Sports Sedan Showdown: BMW 3 Series vs. Mercedes-Benz C-Class – Consumer Reports

Consider yourself fortunate if you find yourself in the enviable situation where you face such a brutal decision: Which sports sedan should I buy? And if you’ve winnowed your options down to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, you have a tough choice to make.

Both the BMW and Mercedes are finely honed cars, worthy of lust, envy, and car payments. They offer all-wheel drive for those dwelling in winter’s snowy misery and fire-breathing high-horsepower variants that can run with some of the most coveted sports cars in the world. The bottom line is that they both deliver satisfying driving experiences and provide comfortable and well-fitted cabins.

The all-wheel-drive BMW 330i that we recently tested was fun to drive in typical 3 Series fashion. Handling is taut and agile, and the 330i tackles corners enthusiastically with quick turn-in response and limited body lean. Track-bound drivers will be rewarded with the BMW’s strong grip and balanced behavior at—or even past—its cornering limits.

The 330i’s 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine pulls strongly yet still delivers a commendable 26 mpg overall when paired with the slick eight-speed automatic transmission. We measured 0-to-60-mph acceleration at 6.9 seconds, falling right in line with the C300’s turbocharged four-cylinder. Some of us miss the days when an inline six-cylinder engine was standard (and not all testers are enamored with the four-cylinder engine’s rather unrefined tone). Today, you have to step up to the 340i and be ready to shell out an additional $9,150 for six-cylinder privilege.

When it comes to picking which 3 Series to buy, for our money, we’d get the 330i. Opting for the no-cost Sport trim includes a sport suspension and sports seats. Buyers who want a ride that’s less firm or seats that are less confining should consider getting the Luxury version and omitting the standard sports seats. We’d also add the Driver Assistance and Driver Assistance Plus packages to get expected safety features, including forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring.

Despite the posh overall feel, the C300 is surprisingly engaging to drive. For a luxury car, the C-Class possesses remarkable agility. Setting brand reputations aside, when it comes to driving enjoyment, this Mercedes gives up little to its BMW archrival.

Like the 3 Series, we were always fond of the C-Class’s slick six-cylinder engines. And though it may seem a bit odd at first to hear and feel the thrum and tingle of a four-cylinder engine in a Mercedes, our tested C300’s 2.0-liter turbo’s 241 horses provide ample punch, as evidenced by a commendable 6.8-second dash to 60 mph.

The seven-speed automatic transmission works well, but we rank it half a notch lower than the eight-speed unit serving in the BMW. Shifts are smooth and timely, but they are noticeable and some part-throttle downshifts may not be swift enough in Comfort mode. Plus, the four-cylinder engine sounding somewhat like a diesel detracts from the premium experience.

We measured 26 mpg overall—commendable for a quick 3,670-pound AWD sedan.

The arguments against the C-Class? Well, some commonly expected features, such as phone voice commands, are not standard. And brace yourself for sorting out the car’s complex controls, with its combination of a controller knob and touchpad on the console that make even simple selections, like changing an audio source, a distraction.

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