I owe my life to my car. Not in a corny way, actually in a it-limited-my-stupidity kind of way.
I’ve always been a slow driver. I stick to the speed limit or set cruise control a little below it and have a calm journey; rushing a drive hardly saves five minutes, so why take stress? Mechanical sympathy also drove me to that way of life. But, as any other petrol loving soul, I would occasionally have that thrilling drive, reaching the limits of my beloved W202. More on that later, there other reasons for my 202 love, and that love I will be sharing here.
As a young child, and well into high school, I loved cars but knew little about them. I used to be a BMW fanboy. I don’t really know why. It’s one of those childhood things that are a part of one’s life. I didn’t read an awful lot about cars, as magazines were not in my budget, and we didn’t have extravagant TV channel packages with good car shows either. Yet I loved cars, so much so that I convinced my dad to let me learn how to drive at 13 in the farms near his shop. My dad went on to purchase the W202 C180 (2000) well into my high school years, just as I got my learner’s license. This converted the BMW fanboy to a Mercedes one. It was this diversification of my interests that eventually led me to accepting more cars into my life, becoming a true petrol-head who could see beyond brands. I have now had a Lexus (no prizes for guessing which one) as my work PC background for more than three years. Thanks, my beloved 202, you educated me.
After completing my studies and starting to work, my dad passed the 202 onto me. Having driven it quite a bit growing up, it now became my daily. This is the car I have driven and known the most. So I effectively received an underpowered two litre straight-four powered automatic sedan. Yes it’s RWD, but with an open diff. Seating position, high. Steering response, ok. By then I had also learnt quite a bit more about cars. So, three years on, why hang onto this car instead of swapping it for something more interesting? Well, it’s simple; for its value today, I would get a boring old sedan with rev-hang. The 202 on the other hand offers dual zone air-conditioning which I can also leave to circulate residual warm/cold air for around half an hour while parked, it has leather seats, cruise control, ABS, ESP, airbags. Typical of Mercs of the day, the 202 also had optional cupholders, but what a cup-holder it is. I may, or may not, have spent time uploading a video of my cup-holder to Youtube. All this from a 17-year-old car. These features aside, the 202 has that early 2000s simplicity, where electronic aids were just that, aids to complement your driving. I can still feel the engine, feel the road through the well-weighted steering, feel the gearbox connections as I slide it into drive. Thanks, my beloved, you offer convenience.
My first few salaries drove me to the wheel shop to get alloys. Got these beaten up AMG rims and had them refurbed. I wanted something that suited the era.
The 202 (in my correct opinion) is the best C-Class ever made. A bold claim, yes, but it did kick-start this line of cars (naming convention wise at least; the 201 was not technically a C-Class). As newer models were introduced, the C-Class got worse progressively. The 203 looks like something from The Jetsons adapted for the real world. The quality on it is not the best, as you will see from the quick deteriorating examples. That half-moon speedometer from pre-facelift models is the stuff of nightmares. Then came the 204, a car which single-handedly ruined the Mercedes brand’s image. It was a heavily mass-produced car made to appeal to the masses, and it did that brilliantly. I see lots of them on our roads today, a financial success for the company then. But what sort of crowds did the 204 attract? The types that think they are above the rest because they own a Merc of course; this is quite noticeable from their careless and rash driving. In appealing to the masses, the C-Class lost its Mercedes touch. The fake-weighted electric steering is one of the biggest disappointments of it, but again, the car was never meant to appeal to me. It also paved way for the A-Classes and GLAs of the world, which I don’t consider to be true Mercs. As for the current 205, I’ll reserve my opinions on the fake-exhaust-tipped Merc. Thanks, my beloved, you remain pure.
So, to my flag-bearer of C-Classes again. How exactly did this car become the best first car? Mainly by being underpowered. Even when my younger self tried to get the car to misbehave, it wouldn’t budge. The last 202 C180s came with a detuned engine from the C200, detuned to be slow, I’ve concluded. The wider tyres I put on when switching to alloys further helped with traction on a car which already had enough of it. The car has taught me a lot about the dynamics of a RWD car, even with the spongy suspension. No matter how hard I push the car, it always has enough grip, and the struggle of attaining speed and maintaining it is immensely rewarding in its own way. And the best part of this is that these are legal speeds where it feels fast, and fun. I take pride in knowing that I’m one of the few who know how to drive my car fast (relatively). My 202 has saved me on numerous occasions. Had I had something more powerful, I would have ended up on a tree somewhere. Try as you may, the 202 shall not go fast enough to cause trouble (obviously within sensible limits). The understeering nature of it also helped my younger self who thought he had this driving thing figured out, but didn’t. Thanks, my beloved, you saved me from myself.
Given a good gradient on a descent, the humble C180 comes to life, and is capable of being quite fun - Panoramic route, Mpumalanga, 120 kmph speed limit on a winding highway is certainly fun.
Does all of this not make it the perfect first car? The safety aspect is taken care of, it will not let you misbehave, the fuel mileage is decent, it has just enough creature comforts, and it shares a wiper mechanism with Koenigseggs. What more could you want from your first car?