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A spotter's guide to the Mercedes C Class

A spotter's guide to the Mercedes C Class

Of the big German three, there is arguably one brand that exudes a bit more class and sophistication than Audi and BMW. We are of course, talking about Mercedes-Benz. That three-pointed star is a classy emblem to behold, but for a long time, it was an expensive emblem, too.

Then in early 1990s, things changed with the arrival of the C Class. It was still dripping in Mercedes-Benz quality, but at the same time, it was a bit more of a realistic proposition for many. It was high-spec Mondeo money, so as you can imagine, it flew out of dealerships.

Now on its fourth generation, the C Class is just as popular as ever, but how do you tell them apart? With this handy spotter’s guide of course!

The first-generation W202

The first-generation W202

Built from 1993 to 2000

The first-generation C Class took over from the W201 190. Named by Mercedes-Benz as the W202, it was a full-fat executive saloon, boasting rear-wheel drive, plenty of luxury fittings and a class-leading ride.

But unlike the traditional Mercedes-Benz saloon, the W202 C Class was small. This meant it was nimble and easy to drive, and with a range of engine from humble four-cylinder petrols, economical diesels or even thumping great V8s, the new C Class was all things to all men.

Sadly, this era Benz isn’t exactly synonymous with quality, so electrical along with horrific cases of rust saw to many heading to the scrap yard. Find a good one now though, and you’ll have a true classic on your hands. 

To spot one, you’re looking for the traditional ‘three box’ saloon shape, the boot-lid narrows as it meets the rear bumper, sculpting the lights into sharp angles as it does.

Up front, you’re looking for that big signature grille, rectangular headlights with sloped inner edge and of course, the three-pointed star. 

C Class fact: During the 1996 and 1997 F1 seasons, the hot C63 AMG version was the Safety Car

The second-generation W203

The second-generation W203

Built from 2000 to 2007

Despite all the issue that plagued the poor W202, there was still a follow-up act. But when you consider that the bods at Mercedes-Benz started work on the W203 in 1994 – a year after the launch of the W202 – it’s hardly surprising.

The new car’s design was signed off in 1995, but it didn’t hit showroom for another half-decade. The new car was a sleeker, more modern-looking machine, it fitted in perfectly with the E and S Class models of the time.

It was still a ‘three box’ saloon, and was available with engines either inline or V6, both petrol and diesel. Sadly, electrics and rust were still issues, which only served to dent the previously rock-solid reputation of Mercedes-Benz. 

To spot a W203, you’re looking for a standard saloon, but with more soft edges than the W202. The front grille was thinner, and the headlights were a completely different ‘double bubble’ shape, and they leaned back up into the lines of the car. At the rear, the design remained largely the same as the W202, but with softer lines.

C Class fact: The W203 was the first model on which the names didn’t relate to engines sizes (C200 was a 1.8, for example) 

The third-generation W204

The third-generation W204

Built from 2007 to 2014

With the W204, Mercedes-Benz was back. The quality issues were a thing of the past, the fit and finish was deserving of the three-pointed star and the drive was exceptional. Then there was the way it looked.

The third C Class was a mean, menacing, angry looking thing. And people liked that. In fact, Benz sold 37,261 of them in 2012, putting it in the top ten. It was a similar story around the globe, with the W204 regularly featuring high on sales figure lists.

Annoyingly for Mercedes, it always lost out to the E90 BMW 3 Series, but even so, Merc bosses weren’t too upset. 

To spot a W204, you need to look for a bigger griller with the three-pointed start sitting proud and big in the middle on many models. The headlights are diamond-shaped, and pull back into the bonnet, stopping just over the front edge of the front arch.

The lines of the car in general are sharper, and more chiselled, but still with curves. The rear lights were smaller and thinner, and were layered red-clear-red.

C Class fact: The hot W204 was the mighty C63 AMG, which was fitted with a massive 6.2 litre V8.

The fourth-generation W205

The fourth-generation W205

Built from 2014 to present

The current W205 C Class is arguably the most refined and elegant yet. If the W204 showed the world Benz was back to its best, the W205 is the car to show the best ca only get better.

The W205 is a significantly stronger yet lighter car, thanks to the use of aluminium and high-strength steel within its construction. In fact, it’s 220lb lighter than the previous model.

As with all the previous models, the W205 is available as a saloon and an estate. Though there is also a coupe and a convertible, which were previously sold as the CLK. The W205 is the first C Class to carry those models under the same name. 

To spot one, the grille is bigger and the front bumper is more sculpted, with bigger openings to suck in air. There is a big, sculpted detail that runs down the side of each car from above the front arch fading out in the rear door.

The headlights are a soft diamond shape, while the rear lights now sit away from the inner edge of the boot-lid. 

C Class fact: This model is available as a plug-in hybrid, the first time for the C Class.