Over the previous model, the W203 C-Class, this one is certainly an improvement on a full spectrum. It's longer, wider, taller and has a longer wheelbase over the old model, while the body has certainly taken an edgier direction and helped paved the way, style-wise, for the more expensive letters in the M-B line up. As an Avantgarde package, this meant that this particular model was a much more energetic C. With a poised stance, a proud 3-bar grille dominated by the silver-star in the center, brushed aluminum trim elements inside (instead of wood trim), and 17 inch, 5-spoke running shoes, you'd realize that the C200K Avantgarde is definitely more inclined for a sporty run than it's Elegance sibling. The dash is a double winged design and all buttons are placed with ergonomic ease. It may be relatively featureless, but the dash is undistracting and has low glare properties, making for a better drive. Seats are supportive, as opposed to the classic ultra-plushness of the 3-star brand.
Specifications-wise, the list is extensive and impressive. AGILITY Control (situation responsive selective damping), ESP, Adaptive Brake and other Mercedes-indigenous acronyms and terminology are all standard kit. An Audio 20 system delivers wattage to all the speakers in the cabin, producing crisp audio even when playing lower-than-preferred quality MP3 discs. Another notable feature was the multi-function display in the middle of the dash, which has Bluetooth functionality and fully controlled via the COMAND APS knob on the center console; quite nifty and intuitive to use.
Like any middle child, the C200K ("K" for kompressor, German for supercharger) is more than eager to impress. The power plant is a better-tuned variant of the 1.8-liter inline-4 in the entry-level C: the 180K. The muffled whine of the supercharger brings in linear boost when you floor it, producing up to 184 hp at 5500 rpm. Connected to a 5-speed automatic with manual mode (tip to the right to shift up, tip left to shift down), the 200K sprints from 0-100km/h in just under 9 seconds and loves to have its legs stretched on a wide, long stretch of tarmac up, all the way to a top speed 230 km/h.
Suspending the car from the road is a MacPherson and multi-link layout, front and rear, respectively, but the trick up M-B's sleeve has to be the Agility Control selective damping package. Enter some twisties, and it will come into play, automatically enhancing grip and body control. This hydromechanical damping control system overtly responds to the situation and demands of the driver, unleashing the claws of the C-Class (stiffer damping) for impressive cornering ability and reverting back to comfort mode (softer damping) afterwards.
The tires, however, have been swapped from original Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires to Dunlop LeMans rollers, and the change is markedly apparent; the latter with noticeably less cornering grip and stability at speed. There's also quite a bit of wind noise that intrudes into the cabin, particularly generated by the side mirrors as they slice through air. The 5-speed automatic shifts smoothly while in auto mode, but there's still significant lag when you switch to manual mode.
The C200K just strikes a hard-to-achieve balance between the corner-conquering BMW 3-Series, the gadget-laden Lexus IS and even the high-tech Audi A4. Though it still has a few little things that need tweaking, the C 200K Avantgarde feels just right, even amongst such capable competition.