Russ SmithSee other Advice articles filed in ‘Used tow car buyer’ written by Russ Smith
The C-Class is Mercedes’ 3-Series rival, so while it’s only middle-sized for a Merc, the W204 incarnation is no longer a small car, coming in at 4.6m long. But is it any good and what tow car ability does it have?
Mercedes’ reputation for building rock-solid cars took a pounding in the Nineties and Noughties, due largely to its cutting corners as it was getting to grips with new technologies. The company openly admits this, and promised a return to form for the 2007 C-Class.
The styling certainly cuts quite a dash compared to previous incarnations that were staid and conservative. It is clear that the manufacturer wanted to prise a few buyers out of BMW showrooms. Early impressions were favourable – apart from some criticism of its light and artificial steering feel – but how is the C-Class faring now the first cars have passed their eighth birthday?
Any list of C-Class variants may be confusing because, unlike in the past, model numbers only sometimes reflect engine capacity. For example, of the petrol models launched in 2007, the C180K has an 1800cc four-pot, supercharged and with 155bhp. Meanwhile, the C200K has the same capacity engine kicking out 181bhp.
Among the other petrols, the C230 has a normally aspirated 2.5-litre V6 of 201bhp, the C280 has a 227bhp 3.0 V6, and the C350 hits the mark with a 3.5 V6 boasting 268bhp.
The diesel waters are even muddier, with two engine capacities serving five models. The C200 CDI (134bhp/199lb ft), C220 CDI (167bhp/295lb ft) and C250 CDI (201bhp/369lb ft) all use a 2.1-litre four-pot; the last only came along to replace the 220 in May 2009. Surprisingly, the C250 CDI is the most fuel-efficient – officially 55mpg and 48mpg in automatic form.
Then there was the C320 CDI, which used a 2987cc V6 and was renamed C350 CDI in June 2009, though both produced the same 220bhp and 376lb ft. This was increased in December 2009 when the model also gained BlueEfficiency status and combined outputs of 227bhp and 398lb ft with 10% better fuel economy. It made a similar efficiency gain in June 2011 when power climbed to 261bhp and torque to 457lb ft.
V6 models of 3.0 litres or more running on either fuel were only sold with seven-speed automatic gearboxes. All others were offered with a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.
From spring 2011, the car was facelifted, petrol V6s were dropped and the 1800s’ superchargers were replaced by turbos. All autos now get the seven-speed ’box.
There is a big problem with early petrol V6 engines: their timing chain sprockets are liable to wear out. This may not sound like much, but it’s serious. Repairs are complicated and can cost up to £4000. When wear is bad enough, the ‘check engine’ warning light comes on.
This applies to those built until late 2008, but you’ll have to check later cars, too, because the engines were not always sold or registered immediately. Make sure to check the engine number on the registration document; any that ends in a lower number than 468933 is at risk. Later engines were fitted with better quality sprockets.
Beware of jerky shifts in automatic gearboxes. This can sometimes be cured by a simple fluid change, but it’s often something more expensive – let someone else find out which.
There’s a big issue with rusting rear brake pipes on W204s, causing cars as young as six to fail their MoTs. Replacements may cost a few hundred so check. Spray later cars annually with rustproofing fluid. Talking of which, the rear wheel arches on some early cars are showing rust bubbles.
Broken interior door panels are also common and are part of the whole door card, which costs £400 or more to replace. Because it’s used the most, the driver’s doorhandle goes first.
The optional 18in alloys may look good but are prone to cracking or distortion from hitting potholes. These are best avoided – as are potholes.
All alloys appear to be susceptible to brown staining, which may stem from rusty wheel bolts. It’s unsightly, but not serious; the wheels can be cleaned up and repainted.
It’s a relief that Mercedes-Benz has taken steps to restore its reputation for not only great engineering but longevity, too.
I miss my old W124 E-Class, which racked up over 250,000 miles, but haven’t felt confident in returning to the three-pointed star due to its recent problems.
The W204 C-Class isn’t perfect, but it is good enough. I’d consider owning one, particularly an estate. For pulling medium-sized caravans, the diesel variants have plenty of oomph and the suspension is well-controlled.
We think the C250 CDI estate BlueEfficiency is the best of the bunch if you want to tow with one. It has enough muscle to make the extra cost of a C350 look like a waste and better fuel economy, plus the estate will be easier to resell.
However, the model we'd steer clear of is the Mercedes-Benz C230 SE saloon. We’re running scared from those early petrol V6s. This bottom-of-the-range version lacks even the saving graces of pulling power or loads of kit.
What you need to know
Looking to buy a used Mercedes-Benz C-Class from 2007 to 2014? You could spend anywhere in the region of £5000-£26,000.
The fact that anything available below £6250 has at least 125k on the clock is good news: these cars are both taking the miles well and holding their value better than the previous C-Class.
For higher-powered machines, especially diesels, you’ll need at least £7000 for something worth buying, and the thick end of £8000 for a six-cylinder diesel.
There’s not a great deal of difference in price between petrol and diesel cars, probably because only a quarter of those sold here had petrol engines. There is a premium of at least £300 for an estate and of perhaps £2000 for the newest and best models.
Here are some useful figures (for 2009 C250 CDI BlueEfficiency):
- Kerbweight 1615kg
- 85% match 1373kg
- Towing limit 1800kg
- Towball limit 75kg
Before you hitch up and head off on your caravan holidays, you'll need to fit a towball. PF Jones has quoted us £120.91 to fit a Witter flange towbar and £180.34 for a Bosal detachable towbar (fitting extra).
And what about servicing? An interim service on a Mercedes-Benz C-Class of this age should set you back around £148.82, a full service coming in at £249.81, according to Servicing Stop.