In Review

BMW 3 Series vs. Mercedes-Benz C-Class: which is the best executive saloon?

The C-Class currently holds the top spot in car sales, but will the new 3 Series change that?

The new BMW 3 Series, one of the most important cars of 2019, is now available to order – some six months after its first appearance at last year’s Paris Motor Show.

When the original version launched in 1975, the 3 Series had the entry-level saloon market almost entirely to itself, says Auto Express

But the space is now full of strong competitors, all looking to take over the top spot from BMW. While the 3 Series has often held a strong footing in the market, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has become one of the saloon’s fiercest rivals in recent years. 

In 2018, the C-Class proved to be a more popular model with consumers than the BMW. Figures posted by Motoring Research shows that 32,600 examples of the mid-size Mercedes were registered last year, compared to the BMW’s 28,074 registrations. 

Now that the all-new 3 Series is in showrooms, has BMW done enough to reclaim its position at the top of the market? 

Here’s how the two compare:

Pricing

The cheaper model is the C-Class, although it is also the older of the two cars. It carries a price tag of £30,845 in C180 SE trim, notes CarBuyer, while the 3 Series comes in at £33,610.  

There are, however, a host of different variants for each model. So while the entry-level Mercedes has the edge here, the average price of each car is more or less the same. 

Interior and tech

BMW AG. For Editorial Use only. For any other purpose contact Fabian Kirchbauer

This is where the BMW hits its stride. WhatCar? claims that the German carmaker “makes a habit of producing high-quality hardware backed up by software that’s well thought through” – and the 3 Series is no different. 

Its “pin-sharp” infotainment screen is “handy to control by touch when you’re parked”, while the rotary iDrive controller “proves far less distracting on the move”, the reviews site says. It’s a cut above the C-Class’s system, which is “slightly laggy” in comparison. 

Mercedes-Benz C-Klasse T-Modell Exclusive, Exterieur: mojavesilber, Interieur: Leder magma/espresso Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate Exclusive, exterior: mojave silver, interior: leather magma/es

17C898_066

© Daimler AG

While the BMW scores well on tech, the C-Class has a slight edge in terms of cabin quality. 

CarBuyer notes that the C-Class is more comfortable than its rival, while the cabin’s design “certainly isn't short of visual appeal”. Although some of its glossy surfaces aren’t as well made as they look, everything is generally “beautifully put together and easy to use”.

Engines and performance 
Mercedes-Benz C-Klasse Limousine AMG-Line, Exterieur: designo selenitgrau magno, Interieur: Leder platinweiß pearl/schwarz Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan AMG line, exterior: designo selenite gre

18C0130_03

© Daimler AG

According to Auto Express, the BMW proved to be quicker than the C-Class “in almost every test” and therefore boasts better performance on paper. In reality, though, it would be “difficult to feel the difference on the road.”

Where the BMW clearly moves ahead, though, is in terms of refinement. In diesel form, the 3 Series responds well to throttle inputs and the automatic gearbox gives the saloon a smooth ride, the motoring mag says. 

The C-Class, meanwhile, is “all about comfort and relaxation, and it feels it on the move with decent ride quality and refinement”, says Parkers. It’s quick, too, and is the faster of the two in terms of acceleration. 

But the saloon’s engine “makes quite a racket when getting up to speed” and its handling doesn’t quite match the level of “feel” offered by the BMW, the reviews site says. “The Merc feels more than capable of sitting for long stints thanks to the strong engine and comfortable seats, but the engine is a constant source of interruption”.

Verdict 

BMW AG. For Editorial Use only. For any other purpose contact Fabian Kirchbauer

While the C-Class proves to be more than a match for the new – and more modern – 3 Series, BMW’s saloon appears to have the edge on its rival.

“The 3 Series is king of the compact executive class”, Auto Express concludes. “It sets a new benchmark for handling, but balances this with comfort and refinement.”

Parkers agrees, adding that the BMW’s “sharp looks” and “advanced” cabin tech makes it the more appealing choice.

However, CarBuyer says that the C-Class, along with other competitors such as the Audi A4 and Jaguar XE, shouldn’t be avoided. 

The C-Class is both economical and has a striking interior packed with technology that will please Mercedes’ more loyal customers, the site says.

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