What's a C230 sedan doing with a 1.8-liter engine? We're about to find out. Despite its smaller capacity, the supercharged 1.8-liter four is just as powerful (okay, it makes 3 bhp less) than its 2.3-liter forbear, outputting 189 bhp and 200 lb-ft of torque. Where you might notice the difference is in the rpm range. Horsepower peaks at 5800 rpm, compared to 5500 for the 2.3L. The torque range is also a bit higher and shorter: 3500 to 4000 rpm versus 2500 to 4800 rpm. The result is a compact sedan that is 0.4 sec. slower (7.6 vs. 7.2) in the 0-to-60 mph blast than the 2002 version. However, if you're buying a car for its 0 to 60 speed only, you're probably not considering a compact luxury sedan anyway.

We here at european car don't mind the very slight decrease in performance (not that many would or could tell the difference) as the new C230K Sport more than makes up the difference in a number of areas. The engine's smaller size means the sedan weighs less-3,250 lb compared to 3,306 for the 2.3L-which, in turn, translates into better fuel economy. The 2003 version averages 21 mpg city and 30 mpg hwy-the previous model was rated at 19/29 mpg city/hwy.

Our long-termer bears the designation "Sport," meaning it came, as standard, with a sport-tuned suspension, sport body cladding, aluminum interior trim, seven-spoke 17-in. wheels with high-performance tires and a six-speed close-ratio manual transmission. The sport-tuned suspension setup is comprised of two separate lower links with a strut, coil springs, twin-tube gas shocks and a stabilizer bar at the front, and independent multi-link with gas shocks at the rear. The vented disc brakes, sized 11.8-in. at the front and 11.4-in. at the rear, are the ones found across the C-Class lineup-excluding the C32 AMG, of course. And all the stability-enhancing systems, Electronic Stability Control (ESP), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), ABS and Brake Assist, are also standard.

The body cladding, a l sport, consists of a redesigned front bumper, sculpted side sills, chrome accents and a rear apron. The changes, though subtle, give the sedan a more playful, less serious appearance, as do the snazzy 7.5x17-in. seven-spoke EVO alloy wheels, which are wrapped appropriately in 225/45 Michelin Pilot Sport high-performance tires.

On the inside, the C230K's sport status is denoted by cross-hatched aluminum trim where wood would normally reside-center console, and door and dash inserts. The look is refreshingly clean and modern. The front sport seats have leather seating inserts and are eight-way semi-electric adjustable.

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