Mercedes-Benz produced a very special car from November 1997 until July 1999. It came with a 4.3 litre V8  engine producing 306 bhp. It went from 0-60mph in a respectable 6.3 seconds and on to 155mph. It was rear wheel drive and had an automatic gearbox. It turned petrol into noise and speed. This car provided the driver with a wall of power and no unnecessary drama. It could seat five people in comfort. It was safe. It had a big boot. A fine German automobile.

It was called the Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG. The car under the spotlight today is not a C43. The car I’ve tested for your reading pleasure is the lowly C180. However, it does share many traits with the C43. The 1996 C180 I have at my disposal is also a fine automatic rear wheel drive petrol powered saloon with some airbags and room for passengers and shopping. Unlike the daddy, it only produces 122bhp and the dash to 60mph is more of a stroll, taking over 10 seconds.

Now, I like unnecessary wheel spin and the ability to reel in the horizon with a prod of the accelerator as much as the next man, but to be honest, life with the C180 isn’t bad. Yes, the car is slow and the handling is a little vague and the brakes don’t bite with as much enthusiasm as I’d like, but for a daily driver it ticks all the boxes. It is reasonably efficient, very comfortable and so far it has soaked up the worst the Irish road network can throw at it without any mechanical complaints. It’s easy to find a decent seating position. Everything still works including all the electric windows and the sunroof. My car doesn’t have a leather interior or cruise control but you wouldn’t miss them. The secondary controls all fall to hand nicely and are wearing their age well. It looks classy in the right lighting. The turning circle is surprisingly small. You can swing this thing around where a smaller car would have to do a 3 point turn.

There are some niggles though. Rust is a common problem with any older car but this model seems to suffer badly. If you are shopping for an older Merc do inspect the bodywork for signs of corrosion, particularly the bottoms of the doors, sills and around the boot lock. The driver’s seat bolster often shows signs of wear on cars with high mileage. However, don’t let high mileage put you off if the car looks to be in good condition and has some service history. All the engines offered in the C Class tend to run forever provided they have been serviced on time.

This is the smallish saloon that Mercedes produced for the 90s. It compares well to the competition. I would pick it over the same age Audi A4 and BMW 3 series every time. Especially nowadays. If you buy a 20-year-old BMW you had better have deep pockets for the inevitable garage visits. The Audi cabin is a gloomy place to sit and the styling looks dated in a bad way. The Mercedes looks dated as well, but not in a negative way. The big square grill and 3 pointed star are instantly recognisable. Everybody likes an old Merc.

If you turn up to pick up your date in a 1996 Audi A4 she will think you are struggling along on the bread line. She will survey the drab anonymous vehicle and she will begin to fear dinner is going to involve a Living Social voucher for the super saver snack box meal deal. If you rock up in classic Mercedes-Benz then things are altogether more positive. You are a bit eccentric have a taste for high quality machines.

Expect to pay between €300 and €2000. Look for an automatic with high spec. Avoid manuals, you won’t like the long ponderous feel of the gear change. Classic trim is the basic model so seek out Elegance, Esprit or Sport. A well-kept estate is rare but probably the best buy.

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