Some of you may remember my 190E 2.6 and european car's plans to revive (and maybe add to) its potency and freshen its comfort and looks. What I most remember about it is its sorrowful condition as it sat in a crowded wrecking yard. It had been "totaled" in a collision in which neither my car nor the other had a driver or passengers. The details of its demise are almost comically banal and need not be repeated here, except to say that my son and several of his friends are lucky they didn't also take out a house in the incident.

However, there's no going back and not even any standing still. Forward it is, then. Replacing Project 190E 2.6 is european car's new Mercedes-Benz test mule, a 1995 C280.

This model C280-with chassis designation W202-came from the newly named generation of compact, the C-Class, which replaced the 190-series. The new Cs came to the U.S. in 1994 in two versions: the C220 (2.2L four; 147 bhp) and the C280 (2.8L twin-cam six; 194 bhp). Four-speed automatics, dual airbags and ABS were standard; the C280 could be ordered with traction control.

For 1995, not much was changed in the C220 and C280, though a more sophisticated traction system, called ETS, was offered, and Acceleration Slip Control was optional in the C280. The baddest news was introduction of the first sporty C-Class, the C36. Its 3.6L six put out 268 bhp and was a harbinger of bigger things to come for the compact class car.

Nothing notable was changed for 1996, but in 1997 the C220 became the C230, offering a bit more torque from the increased displacement. A new, adaptive and electronically controlled five-speed automatic replaced the four-speed auto-box.

Changes really began to come quickly as the series was reaching maturity; in 1998, it received revised styling, and the inline six was replaced by a new V6. Although with the same power and torque as the outgoing engine, smoothness and economy were improved. Also from that year, let's not forget the wonderful C43 and its 302-bhp V8.

A new, supercharged version of the 2.3L engine powered the base 230 in 1999, which also could be ordered with a sport package. Representing the last generational year in the U.S., the 2000 C-Class got the Touch Shift transmission, and the standard equipment list added a telescoping steering column and anti-skid control.

So, how did I end up with a 1995 model? As it is with most used-car purchases, price and condition were the prime motivators. I didn't want to spend any more (well, much more) than the insurance settlement, around $16,000. I'd liked almost everything about the 190E, so upgrading to a newer generation of the same gene pool seemed a prudent course of action.

As there are kazillions of dealers offering used cars in the greater Los Angeles area, I couldn't fathom the miles and man hours it would take to track down "the" C-Class sedan amongst them all. Instead I let my fingers do the work and assaulted the Internet with searches for such cars in the $15,000 to 20,000 range. I especially looked for those covered by the Mercedes-Benz pre-owned program, StarMark. I'd purchased the 190E under that coverage and had saved many dollars in repair costs by insuring it against certain failures.

By Greg N. Brown
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