The Mercedes C280 is a mid-level specification model of the Mercedes premium compact 4-door luxury sedan. The C280 was first introduced with the W202 model but is also available with the W203, and the W204. All three of these are popular in the second-hand market, especially the W204.
The W203 C280 gets a 2.8L V6 while the other two get the same 3.0L V6 with quite a bit more power. These engines are widely considered reliable, sophisticated, and perfect for a car of this size. The design of these three differs quite a bit, and most people deem the W204 to be the best-looking one while the other two are not far behind.
Reliability-wise, all three of them are similar, especially the W203 and the W204 because they are similar underneath. The most common C280 issues are associated with the balance shaft, the electronic wiring, the EGR valve, the throttle valve, and the transmission.
All three of these can now be had for attainable prices but the W202 is by far the cheapest one. Practicality is decent across all three models but the W204 is considerably larger than both the W202 and the W203.
Mercedes C280 – The powertrain
The W202 C280 gets a 2.8L V6 with 197hp, the W203 gets a 3.0L V6 with 231hp while the W204 gets an identical engine to the W203. The reason why Mercedes carried it over is that the engine was ahead of its time. 231hp is a lot of power for a compact luxury sedan even to this day.
All three of these engines are smooth, sophisticated, and fairly quiet. It’s also worth mentioning that these engines are mated to a 5-speed or a 6-speed automatic for the newer models. The W202 also comes with an automatic, but most people opted for the manual as it is a more dependable and arguably more comfortable option.
Efficiency is not all that good for a modern-day compact sedan as all three of these typically get around 20-25MPG. All in all, these three are powerful enough, and sophisticated enough, but do lack when it comes to efficiency.
Mercedes C280 – Design and chassis
The W202 utilizes a modern-classic Mercedes C280 design which has stood the test of time. The interior of the W202 is not the same story as it is fairly old-looking. The W203 arguably looks the worst because it is a bit too rounded. The rear-end is really tall and it makes the car look smaller than it actually is. The W204 looks best, both inside and out.
The driving experience of all three of these is comfortable and fairly seduced. The chassis and suspension tuning are the most balanced in the W204 while the W202 feels wobbly. The C280 is not an AMG model which means that it feels more like a comfortable sedan and not a sports sedan.
Mercedes C280 – Reliability and common issues
All three of these are reliable, but there are considerable differences between different model years. The best thing you can do is always go for a post-facelift model as these are a lot more dependable. The W202 is considered by many as one of the most reliable 90s sedans. The W203 is more or less the same.
The W204 is also reliable, but it seems like the W202 and the W203 are better. Either way, the most common issues are associated with the transmission, oil leaks, EGR valves, throttle valves, and the balance shaft. The W202 and the W203 sometimes suffer from electrical issues as well.
Mercedes C280 – Value and practicality
You can get the W202 for as low as $3000, the W203 costs a few thousand dollars more while the W204 is considerably more expensive. The most expensive model out of all of these is the post-facelift W204 which is still a reasonably modern car. Either way, all three are bargains for what they are.
Practicality-wise, the W204 is best as it offers the most space out of all. Trunk space is also best with the W204. Visibility is the worst with the W203 thanks to a tall back end which does hamper parking and maneuvering the car in tight spaces.
Should I buy a Mercedes W202, W203, or W204?
The Mercedes W204 is by far the best one out of all three of these to buy because it is the newest and it comes with many features expected from a modern car. It does not get all, but it is not far behind. The W203 is somewhere in the middle because it does feel a lot newer than the W202 even though it really isn’t. The W202 is too old to be a daily driver for most people.
No matter which one of these three you prefer, it makes sense to buy them. However, if you are used to driving modern cars, you are likely going to be disappointed with all of them, except maybe the W204 post-facelift model.
How long can the Mercedes C280 last?
The W202 C280 is able to last for decades. This means that it should be able to last a few hundred thousand miles without needing major overhauls. The W203 C280 is more or less the same, but some people argue that the C280 does need more thorough maintenance to last as long as the W202.
Finally, the W204 is the champion here as it seems like people are driving these even after 300,000 miles on the clock. The reason why is probably because the W204 is new enough to benefit from all the modern manufacturing techniques while still being a true indestructible Mercedes.
Is the Mercedes C280 safe?
If safety is your top priority, the W204 C280 is the safest yet. It is almost as safe as the brand-new Mercedes C-Class. The W203 is not on par with the W204, but it is considered safe, even in 2022. The W202 on the other hand is not the safest car on the road which means that it is not a really good option for family use.
All in all, if you want the safest car on the lot, go for the post-facelift W204 C280.