Car group tests

Mercedes C-Class vs executive car rivals

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

Merc vs BMW vs 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

BMW 3 Series M Sport - front cornering

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

Audi A4 front turn

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 SportMercedes C220 BlueTEC AMG LineAudi 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/cost32/£404/C/£3031/£445/C/£3027/£384/C/£30
Servicing costs£425 (5 years)£30pcm (3 years)£22 pcm (3 years)
    
Length/wheelbase4,624/2,810mm4,686/2,840mm4,701/2,808mm
Height/width1,429/1,811mm1,442/1,810mm1,427/1,826mm
Engine 4cyl in-line/1,995cc4cyl in-line/2,143cc4cyl in-line/1,968cc
Peak power181/4,000 bhp/rpm168/3,000 bhp/rpm175/4,200 bhp/rpm
Peak torque 380/1,750 Nm/rpm400/1,400 Nm/rpm380/1,750 Nm/rpm
Transmission6-spd man/RWD7-spd auto/RWD6-spd man/FWD
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel57 litres/run-flat66 litres/run-flat63 litres/space-saver
Boot capacity (seats up/down)480 litres/N/A480 litres/N/A480/962 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,495/475/1,600kg1,570/565/1,800kg1,480/550/1,600kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient11.3 metres/0.27Cd11.2 metres/0.24Cd11.4 metres/0.27Cd
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (unltd)/3yrs3yrs (unltd)/4yrs3yrs (60,000)/3yrs
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable/153Variable/136Variable/121
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.10th/24th^9th/12th^12th/23rd^
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./points95/84/78/5 stars92/84/77/5 stars93/84/39/5 stars
    
0-60/30-70mph7.3/6.7 secs7.4/7.3 secs8.4/7.4 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th3.3/5.3 secs3.4/5.4 secs3.6/5.3 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th6.2/8.7 secs/N/A7.3/9.3 secs/N/A6.9/9.7 secs/N/A
Top speed/rpm at 70mph146mph/2,000rpm145mph/1,600rpm143mph/2,000rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph47.1/34.4/8.6m50.3/36.6/9.5m44.7/32.4/8.5m
Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph68/48/61/68dB67/43/63/70dBN/A
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range45.5/10.0/571 miles38.1/8.4/553 miles47.8/10.5/662 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined48.7/74.3/62.8mpg53.3/78.5/65.7mpg51.4/68.9/61.4mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined10.7/16.3/13.8mpl11.7/17.3/14.4mpl11.3/15.2/13.5mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket166/119g/km/19%199/113g/km/18%158/120g/km/20%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park. sensors/cameraSix/yes/yes/£330Seven/yes/yes/yesSix/yes/yes/£325
Automatic box/stability/cruise control£1,550/yes/yes£1,500/yes/yes£1,480/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/yes/£325Yes/man-made/yesYes/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/yesYes/yes/yes/yes£1,695/yes/yes/yes

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