The cars we loved.
Mercedes developed a two door hatchback coupe called the Sportcoupe from its popular C Class cars. The Sportcoupe was intended to compete with BMW’s 3 Series based Compact and to some extent Volkswagen’s Golf Gti.
Sportcoupes came with many available options. The coolest option-a panoramic sliding sunroof that really lets the sunshine in-adds just 44 lb. Like the ’88-’91 Honda CRX, the Sport Coupe has a small strip of glass in the vertical part of its hatchlid, below the backlight, to aid in backup and parallel parking maneuvers.
The Sport Coupe or Mercedes hatchback, as many people called it faced the same uphill battle of perceptions that BMW’s short lived 3 Series Compact did in the U.S. Americans are simply not accustomed to the ideal of a premium hatchback, especially one costing well over $30k. The hope was that Euro-centric buyers who like the smart, versatile style of hatchbacks will appreciate it-not to mention young buyers looking to move up to a premium nameplate. There were just were not enough of those buyers during the initial run of these cars in America.
The basic problem with the C230 and BMW’s 3 Series Compact was that they were essentially appeared packaged and configured like economy cars. Sure, the hatchback styling made them look sleek and they had rear wheel drive, but it also looked like something was missing. That combined with the American view of hatchbacks cultivated from years of driving Escorts and Civics doomed the car from the start in the premium market. There’s no reason that these cars could not have had a hatchback form factor like a Celica or Eclipse. With those cars, being a hatchback was no impediment to sales because there were more fastback coupes. The C230 might have been much more successful if it followed suite instead of following the cheap econobox model of old Escorts and Plymouth Horizons.
Fast forward to 2010. One of the top-selling cars in the U.S. is the Toyota Prius, a four door hatchback. Ford readies a new highly anticipated hatchback Focus and Fiesta, while Americans have changes their feelings about hatchbacks. Mazda 3 Sports have proven that the Americans will pay more for a small car if it performs well, looks good and is comfortable. Good gas mileage helps also. The C230 was comfortable, looked great, but had poor gas milage compared to other hatchbacks. Most people buying a Mercedes are’nt looking for great fuel economy, but the hatchback design suggests that as a given to Americans.
There was a new Sportcoupe based on the current C-Class platform introduced in 2005, but no plans have been made to sell it here. The new Sportcoupe code named “W203-2” follows the same path of the previous car in that it looks like the rest of the C-Class family in front with a blunted back. Although attractive, it still has the basic econocar shape of its predecessor. Its likely that the U.S. market will skip the second generation Sportcoupe altogether. When the next version of this car rolls out, maybe Mercedes will have learned its lesson in America and release a proper fastback sports coupe.