Shootout: Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 3-Series vs Audi A4
Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 41.04 – 52.11 lakhs (Audi A4), Rs. 42.67 – 51.84 lakhs (BMW 3-Series), Rs. 51.86 – 55.74 lakhs (Mercedes C-Class)
Positioned in the same segment, these three German cars are vastly apart in many ways
Many people in India associate luxury cars with their size and in that sense, the new crop of entry-level luxury sedans just don’t cut it for most. Entry-level luxury car was the term used for the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class for a long time but none of them are entry-level offerings anymore because the German luxury car brands have upped the ante by taking these offerings a segment up in terms of both price and positioning. In 2015, the battle gets even more interesting with Mercedes launching its fourth generation of the C-Class which has to naturally fight it out with its fellow country peers, resulting in this triple threat match.
Motor Quest: As most often is the case, BMW is the founder of new segments and it is no different with the 3-Series which is the oldest car here, the first generation model dating back to 1975. Meanwhile both Mercedes and Audi joined the bandwagon at a similar time in 1993 and 1994 respectively.
Styling – Since the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class made their global debut at a similar time, both are in their fourth generation, while the BMW 3-Series is in its sixth iteration. The A4 is the oldest car here as the current model was launched in 2008 and got a facelift in 2012, the same time when the latest generation of the 3-Series made its debut. The C-Class is the freshest of the lot and was launched in India just three months back. Naturally design evolves with time and no amount of botox can help the A4’s cause as it simply looks dated in front of the other two cars here. Further robing appeal from the Audi is the fact that its design elements are similar to other offerings from the Ingolstadt based automaker.
Our test BMW 3-Series came equipped with the M-Sport package which gives it the appealing body kit and those racing stripes. It is quite evident that the Bimmer is the sportier car here while the C-Class has more elegance. Pictures somehow don’t do justice to the Mercedes, it looks way better on the road. The design elements of the S-Class on the new C-Class makes it look very rich indeed and the lights are really highlighted at night, both at the front and rear. The C-Class is longer and taller with a similar width as the 3-Series but between the two, we would pick the Benz for its fresher appearance.
Interiors – Mercedes has taken the game up in the interior department and there are no two ways about it. The C-Class has a cabin which defies all segment norms because it’s easily a step above its rivals. While the 3-Series still manages to put up a fight, the dated A4 is simply no match at all. The problem also lies in the way the dashboard has been done in the Audi and BMW, as nothing seems exclusive here, it’s very reminiscent of other cars from the respective companies. Meanwhile, the C-Class shares nothing with any other Benz on sale today, other than the S-Class and when such a thing happens, it’s always a good thing, no? The aircraft inspired buttons, circular AC vents, striking speakers and the centre console all remind one of the flagship Benz sedan, making the C-Class owner feel very special indeed.
The BMW 3-Series has a very sporty cabin with our test car getting all black interiors and red seats. The use of gloss black is a nice touch but somehow it doesn’t feel as special as the Merc which has a slew of colours used in tasteful proportions like dual-tone black and beige, silver and wood. The Audi’s all beige dashboard is showing its age and comes across as neither sporty nor elegant, it’s too plain but functional nonetheless. While seating comfort is excellent on all three cars, the C-Class with its largest wheelbase stands out in rear seat comfort, having the best all round room. The A4 comes in second, being more welcome to the rear seat occupant than the Bavarian machine.
All the three cars come loaded with a lot of kit so one really can’t complain on that front as you get sunroof, push start, top-notch infotainment system (COMAND for Mercedes, MMI for Audi and iDrive for BMW), leather seats, reverse parking sensors, reversing camera (missing on the BMW) and a slew of safety equipment on all these vehicles. However, the C-Class is the most loaded of the three and that is expected because it’a also the most pricey car here. The Mercedes gets a touch-pad for controlling the 8.4-inch COMAND system which gets a really cool interface, mimicking that of the S-Class. It also has the best sounding audio system courtesy of the 13-speaker Burmester unit. Other unique features on the Mercedes include a panoramic roof and 3 colour ambient lightning. Where the C-Class misses out is boot space as the space saver is inconveniently placed in the boot. Ironically all three cars have a 480-litre boot capacity.
Performance – Things start to get interesting here as all three German cars are offered with two engine options each (one petrol and one diesel, not considering the performance variants like the BMW M3 and Audi S4). Earlier, BMW had also launched the 320i which was the base petrol variant while Audi offered a top-of-the-line A4 3.0-litre TDI with quattro that offered scintillating performance. With the current engines on offer, the difference between performance isn’t as big and hence we should first talk about the more popular engine of choice, diesel.
BMW has the best engines which is quite evident as soon as you drive the Bimmer hard
The C-Class diesel is the least powerful here but has the most torque, its 2.1-litre mill producing 170 PS and 400 Nm. Meanwhile, the most powerful car, the 3-Series diesel outputs 184 HP and 380 Nm in 320d guise. The A4 slots in between with 174 HP and 380 Nm. Both the BMW and Audi use 2.0-litre diesel engines, the big difference being that the C-Class and 3-Series are rear-wheel drive while the A4 is front-wheel driven. 0-100 km/hr comes fastest in the Merc, in spite of it being the heaviest, taking 7.4 seconds while the ton comes up in 7.6 seconds in the BMW and 7.9 seconds in the Audi. The added weight in the Merc also doesn’t bother it when it comes to mileage as the C220 CDI is the most frugal, returning 19.27 km/l against the 320d and A4 35 TDI’s 18.88 km/l and 17.11 km/l respectively (ARAI numbers). In spite of being front-wheel drive, the Audi isn’t as frugal as it misses out on a start/stop system in the diesel version, the same is present in the Benz and BMW. Tank capacity is the best in the Merc (66-litres), followed by the A4 (63-litres) while the 3-Series comes in last (60-litres).
City and highway performance is good in all three cars here, the Mercedes feeling the best insulated while also having the widest torque band. But neither the Audi, nor the Merc rev like the 3-Series which has the best diesel motor as far as the fun factor goes. Not only does the BMW diesel rev quickly, it also has a nice top-end punch and that’s thanks to the aluminium construction of the oil burner, the drawback being NVH levels at high revs. The highest revving car here, the 3-Series, also has the highest top speed of 235 km/hr against the C-Class’ 233 km/hr and the Audi’s 222 km/hr. Even in terms of gearbox, it’s the BMW which leads by a fair margin, the 7-speed box in the Merc not being quick enough to match the Bimmer while the 8-step CVT in the Audi is no match for the other cars in this shootout. Tip-tronic function is available on both the Audi and BMW as they lack paddle shifts while the column mounted gear lever means no tip-tronic function on the C-Class but there are steering mounted paddles.
Coming to the petrol engines, the 1.8 TFSI in the A4 which belts out 168 HP/320 Nm and the 2.0-litre mill in the C-Class which generates 181 HP/300 Nm are no match for the BMW 3-Series petrol. The 328i (also gets a heads-up display and paddle shifters, the centre display shows the power and torque being used) simply blows away its rivals with the massive output advantage, it makes 245 HP/350 Nm. Not only is it the fastest, but it’s also the best in terms of all-round performance, making it by-far the best petrol engine in this class with the most engaging exhaust note to its credit. The BMW 3-Series petrol takes just 6.1 seconds to do the 0-100 km/hr sprint, in comparison the Audi and Mercedes take 8.3 seconds and 7.3 seconds respectively. The front-wheel driven Audi is the most frugal here, returning 15.64 km/l against the BMW’s 14.79 km/l and Mercedes’ 14.74 km/l. Even in petrol engines, the case with the gearbox is the same as the units are shared with the diesel models, the BMW yet again leading with the best transmission.
Driving Dynamics – All three cars come with drive systems, the 3-Series getting four (Eco Pro, Comfort, Sports, Sports+), the C-Class’ Agility Select getting five (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual) and the Audi Drive Select having four (Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual). These only alter the engine, gearbox and steering (also AC in the case of the C-Class) but do nothing to the suspension. Mercedes-Benz no longer lets you turn off traction control, there is no switch while the Audi and BMW still have it. High speed stability and braking performance is excellent in all three cars but if we had to choose one, it would be the Mercedes. Both the C-Class and A4 don’t have ground clearance issues which can be a bother on the 3-Series. BMW’s emphasis on driving fun is evident as soon as you step inside the cabin, the 3-Series getting a manual handbrake, instead of a button activated one. Like it has always been the case, put forth a BMW in any battle and it wins the dynamics round with ease, it’s no different here.
The 3-Series has the best handling, with the best steering, stupendous body control, immense grip and sharp directional changes. The C-Class finishes second but it’s only second because the BMW is in contention here because the Merc offers a very engaging drive as well, having good steering feedback and eagerness to corner hard. While we know the C-Class is the heaviest here (the petrol C-Class and A4 are the same weight) but the surprising thing is that the rear-wheel drive 3-Series is lighter than the front-wheel driven Audi, the BMW also boasts of a perfect 50:50 weight distribution. The A4 simply isn’t as sharp or poised as its rear-wheel drive rivals and the steering lacks feedback at speed, feeling a bit artificial. Where the four-ringed sedan excels is ride quality, it rides the best here (thanks to smaller tyres with high profile) while the slightly stiffer C-Class isn’t as composed as the Audi. The 3-Series feels the worst in ride quality and can really make you uncomfortable on bad roads, the stiffness, low-profile rubber and the use of run flat tyres are to blame.
Safety and After Sales Service – All three cars are Euro NCAP 5-star rated but the C-Class has 7-airbags against the A4 and 3-Series’s six each. That’s not all, Mercedes offers more safety systems on board such as PRE-SAFE, ATTENTION ASSIT and curve dynamic assist. In terms of after sales service too, Mercedes has the best dealership network with the most outlets while Audi and BMW are still trying to play catch up but won’t be able to come close to the three pointed star as the AMG GT maker plans to open 15 new outlets this year.
Verdict – The current generation of the Audi A4 has been on sale since a very long time now and its successor is around the corner, in its current avatar, it simply can’t match the BMW 3-Series or the Mercedes C-Class, making it come third and last in this shootout. Between the folks from Munich and Stuttgart, it’s a very close battle because choosing one car between the two isn’t as easy as it appears. There is no doubt that the BMW has the better engines on offer and it also handles better. Meanwhile, the C-Class not only is fun from behind the wheel but also performs brilliantly for rear seat passengers. Being better looking inside-out with more equipment, better comfort and higher feel good factor makes the Mercedes win this shootout, the C-Class manages to please both the head and heart.
While it was obvious that the Audi A4 won’t be able to match the newer 3-Series and C-Class, the close rivalry between the BMW and Mercedes is testimony to the intense competition in this segment. The C-Class is just the better all-rounder here and the sheer elegance of the Mercedes plays in its favour.
Further Reading –
Picture Editing – Sri Manikanta Achanta