dates : 6th June 2004/10th June 2004
it be a car, a man or a woman, the mid-life period is often
seen as a crucial stage. Seeing as this is a programme about
man-made motorised devices we won't delve too deeply into the
psychological aspects of this phenomenon.
In short, the current generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class has
been around now for three and a half years, and although like
all Mercedes models it has kept its youthful appearance, the
competitive nature of the current car market dictated the need
for a rather thorough makeover.
The up-grade to the C-Class range was launched a month ago.
Identifying the new freshened-up C-Class would take an expert
eye, as the outward changes are very subtle.
Yet the changes to the car are much more extensive than most
people would expect and in total, more than twelve hundred new
components reside in the revamped, post May 2004 C-Class
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class line-up is particularly important to
DaimlerChrysler South Africa's Mercedes-Benz division as it
represents the company's major export product from its
manufacturing plant in East London.
South Africa supplies right-hand drive versions of the C-Class
to the world's major markets that drive on the left-hand side
of the road, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and
of, course, the South African home market.
A total of one hundred and forty five thousand C-Class sedans
have been built in East London since late 2000, while world
-wide production of the C-Class totals some one comma two five
More than 40 000 units have been sold in South Africa alone,
and this is the most successful Mercedes-Benz product ever
produced, in terms of numbers.
The C-Class is built in six basic variants here, ranging from
the C180 Kompressor model through to the range-topping C320.
Mercedes-Benz is proud that the South African-built cars have
earned the reputation of being built to the precisely the same
exacting standards as the cars built at the parent company's
plant in Stuttgart Germany.
And the export programme has been vital for the Eastern Cape
economy too, as some three thousand one hundred people are
employed at the DCSA plant in East London.
The DaimlerChrsyler plant in East London has a history going
back to 1948 when it was known as Car Distributors Assembly.
The plant assembled a wide array of cars, including the
American Nash in the mid-1950s, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta in he
early 1960s and the Renault Dauphine.
In the 1980s Mercedes-Benz South Africa assembled Honda
Ballades, and arrangement that continued for over 20 years and
made Honda cars a house-hold name in this country.
The new mid-2004 Mercedes-Benz C-Class marks the introduction
of a new paint process known as nano-particle technology. This
new process refers to a new type of clear-coat covering the
base colour that is much more scratch resistant than before.
This is a world first for the DaimlerChrysler organisation.
The paint shop is one of the most critical areas in the car
plant, as this is where the final appearance of the car is
Dust is the big enemy in a paint shop and one of the methods
used to ensure a blemish-free finish is to use roller dusters
made from ostrich feathers to remove tiny particles. These emu
or ostrich feathers are used as they have a natural
anti-static property - presumably because ostriches live in
dry static-filled climates like the Little Karoo.
The paint process involves many stages from bare metal to the
final clear coat stage. These include a phosphate dip which is
vital to corrosion resistance, an e-coat which is
electrostatically applied to seal the car body from corrosion,
followed by primer, base colours, and then the clear coat.
This is where the car is built up from pressed steel panels
using robotic welding.
In the new C-Class introduction, the decision was taken to
run-out all the models using the old components, stopping the
production line and then starting again with the new
This is highly unusual as it requires precise logistical
planning especially as twelve hundred new components were
Normally a new model introduction would be overlapped on the
The finished product is a wonderful sight after seeing the
cars being built up from raw metal.
The new car is immediately identifiable thanks to its new
three-bar radiator grille and new bumper treatment from the
The model we are driving is a C220 CDi. This is a diesel model
which uses an improved version of the excellent 2,2-litre
turbocharged Mercedes diesel engine.
Power has been boosted by five kilowatts to 110 kilowatts
Other dynamic changes are also in evidence on the new model.
The handling and steering response has been sharpened up with
what Mercedes-Benz calls its Direct Control system.
The wheel track has been increased by 12 mm and the new models
use 16-inch wheels that replace the previous 15-inch items.
Tyre width sizing is up from 195 to 205 mm.
To sharpen up the handling new bearings were developed for the
front and rear axles, while a more direct steering ratio has
been introduced. A further addition is a stiffer anti-roll bar
at the rear axle, decreasing body roll.
Another change is the fitment of six-speed transmission in the
manual models, a new rod linkage making the gearshift far more
The new diesel model works very well with the five-speed auto
transmission, however, as the automatic 'box keeps the diesel
engine in its fairly narrow powerband without any effort on
the driver's part.
The new C-Class also gets powerful bi-Xenon headlamps as
standard, as well as a simplified version of the Active
lighting system fitted on the E-Class models.
This is known simply as the cornering light system. It uses
the secondary driving lights mounted in the lower section of
the front bumper. A light element directed outwards the edge
of the road is activated when the driver uses the indicator
switch signalling a turn.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class represents a great shift in
Mercedes-Benz model positioning here. For the first time a
Mercedes-Benz model has appeared regularly in the top-ten
sales charts over the past three years.
And with these new changes to the C-Class, Mercedes-Benz is
reinforcing the idea that the three-pointed star is no longer
a symbol of conservatism.
Car Torque is