Mercedes C180 Kompressor takes on a pheasant

My Mercedes hire car meets a game bird intent on self destruction, see what happened.

By Tim Kendall | 5th March 2011

It’s been a trying month. It started badly when my C43 was written-off by a policeman who’d not fully thought through whether executing a 60mph u-turn on a dual carriageway was sensible. The roads around the Air Balloon roundabout on the Gloucestershire/ Wiltshire border are notorious, and following the aforementioned accident in which my Mercedes ricocheted off the errant police car three weeks ago, the jitters are only just starting to go away when I drive the same road. Whilst the C43 sits in a salvage yard and the insurance negotiations are playing out, I’ve been tooling about in a hired Mercedes C180 Kompressor in Sport spec, which is nice, new(ish), and shiny.

Mercedes C180 Kompressor Sport

And now it’s slightly less new(ish) and shiny. Why? Because on the same stretch of road, one of those hapless, dim-witted game birds which are so plentiful in the Cotswolds, decided it was tired of life. And when a car hits a pheasant square-on at 60mph, it’s not pleasant, if you’ll pardon the pun. The sequence of events played out thus – feathered simpleton wanders out into the road, staring vacantly into the middle distance and blissfully unaware of its own impending mortality. An avalanche of pointless expletives followed. Whilst inexplicably swearing at the daft bird, I weighed up that split-second decision – attempt to swerve around it, and let it survive to fulfil its destiny of being shotgun-fodder, or give it a dignified and quick death, with a 3-pointed star emblem parked up it’s derriere?

In the end I chose the latter, due to a combination of being tired of high speed accidents, and frankly not having much time to think about it at 60mph. On the upside, the impact of AMG bumper on plump game bird, did elicit a satisfying thud, and the cloud of brown feathers dancing in my slipstream was a poetic sight to behold. On the downside however, the impact smashed the front grille and foglight. Even more irritating than that, the pheasant appeared to have fled the scene when I pulled over to exchange insurance details with him.

Aside from pheasant culling, the C180 has a curious mix of qualities, being comparatively sluggish with 156bhp from its 1.6 litre (yes, 1.6) supercharged unit, and with oddly mismatched suspension. Something to do with the fact that the particular C180 I’ve got is in Sport spec, with the AMG bodykit, 17″ wheels and stiffer suspension than standard. And I’ve had plenty of time to get used to it, having taken it on a 700-mile jaunt to Edinburgh and back last weekend. Despite being supercharged, it seems to take time before the engine room understands the instructions from your right foot and finally wakes up. When it does provide the desired acceleration it is accompanied by a fairly uninspired, gruff engine note, overlaid with a wheezy whine from the supercharger. Whether I’m being totally objective, having come from a 306 bhp C-Class with ample acceleration and an addictive Dee-troit rumble, is debatable. There’s no doubt that the macho looks are writing cheques that the sewing machine under the bonnet can’t cash though.

Mercedes C180 Kompressor Sport

What I will say is that the cobbled streets around parts of the Scottish capital, and the profusion of potholes big enough to swallow a Fiat 500, don’t show the stiffly sprung Benz in its best light. Perhaps not the fairest test then, but the C180 just doesn’t have the shove to justify putting up with such a busy and unsettled ride. And the uncompromising ride seems to have taken its toll on the car. Even though my ’59 plate example has done 13,000 miles it feels very much like the ball joints are already worn, as evidenced by the clattering feedback felt through the steering wheel over even small bumps. In fairness, I have to concede that every single one of those 13,000 miles is likely to have been hard-driven, with very little mechanical sympathy from a myriad of temporary custodians.

It’s not all bad by any means, as it’s a handsome car with the AMG bodystyling, and a relaxed motorway companion. It’s also pretty well equipped with Bluetooth, auto lights and electric adjustment for the front seats. What hasn’t escaped my notice is that whilst the C180 feels solid and safe, it is sterile and lacking in any discernable character. I’d find it hard to actually want a modern day C-Class unless it’s the insane C63 AMG (Mercedes, are you listening?). Yet I could say the same about some of its contemporaries – Audi A4 included. That Mercedes over-engineering USP has long gone. The indestructible feel of 80’s and 90’s Benzes made you think that cockroaches would have something to drive in the event of a nuclear apocalypse. On the basis of this car, it seems that the accountants, not the engineers, are still in charge at Mercedes. It’s time to wheel out another cliché – they just don’t make them like they used to.

By Tim Kendall
5th March 2011

Got an opinion? Don't be shy....