Is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class a Better Buy Than the BMW 3 Series?

People tend to believe that entry-level luxury cars aren’t as comfortable as their higher-priced counterparts. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class may be the exception to the rule. Its standard for luxury matches those of its larger siblings the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the S-Class models.

The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class also seems to offer great value for the money. But what happens when we compare it to another close rival, the BMW 3 Series? With some help from U.S. News, we’ll take a closer look at both cars to find out which is the better buy.

What U.S. News says about the new C-Class

This year the luxury small car field is crowded with at least 20 models. A few automakers have two or more representatives in this field, including Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the CLA-Class have yet to be reviewed by U.S. News, but it has given the C-Class a strong overall score of 8.1 out of 10. The car ranked sixth among the 20 cars on the news website’s list, which places it in the top third tier of the segment.

Reviewers at U.S. News were impressed with the range of robust engine options on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. This powertrain comes standard in the C 300 and C300 4Matic variants.

Higher-powered engine options are the AMG models. The AMG C 43 is powered by a 385-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6. The AMG C 63 comes equipped with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that makes 469 hp while the AMG C 63 S uses the same engine as the AMG C 63 that is tuned to pump out 503 hp. All engines are paired with nine-speed automatic transmissions.

Another highlight of this Mercedes-Benz is its elegant interior. Reviewers at U.S. News appreciated the cabin’s well-thought-out and stylish design. They particularly liked the car’s high-quality materials such as wood and aluminum trim and the excellent grade of synthetic upholstery leather that comes standard. Genuine leather and Nappa leather are also available.

And if we’re talking about options, it’s worth mentioning here that the C-Class offers quite a few. Buyers can choose heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic roof, three-zone climate control, a head-up display, wireless charging and more.

What the 2020 BMW 3 Series offers

In U.S. News’ list of new luxury small cars, the BMW 3 Series is tied with the Volvo S60 for seventh place, right behind the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It earned an overall score of 7.9 out of 10.

Like the C-Class, the 3 Series offers options for vigorous engines. The 330i runs on a 255-hp four-cylinder that can go from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, while the M340i xDrive makes 382 hp and does 0 to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds. Both engines are mated to a polished eight-speed transmission.

Besides its energetic engine choices, the 3 Series’ handling is bolstered by a retuned suspension and a bigger, stiffer chassis. But the car also balances responsive handling with a comfortable ride, giving its occupants the best of both worlds.

Inside, the BMW 3 Series has ample cabin space. In particular, its rear-seat legroom is more generous than many other cars in this class. Trunk space is plentiful as well, measuring 17 cubic feet of space.

And although the 3 Series feels roomy inside, it’s rather spartan and lacks the upscale trim and upholstery that most buyers look for in this segment. Some materials are lower grade, and the car’s minimalist aesthetic might not appeal to some.

Which car gives you more value for the money?

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class has a starting price of $41,400, and buyers can spend up to $84,900 depending on the options they choose. While the new BMW 3 Series starts at $40,750, the MSRP range tops out at $56,000 because the standalone options are much fewer.

Both cars score a lofty 9.8 out of 10 on safety, according to U.S. News. Their J.D. Power reliability scores are similar, too, with 2.5 out of five for the C-Class and three out of five for the 3 Series. The BMW’s EPA estimates are only slightly better with 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, compared to the Mercedes-Benz’s 24 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.

So which luxury small car is a better buy? Both are great cars. But it will depend on your personality and what you want from a car in this segment. We recommend that you test-drive both, just to be sure.

If you like the feel of an active driving experience in which responsive handling and a muscular base engine play a large part, then the BMW 3 Series is the better buy. You’ll get a comfortable ride without sacrificing driving fun. The extra cabin and truck space are also a plus.

However, if you enjoy the extravagance of what might be a best-in-class interior and want many options to choose from, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class would be the better choice.

It’s also a smart selection if you want a different body type than a sedan since the C-Class is offered as a coupe and a convertible as well. As long as you’re aware of how much more the various options will hike the final sticker price, then the Mercedes-Benz C-Class might be the right car for you.