bit uncomfortable on a long drive.  The rear-seating is a bit cramped, but that’s to be expected in a small rear-wheel drive car.

Even though this is an entry-level car, it’s everything you would expect from a Mercedes.

For more information on this vehicle, call 1-800-FOR-MERCEDES


Type:4-Door Sedan
Engine:195 horsepower, 2.8 liter V6
Transmission:5-Speed Automatic
EPA Mileage:21 city/27 highway
Retail Price:$35,400

Well, which version did you like better?  Even I have to admit that the published version does a much better job of actually providing and conveying important information, like the new V6 engine.  It’s impressive how she took most everything I wrote and turned it into a more coherent review that would be easier for our readership to digest.