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BMW 335i vs. Mercedes E350

Hot BMW coupé has sharpened up with new turbo engine but Mercedes blend of style and pace is a fine choice

BMW 335i

The storming BMW M3 steals the headlines in the 3-Series line-up, but don’t forget the 335i. With a new turbocharged six-cylinder engine, it promises to be just as exhilarating, and at a much lower price. Is it the coupé to have?

Spotting the changes over the old model isn’t easy, and the main differences are its redesigned bumpers and headlights. However, M Sport models feature bespoke aerodynamic styling that includes a subtle bodykit and deep front bumper. Combined with the revised grille and distinctive headlights, the front end is particularly aggressive.

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Dark exterior trim contrasts with the chrome on the Mercedes and ensures the BMW looks less flashy and more focused than its rival. Flared wheelarches, twin exhausts and a subtle diffuser add to the air of understated intent. It’s not as outrageous or muscular as its M3 stablemate, but we think its clean design is more appealing than the Mercedes’.

Thanks to dark finishes for the headlining, leather seats and dashboard, the cabin feels much smaller than the E350’s. However, the lower seating position and higher transmission tunnel give a much more intimate feel.

In fact, getting the correct driving position is even easier than in the Mercedes, thanks to an extendable squab and simpler controls to adjust the supportive seats. A smaller diameter steering wheel and stubby gearlever improve matters, although some drivers are likely to find the wheel rim too thick. The rest of the interior is logically laid out and easy to use. But while access to the rear seats is good, taller passengers will struggle for headroom once inside, as with the Mercedes.

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On the road, the 335i feels much sharper and more focused than the E350. This is partly down to the quick-shifting optional dual-clutch gearbox fitted to our test car. It doesn’t match the smoothness of its conventional rival, but helps the 335i sprint from 0-60mph in a blistering 5.4 seconds. In-gear acceleration is equally impressive, thanks to lag-free power delivery from the variable vane turbo engine.

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The straight-six unit sounds great, with a hard-edged metallic exhaust note. And despite its explosive turbocharged performance, the BMW is so smooth and linear it feels similar to a powerful normally aspirated unit from behind the wheel.

Add such a potent and rewarding engine to a brilliantly balanced chassis and the BMW has all the hallmarks of a truly entertaining driver’s car. Only the heavy steering and stiff motorway ride attract any criticism, because in every other respect, the 335i is a seriously impressive machine.

The BMW’s set-up encourages you to drive it harder than the Mercedes, which undoubtedly had an impact on our test economy. It trailed its rival by 5.5mpg at the pumps, despite boasting lower CO2 emissions.

So the new 335i backs up its credentials as the thinking man’s M3, but is that enough to beat the E350 here?

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Mercedes E350

BIG coupés are often as much about style as they are about driving thrills. But Mercedes aims to cover both bases with the E350 CGI.

While the E-Class saloon looks staid compared to its class rivals, the transformation to racy two- door is much more successful. Pillarless side windows give the E350 a unique feel that’s missing from the BMW, and the open sides provide a greater sense of occasion on the move.

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A smattering of chrome trim around the window line adds visual interest, while the large grille, integrated star badge and LED daytime running lights give the Sport model an aggressive face. At the rear, the E350 features a pair of oval exhaust pipes on either side, which add to its racy appearance. Colour choice and specification are crucial to the success of its design, though, and it works best in darker colours and wearing the purposeful AMG wheels and bodykit of our car.

Light-coloured leather on the seats and doors makes the interior feel brighter and airier than the BMW. This is enhanced by the extra glass area afforded by the pillarless side windows. Getting comfortable is easy, thanks to electric adjustment for the wheel and seats, but the optional lumbar controls look and feel cheap.

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While interior quality doesn’t match Mercedes of yesteryear, it’s still well built. Everything appears to be more grown up than in its rival, with a more upright dashboard that even includes a big analogue clock in the main instrument cluster. Access to the rear seats is simple, and aided by headrests that lower automatically as the front seats slide and tilt forwards. Although spacious inside, taller occupants may struggle for headroom in the back seats.

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Soft suspension means the E350 is much smoother on the motorway. Its longer ratios mean it cruises at 70mph at a more relaxed 1,900rpm – 400rpm less than the BMW – and it provides a quieter, more relaxing ride.

The trade-off for this straight-line comfort is its performance in bends and during in-gear acceleration runs. Arrive at a corner, and the Mercedes rolls noticeably more than the BMW, and it can’t keep up under hard acceleration. However, a 0-60mph sprint time of 6.1 seconds isn’t slow and, while the steering could provide more feedback, the big coupé is still a capable machine. The relaxed side of its nature is complemented by the 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox, which shifts smoothly. However, in manual mode, the box can be slow to respond to downshifts, making for frustrating progress.

Its long gearing pays off at the pumps, as the E-Class returned an impressive 30.4mpg on our test. That is 5.5mpg more than the BMW, which actually has higher claimed economy on paper – we think this is partly a result of the 3-Series’ more engaging character, which encourages more spirited driving. And while the Mercedes doesn’t beat its rival on emissions, it is still efficient.

All of which leaves the E350 as a stylish, quick, practical and economical coupé – but one that lacks the fun factor of its rival.

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