The W203 was not a highpoint for Mercedes – but it does make for a good low-cost wagon
By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, July 16, 2021 / Loading comments
We all moan and groan when the annual MOT test hoves into view because it always means spending money. If you’re lucky, your car will breeze through and you’ll just have to pay for the test itself. If you’re not lucky, the list of ‘do not drive until repaired’ or ‘repair immediately’ defects might amount to more than the value of the car and you’ll be faced with a difficult decision.
Whichever way it goes, Shed is always prepared to stand up for the MOT test because it tells him exactly what work he can get away with on a car in order to keep it chugging along the public highways of olde Englande in an appropriately legal manner. The historic MOT reports that you can now access online are very handy things for Shed, or anybody who spends as much time looking at them as he does. If you know what you’re looking for you can use them to put together a pretty accurate picture of a car’s past life – and not all the advisories on an MOT report need to be seen as depressing.
Take this week’s offering, a very clean looking 2004 Mercedes C230 Kompressor estate that’s on sale in Cardiff for £1,295. The last MOT was carried out only a week or so ago, generating advisories for ‘product’ on the headlamp lenses and a deteriorated front numberplate. As far as Shed is concerned however the third note about ‘rear brake repair covered in underseal’ is a double win. OK, in an ideal world car undersealers shouldn’t follow village Binman Bob’s preferred MO of squirting goo all over the bottom. They certainly shouldn’t be boshing it all over a car’s braking tackle.
But the important takeaways for Shed here are that the car has had some brake repair work done, which is always a good thing, and that it’s been undersealed in the last year, which is most definitely a good thing on Mercs of a certain age. In an interesting twist the rot usually attacks the rear arches first on early W203s rather than the front wings as you might expect. What’s good about this July 2004 car is that it’s a facelift model, which will keep it clear of some if not all of the early troubles. Better still, Shed is fairly certain that Benz began to galvanise their cars in 2003, so again you should be all right there.
What else is there about these second W203 C-Classes that could inspire frustrated owners to come up with sweary alternative guesses as to what the ‘C’ might stand for? Well, like Shed says these facelifters should be less troublesome than pre-’04 models whose electrics were a weak point, the Signal Acquisition Module being a particular culprit and popular cause of blowing fuses, malfunctioning buttons and gauges and battery drain. Some of the earlier cars did have an issue with their Valeo radiators going wrong, causing a drone at low to medium engine speeds and the occasional jolt under light acceleration. Front suspension bushes were gobbled up at a fair old rate.
But looking at this one we can see a fair few positives. Apart from the lower chances of failure and corrosion, it’s got the usefully powerful 189hp version of the supercharged 1.8-litre four. That gave this wagon a 0-62 time of 8.7sec, a 146mph top speed and a tally-ho whine from the blower. It’s a 6-speed manual rather than the auto which in some C-Classes could suffer expensive damage from coolant ingress.
On top of all that it’s Avantgarde SE spec, which is decent, including as it does cruise control and electric seats, black leather ones in this case. The car looks to be in good order throughout. The only real elephant in the room is that the M111 engine did get a bit of a reputation for blowing its head gasket, usually at around 150,000 miles. The supercharger might not last much beyond that point either. This car has done 138,000 miles. You be the judge. At least the service book has eight stamps in it, but the last one was 27,000 miles and about three years ago suggesting that, like the village postmistress, it could do with another entry quite soon.
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