The compact exec class is still big business, so it’s no surprise that Mercedes has pulled out all the stops for its new C-Class. Boasting sleeker exterior styling, an even more upmarket interior and plenty of tech from the S-Class, it’s aiming for the top.
Yet there’s more to the C-Class than good looks and kit. It also features efficient engines to reduce business users’ Benefit-in-Kind tax bills, while it’s roomier and more practical than before, too. The C220 CDI diesel is expected to be the best seller, and we’ve tested it here in sporty AMG Line trim.
Standing in the way is our current class champ, the BMW 3 Series. With its sublime driving experience, impeccable image and low running costs, it’s ruled the roost since 2012.
The other big rival is Audi’s A4. It’s getting on a bit, but still sets the standard for quality and S line models get plenty of standard kit. So which of our trio of classy saloons will be the undisputed king of the company car park?
Click on the links above to read each review, then read on for our verdict.
Adaptive dampers are becoming commonplace – the Mercedes gets them as standard, while they’re optional on the BMW and Audi. However, the C-Class goes one better by bringing air-suspension to the compact exec class. An £890 option on the Sport and AMG Line, this S-Class-inspired kit has a self-levelling function, plus it lowers the car on motorways to improve aerodynamics. It’s also possible to raise the ride height by 25mm.
These cars are aimed at business users, so low CO2 emissions are vital. The Audi is the oldest car here and emits 120g/km – 1g/km more than the BMW. Yet lower-powered eco-friendly models of both are available, with 109g/km. The manual Mercedes leads the way with its 106g/km figure.
If you the tried-and-tested 7G-Tronic box fitted to our Mercedes it’ll set you back £1,500, while front-wheel-drive A4s get a £1,480 CVT set-up. Best of the bunch is the BMW’s smooth £1,550 eight-speed transmission.
Its margin of victory has been reduced, but the 3 Series is still the car we’d go for. Sparkling dynamics, low running costs, excellent build quality, decent equipment and a solid-gold image combine to make the BMW the best compact exec on sale.
Close but no cigar for the Mercedes. The sleek exterior and beautifully executed interior give the car a mini-limousine feel, plus it has low emissions and plenty of hi-tech kit. But it’s undermined by a raucous engine note and hesitant gearbox.
Despite its advancing years, the A4 is still a very desirable proposition. It looks great, is solidly finished and has a smooth engine. Yet the cabin looks dated, the car is uninspiring to drive and it’s not as cost-effective to run as its rivals.
|BMW 320d M Sport||Mercedes C220 BlueTEC AMG Line||Audi A4 2.0 TDI S line 177|
|On-the-road price/total as tested||£31,775/£39,480||£34,355/£42,750||£30,875/£30,875|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)||£13,663/43.0%||£15,563/45.3%||£13,215/42.8%|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£1,205/£2,411||£1,235/£2,470||£1,233/£2,466|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£1,631/£2,718||£1,947/£3,245||£1,552/£2,587|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost||32/£404/C/£30||31/£445/C/£30||27/£384/C/£30|
|Servicing costs||£425 (5 years)||£30pcm (3 years)||£22 pcm (3 years)|
|Engine||4cyl in-line/1,995cc||4cyl in-line/2,143cc||4cyl in-line/1,968cc|
|Peak power||181/4,000 bhp/rpm||168/3,000 bhp/rpm||175/4,200 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque||380/1,750 Nm/rpm||400/1,400 Nm/rpm||380/1,750 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||6-spd man/RWD||7-spd auto/RWD||6-spd man/FWD|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||57 litres/run-flat||66 litres/run-flat||63 litres/space-saver|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)||480 litres/N/A||480 litres/N/A||480/962 litres|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||11.3 metres/0.27Cd||11.2 metres/0.24Cd||11.4 metres/0.27Cd|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (unltd)/3yrs||3yrs (unltd)/4yrs||3yrs (60,000)/3yrs|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||Variable/153||Variable/136||Variable/121|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||10th/24th^||9th/12th^||12th/23rd^|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./points||95/84/78/5 stars||92/84/77/5 stars||93/84/39/5 stars|
|0-60/30-70mph||7.3/6.7 secs||7.4/7.3 secs||8.4/7.4 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||3.3/5.3 secs||3.4/5.4 secs||3.6/5.3 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th||6.2/8.7 secs/N/A||7.3/9.3 secs/N/A||6.9/9.7 secs/N/A|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||146mph/2,000rpm||145mph/1,600rpm||143mph/2,000rpm|
|Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph||68/48/61/68dB||67/43/63/70dB||N/A|
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range||45.5/10.0/571 miles||38.1/8.4/553 miles||47.8/10.5/662 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||166/119g/km/19%||199/113g/km/18%||158/120g/km/20%|
|Automatic box/stability/cruise control||£1,550/yes/yes||£1,500/yes/yes||£1,480/yes/yes|
|Climate control/leather/heated seats||Yes/yes/£325||Yes/man-made/yes||Yes/part/£300|
|Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless entry||£645/no/£495||£645/yes/£1,595*||£615/no/£470|