Pros: Very Comfortable & Luxurious Car for a Steal of a Price
Cons: Poor Reliability and High Maintenance Costs, Underpowered and Poor Throttle Response
I decided to buy a 2002 Mercedes-Benz C240 used in August of 2004. The car seemed to present compelling value . . . it had less than 30,000 miles on it, was in excellent condition, and I was able to purchase it for $19,900. It seemed great for me to buy a Mercedes-Benz (under warranty) for under $20,000. I was just 24 years old and starting off my career, so this car seemed luxurious and very fitting for my budget.
For the *value* (not overall performance), this car impressed me more than I ever expected and more than any other car I have ever owned (and I own an S500, Viper, etc.). For the price paid, the car overdelivered consistently. That being said, it had its fair share of mechanical and reliability issues, but the dealership performance of service made it very pleasant. As detailed below:
Fuel Economy: http://www.lilviv.com/motoring/cars/c240/milesimg.jpg - I am maniacal and OCD about my gas mileage, I record every gas fillup and mileage on my cars so that I have actual Fuel Economy data to show you all. As the data shows, I got about 19 mpg for everyday driving, a mix of city and highway, and I got over 24 mpg on pure highway. This was above what I expected for a luxury car, even though this is the low end small one . . . and I drive aggressively, as a general rule.
Ride Quality: The ride quality of this car is phenomenal for what it is. No comparably priced offering is as smooth at high speed, and bumps and road imperfections are masked very well by this car (my car had the smaller 16" rims, not the 17").
Handling: This car may not handle as well as its near-perfect competitor, the BMW 3-Series, but it provides a little better ride quality and comfort in exchange for extreme handling prowess. That being said, the handling is excellent for all normal driving conditions including accident evasion, etc. Compared to other cars in its price range, the handling of this car is great.
Visibility: I normally don't set this aside, but visibility for this car is absolutely *amazing*. You get in it, and you have a more clear view of the world around you through the glass than nearly any car I have been in. This may be partially due to the ability for the driver's seat to rise so high, but it's incredible. And, to add to this point . . . the headlights (to me, this is very important) are awesome at night. It has better visibility than my S500 (which has moving Xenons, etc.).
Features/Creature Comforts/General Interior: Being from 2002, my car was short an MP3 player or a port for one, but the sounds system is fantastic, the CD changer in the glove box (without sacrificing storage space) is super convenient, and I prefer this display (both the stereo and the dash display) more than the successive C-Classes of the same generation. The newer versions of this generation have the smaller (and standard colored, not vivid orange) dash display, and this looks poor compared to the 2002 model, in my opinion. The dash controls are vivid, easy to use, and very nice.
The center console opens in multiple ways to provide a TON of storage space, nets by the passenger side seats and on back of front sets, etc. The trunk is very large and spacious for this sized car.
The seats are a bit flat, but somewhat bucketed. They are not as sporty as the BMW 3-Series, but that seems to be the recurring theme with this car . . . a tradeoff for a hair more cush luxury and comfort against sporting.
Power: This car is named the "C240," but it actually deviates from that as far as the engine designation goes, it's a 2.6 liter engine. This car does feel underpowered, especially at lower speed. Throttle response is not ideal. The car feels sluggish under 40 mph, but seems very capable of handling highway speeds . . . but the buyer who is looking for a more powerful car will spring for the C320 with the stronger engine.
Reliability & Maintenance: Now, the negative . . . this car spends a lot of time in the shop. I expected this and knew this going in. It was important that I bought this car with a factory warranty that was extendable. This turned out ultra useful. In the first 5 months, the car went to the shop probably 5 times for warranty issues . . . from sunroof trim to motor mounts and suspension issues. This would have been horrendous in cost without my warranty. I would *never* recommend owning this car without a warranty. Ever.
Also, for other cars in this price range . . . be *very* prepared for more expensive routine maintenances. It's a Mercedes-Benz (despite what the price of the car may imply), so everything from Windshield Wipers to Brakes and routine services will be 2 or even 3 times what you are used to paying on comparably priced vehicles.
Service: This downside of reliability and maintenance brings me to a *huge* positive . . . MB dealers are very committed to servicing you (which is only affordable if you have a warranty, =P). When I dropped the C-Class off at the dealership, they always gave me a newer C-Class loaner to drive while it was in the shop. The waiting rooms were nice and stocked with snacks and drinks, etc. The nice, new loaner made me actually look forward to service visits, which often cost me nothing 'cause of the warranty. I realize this point is very highly dependent on the dealership, but here in Dallas, TX . . . the dealerships were very committed to my service satisfaction, which resulted in me buying Mercedes-Benz cars again.
Further, the MB company gives all MB owners (even the really old ones), Roadside Assistance for life. :)
If you have a warranty that absorbs warranty/repair cost, this car has virtually no downside and is an incredible buy. Without a warranty, avoid at all costs. Pretty polarized opinion on my end, there . . . I give 4 stars because I had the warranty . . . and the service visits could only be categorized as a minor inconvenience for me, but the throttle response was a big negative.
http://www.lilviv.com/motoring/cars/c240 has more information and pictures of this car. :)