Mercedes C-Class vs executive car rivals

Merc vs BMW vs Audi
8 Jul, 2014 3:15pm

Luxurious new Mercedes C-Class takes on compact executive car stalwarts from BMW and Audi

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?

Mercedes C-Class review

• BMW 3 Series review

• Audi A4 review

Click on the links above to read each review, then read on for our verdict.

Head-to-head

Suspension

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.

Emissions

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.

Auto gearboxes

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.

Verdict

1st place: BMW 3 Series

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.

2nd place: Mercedes C-Class

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.

3rd place: Audi A4

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.

Figures

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%
Depreciation £18,112 £18,792 £17,661
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)
Length/wheelbase 4,624/2,810mm 4,686/2,840mm 4,701/2,808mm
Height/width 1,429/1,811mm 1,442/1,810mm 1,427/1,826mm
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
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight 1,495/475/1,600kg 1,570/565/1,800kg 1,480/550/1,600kg
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
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 47.1/34.4/8.6m 50.3/36.6/9.5m 44.7/32.4/8.5m
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
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 48.7/74.3/62.8mpg 53.3/78.5/65.7mpg 51.4/68.9/61.4mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 10.7/16.3/13.8mpl 11.7/17.3/14.4mpl 11.3/15.2/13.5mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 166/119g/km/19% 199/113g/km/18% 158/120g/km/20%
Airbags/Isofix/park. sensors/camera Six/yes/yes/£330 Seven/yes/yes/yes Six/yes/yes/£325
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
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/Bluetooth £890/yes/yes/yes Yes/yes/yes/yes £1,695/yes/yes/yes

Disqus - noscript

A4 not cost effective ? So you get a lot of standard kit and the actual mpg is better than both the merc and the bmw despite the official ratings that state THE EXACT OPPOSITE! Residuals are also pretty close to the other two.
It may be dated, but the costs of owning one is at least on par with the others.

I always laugh when the word "executive" is used in the same sentence as cars like these.

Oh, and also, it's the cheapest to buy ... go figure.
So please AE, some consistency to your review would be nice.
P.S. - if it were my pic, I'd go for the C-class

The A4 looks much better compared to the other two on paper with better fuel economy from a much older car. And the braking distances are far superior on the Audi too

The a4 looks very bland compared to the other two. No character at all. Very boring indeed.

BMW kickkk A.... hehhe

BMW? The fact is that the 3 series is a very ordinary car. The build is no better than most other cars, and the interior is littered with hard plastics & cheap materials - Eg try adjusting the seat or pulling the hand brake. The diesels make a horrible noise, being extremely noisy, and very rattly. There used to be a saying that "it's not a proper BMW unless it has 6 cylinders". Oh how true!! The zillions of 4 cylinder rattly 320d rep-mobiles crowding our streets today are the reason BMW's are considered "very ordinary - run of the mill", and is why virtually no one "desires" a BMW today, other than those "sun glasses any weather, arms glued to the window fools", some who may also have spec'd big wheels and leather (thinking no one else could possibly have leather in their cars!), who delude themselves by hoping other drivers and their neighbours are jealous.

The 6 cylinder E46 was a lovely car, especially the coupe & convertible, but the design has become consistently uglier with every incarnation, and the lovely noise that the 6 cylinder petrols used to make is now a thing of the past.

The 320D is today's mass produced rep-mobile - available cheap on mass, but ridiculously over priced (as per the other mass produced rep-mobiles - A4 & C class) if a private buyer is foolish enough to pay anywhere near the silly showroom price, just to "have the badge" - now a meaningless symbol of the past.

Where is the Lexus IS???????? Obviously it's the much newer car compared to current Audi A4, it deserves to be included in this comparison test. How come Autoexpress forgot to include this car?

Nice to see BMW win for a change. In fairness the audi probably deserved second spot. Glad to see no golfs.

BMW takes a well deserved win here, better all round to drive and own, excellent build quality, great interior and image without the stigma of driving an Audi or old mans Merc. Why no Lexus, because it's a Toyota with a hideous grill and zero desirability.

BMW winning for a change? Look at AutoExpress' other comparisons of BMWs, Audis, and Mercs and you'll see nearly all of them being the BMW. And what makes the Audi deserve second place?

The audi deserves second place as the Diesel engine doesn't sound like a chainsaw being started up. The new c class still suffers from bad Diesel engines.

Yawn... are we not now past referring to Lexus' models as "Toyota's" - That joke was perhaps "funny" in 1989, but hey unless you take off your tinted specs then I guess it will always be funny (to you) - The irony is that only the CT shares a platform with a Toyota in the UK and even then the interiors and design are completely different. Same can't be said for Audi, can it!! Do you call Audi's "VW's"? Fact is.... more and more platform sharing is going to happen.... heck, your BMW is working with Toyota on collaboration. Oh, and finally, yeah, the Lexus LFA, ISF, forthcoming RCF have no desirability at all have they! *rolls eyes*

Perhaps because it would come close to ruffling the establishment? Reviews say it has a great chassis, high quality fixtures and fittings, but let down only by the CVT 'box. Will be interesting if/when they stick the new 2.0L Turbo in with sequential gears... it might finally get some deserved recognition.

Yet again Mercedes engine is a rough old sod WHY I ask supposed top quality manufacturer and still they produce below par engines.. again I ask you directly Mercedes WHY ? That pointed star is a myth , as has been said what does this over priced car have other than a plastic 3 pointed star on its bonnet Image that,s all and a poor one at that ! Take the BMW I say even though its ride is second rate

What exactly is bad about the engine?
Does the crankshaft or timing chains break on a regular basis?
It is not any noisier than the BMW! I know that from experience.
The VAG 2.0L TDI is not a good engine, there was a lot of problems with it and I was told this by an Audi dealer when I had a test drive in the new A3 2.0 TDI last year. He said that they hoped the new 2.0 TDI 150 and 180 would be better than the previous TDI engine. Unfortunately the A4 still uses that engine.
Just because a diesel engine sounds a bit noisy at startup does not mean it is a bad engine! Longevity and reliability is what makes an engine good.
And chainsaws are petrol power!!!

I always laugh when I hear the word premium used for VW which is a lot on this website. Underpowered middle class bore fest.

Fair enough result.
Think the merc looks the better car though.
What's worrying for bm and merc though, is the fact this a4 is getting old now, yet still has a better engine.
Mind audi have alot in their artillary these days, with the likes of bentley, porsche, lambo etc developing the tech and engines and vice versa.

Not sure why you've brought VW into this, but it seems to me that VW is exactly the opposite to what you have said.

Ok, playing devil's advocate....What does premium mean?
If it means build quality, high quality interior fittings & electronics (soft touch etc), quality comfortable seats and various desirables, then (when you compare models of a similar price - that is important) then VW has far more right to call it's models premium than BMW has.

With regard to power (once again comparing models of a similar price) VW's far exceed BMW in performance terms. It's true - check out the manufacturers web sites for their stats, and compare like with like.

Boring? I'm sorry, but what is more utterly boring than the hoards of 118d/120d/318d/320d's .... my God, just the very mention of them sends everyone to sleep.

I'd still take the 3 series. The Merc looks stunning inside and out, and the Audi remains a very decent car, but, providing you avoid blingy M Sport trim, I like the understated style of the 3 series and the underlying quality. It's not perfect but my parents have a 320d and poking around you can see where the extra money goes. Plus dealers are keen do a deal - they got £6k off a factory order model.

I don't understand why the A4 engine would be considered the better engine, when it is the most fragile engine on the market.

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It's hard to compare because BMWs are more expensive than VW so you are invariably comparing a base level bmw with a high spec golf.

Audi is VWs premium arm so how can a car intended for all the people truly be premium? By definition only a limited number of companies can be premium.

Having sat in the Mercedes I can't recommend it enough - it has a stunning interior for the class of car.

Spot on, finally someone says the truth b/c they are brainwashed by BM propaganda.

Ultimate driving machine......only for those who don't know about cars.

When they lower the price so quickly and so easily, whether that cars, houses, etc., it's b/c they overpriced it in the first place. It's an old sales trick. The mugs end up paying what the salesman wanted in the first place.

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