Mercedes' C-Class family is growing. Together with the sedan, the new sport coupe and wagon complete the C-Class family. The sport coupe and wagon have all the technical innovations contained in the redesigned C-Class, including the same safety and reliability features, with a fresh exterior expected to attract younger drivers.

The scenic French Riviera was the site for a two-day test drive of the new models. The mountainous terrain with its winding roads and hairpin curves provided the perfect proving grounds.

In the U.S., a C320, 3.2-liter V6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission is standard for the wagon. The engine produces 218 hp at 5,700 rpm and 229 lb-ft of torque. The coupe comes standard with the C230 2.3-liter Kompressor engine linked to a six-speed manual transmission. Used also in the SLK roadster and the CLK coupe, the belt-driven supercharged engine produces 197 hp at 5,500 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque from 2,500 to 4,800 rpm. This was plenty of pep for the sporty coupe as we climbed the steep and narrow mountain roads.
We tested a variety of engine and transmission combinations on the sport coupe. In particular, the C200 and the C230 Kompressor engines together with the five-speed automatic, the six-speed manual, and the six-speed Sequentronic transmission. The optional Sequentronic transmission has an ECU that monitors engine speed and torque, and automatically shifts gears if the engine revs are too high or low.While driving, I didn't have to downshift when making a stop: the transmission automatically shifts into first. However, it took at least a second from the time you pushed the gear shift up to a higher gear to the time it actually shifted. One suggestion for the perception of this delay is the absence of the clutch. Without the extra step of stepping on the clutch to fill in the time, there is the expectation of instant shifting. Mercedes also claims that the Sequentronic reduces fuel consumption by 2 to 3%.

New for the 2001 C-Class are improved safety systems. Both the coupe and wagon each have eight airbags. Front and side airbags protect the driver and front passenger, with side airbags for rear-seat passengers. Front airbags are fitted with a two-stage gas generator. For collisions between 12 and 22 mph, an ECU ignites only one stage. For higher speed collisions, the second stage ignites in a few milliseconds, reducing the possibility of airbag injury from low-speed collisions. Also, windowbags stretching between the A and C pillars protect against head injuries in side impacts.

Another useful option is the Cockpit Management and Data System, or Command. Being strangers to the road in this part of the world, my codriver and I managed to get lost on our way back to the airport. Never fear. Using dynamic route guidance, the Command system steered us back on course in no time. By entering our final destination on the screen, a friendly voice guided us back with helpful hints such as "bear left" or "turn right in 500 m."

We also had ample opportunity to test the wagon's turning radius during one of many U-turns. We were both duly impressed with the extremely tight turning radius, which is given as a turning circle of 10.76 m or roughly 35 ft.

The coupe is expected on U.S. shores in the summer. The price? Mercedes offers the coupe for under $28,000. The wagon starts in the upper $30s, and will be available in the U.S. this fall.