Mercedes-Benz C-Class Essential History: Generation One
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, also known by its internal code name, W202, rolled onto the American car scene in late 1993 as a 1994 model, replacing the 190E (W201) as the brand’s compact offering. The rear-drive C-Class was initially offered in four-cylinder C 220 (147-hp) and six-cylinder C 280 (194-hp) variants, with the numbers denoting engine displacement (i.e. 2.2 and 2.8 liters). The 268-hp C 36 AMG model joined the lineup for 1995; at the time, the C 36 was converted—engine and all—from a factory-built C 280.
The year 1997 saw a torquier 2.3-liter engine for the entry model, now called C 230, while the C 36 was bumped to 276 hp and added a fifth cog to its automatic transmission. The AMG model was cut for ’98, but the C 280 got a new 194-hp V-6, while the five-speed automatic spread throughout the line. For ’99, Mercedes addressed the C 230’s sluggish acceleration by supercharging the engine, raising output to 184 hp. A new AMG model, the C 43, featured a 302-hp 4.3-liter V-8 engine.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Essential History: Generation Two
The next-generation C-Class (known as the W203) appeared for the 2001 model year with a pair of V-6 engines available for buyers to choose from: a 170-hp 2.6-liter unit for the C 240 and a 218-hp 3.2-liter for the C 320. The lineup expanded in 2002 with the addition of the C 230 sport coupe that features a 192-hp supercharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder. There were now also a C 320 wagon and a C 32 AMG sedan, the latter of which had a 349-hp supercharged 3.2-liter V-6 engine. For 2003, all-wheel-drive became available on sedans and wagons (including the new C 240 wagon), and the C 230 sport coupe changed to a 1.8-liter supercharged engine.
Mercedes facelifted the W203 for 2005, which included a new dashboard and instrument cluster. The C 32 gave way to the new C 55 AMG, which had an enlarged proboscis to accommodate a 362-hp 5.4-liter V-8. There were more changes for 2006, as the wagon and coupe were axed, and the new sedan lineup comprised the C 230 with a 201-hp 2.5-liter V-6, the C 280 with a 228-hp 3.0-liter V-6, and the C 350 with a 268-hp 3.5-liter V-6. The C 55 AMG also returned but was axed for 2007.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Essential History: Generation Three
Mercedes introduced the W204 C-Class in 2008 in C 300 and C 350 forms, the former split into Sport and Luxury trims while the latter was available only as a Sport model. The C 300 was powered by a 228-hp 3.0-liter V-6 and was available with a manual transmission in the Sport model, while the C 350 got a 268-hp 3.5-liter V-6. The C 63 AMG had a 6.2-liter V-8 with 451 hp—a 481-hp Development Package was introduced for 2011. Changes were minimal until 2012, which saw the introduction of a new two-door coupe as well as a four-cylinder C 250 with a 201-hp turbocharged 1.8-liter engine. The C 350 got a power bump to 302 hp, and the new C63 Black Series delivered 510 hp. For 2013, the C 300 got a 248-hp version of the 3.5-liter V-6. A new top-line C 63, the 507 Edition, arrived in 2014 with 507 hp.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Essential History: Generation Four
The W205 C-Class sedan arrived for the 2015 model year. The 241-hp C 300 used a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while the C 400 got a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 329 hp. The C 63 AMG had a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 with either 469 or 503 hp. Meanwhile, the coupe remained on the W204 platform, with C 250, C 350, and C 63 models keeping their previous powertrains. The coupe disappeared for 2016, while the sedan added a 250-hp C 350e plug-in hybrid and the C 450 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 A-Class and CLA-Class came along. We doubt any of the more humble C-Class models will end up in collections in the future. The AMG models—now that’s a different story. The AMG C-Class models 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 car. 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 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 MotorTrend
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Quick Facts
- Initial production year: 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 250
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—C 36, C 43, C 55, and C 63. However, the C 350 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 A-Class better than the C-Class?
No, the A-Class is a smaller, front-wheel-drive car positioned lower in the lineup than the C-Class.