2016 Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG Sport (C-Class)Enlarge Photo
The BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class have something in common--a badge that's among the most respected in the car world. But which one's a better car to buy and drive?
That's a tough question to answer, since both models are available in different body styles, with different powertrains, and have a distinct appeal to drivers. In our most recent test drives, we've become more enamored with one of them, thanks to a beautiful new shape and compelling performance--and that's the Mercedes C-Class.
Of course, neither car has yet been subject to our newer, tougher ratings scale; as soon as we've reviewed the 2017 models, we'll update this page. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
While the 3-Series and C-Class at one time were converging on the same sport-sedan target, they now take much different paths, most noticeably in styling. The new C-Class, which was one of our Best Car To Buy Nominees for 2015, borrows just enough from the S-Class flagship to be striking and exclusive; we think that its look and materials all speak a language that’s typically reserved for luxury flagships. We like everything from the shapely sheetmetal, oversize cues, and abundant brightwork to the way it works textures and colors inside.
Meanwhile, the 3-Series looks, well, just as you might expect a 3-Series to look if you’ve ever owned or even noticed this model before. The 3-Series is trim and athletic, with classic sport-sedan proportions and a rising beltline toward the back that helps visually lower the roofline. It’s a look that’s quite formal; and that theme continues inside, with a businesslike look centered around a horizontal dash layout and iDrive controller at the center console. What keeps the BMW from feeling too stark are some attractive trims and materials; although to most eyes it will be a notch behind the C-Class, even if you appreciate the less flamboyant sheetmetal outside.
Both cars come in coupe form; BMW's two-door is the 4-Series, while the new C-Class coupe arrives for the 2017 model year. The 3-Series also comes in a hatchback Gran Turismo body.
Both of these models are now powered by fuel-efficient, responsive turbocharged engines, with turbo 4-cylinder engines at the base level and twin-turbo inline-6s in upper-trim models, as well as a pretty tantalizing 4-cylinder turbodiesel option and a plug-in hybrid for the 3-Series. The C300 gets a 241-hp base engine that really boasts great drivability and pep; it’s our favorite over the 240-hp inline-4 in the 328i (also a 2.0-liter) or its detuned cousin the 320i.
For 2016, BMW's upgraded the 335i to become the 340i; it's rated at 320 hp, up 20 from the prior model. The mid-level C450 AMG Sport has a thundering 362 hp and a 7-speed automatic, good for sub-five-seconds times to 60 mph. It's as engaging as any C-Class ever has been, and has a more straightforward, less digital driving feel than the mid-range BMWs. Between the two, it's also a clear favorite.
2016 Mercedes-Benz C Class 4-door Sedan C300 Luxury RWD Side Exterior ViewEnlarge Photo
2016 Mercedes-Benz C Class 4-door Sedan C300 Luxury RWD Angular Front Exterior ViewEnlarge Photo
2016 Mercedes-Benz C Class 4-door Sedan C300 Luxury RWD DashboardEnlarge Photo
2016 Mercedes-Benz C Class 4-door Sedan C300 Luxury RWD EngineEnlarge Photo