The question now is whether the C-Class Estate can repeat the feat with the all-new 3 Series Touring. It might be a little old-fashioned to look at, but its elegant proportions still have plenty of car park kudos, especially in the AMG Sport Plus trim tested here. This racy range-topper features a neat bodykit and two-tone 18-inch alloys, xenon headlamps and LED daytime running lights.
Inside, the Mercedes’ age is more apparent. The square, low-set dash is dated compared with the swish designs in the Audi and BMW. And while build quality is generally excellent, a few materials aren’t quite up to scratch. Features like the foot-operated parking brake and single stalk for the lights and wipers don’t take long to get used to, but the BMW’s infotainment screen is bigger and clearer.
The cabin’s cramped feel is more of an issue. There’s less wheel and seat movement, while the shortest wheelbase on test hurts rear legroom, and a large transmission tunnel means the middle seat is cramped.
However, a large, well shaped boot has always been a key advantage for the C-Class estate, and that’s still the case here. A low load lip and load-securing eyelets are also plus points and, although the BMW’s luggage area is 10 litres bigger with the seats up, the C-Class matches it with the rear bench folded.
The Mercedes does without the Touring’s handy opening rear screen, though, and the standard-fit powered tailgate is too slow. With no handles in the boot you can’t fold the seats from the rear, either.
But while the BMW has edged ahead in the boot volume race, there’s no disputing the Mercedes’ advantage under the bonnet. With a whopping 620Nm of torque (more than a C63 AMG), the C350 CDI delivers effortless performance matched to decent refinement.
The 7G-Tronic box works smoothly in auto mode, keeping the CDI engine at its most refined. And while the C350 trailed the 330d at the track (despite delivering 60Nm more torque), all our cars have performance to spare and won’t leave you feeling short-changed.
Unfortunately for Mercedes, the C-Class is the dirtiest model on test. Despite carrying a similar price tag to the BMW, it sits five tax bands higher, making it a costly company car choice. This could be a deal breaker in such a closely matched market, especially as the C-Class isn’t as sharp or engaging in corners as the new 3 Series Touring.
Thanks to standard adaptive dampers, it rides better than the stiff A4 S line. Yet despite its performance and refinement, the Mercedes’ slight shortcomings in space, cost and driver engagement are highlighted by the BMW. So, can it hold on to its crown?