The only automotive rivalry older than Ford versus Chevy is BMW versus Mercedes-Benz. However, stark distinctions exist between the American and German rivalries. Ford and Chevy notably vie for things like durability and brute power, while their German counterparts compete to be the most luxurious, innovative, and technologically advanced.
The current W205 Mercedes-Benz C-Class hit showrooms in 2015, so the 2019 update brought necessary performance, technology, and style improvements. On the other hand, the G20 BMW 3 Series hit the market in 2019 and undoubtedly stole the show with its newness.
But when the next-generation Mercedes C-Class debuts in 2022, BMW might be forced to go back to the drawing board.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
MotorTrend recently reviewed the 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class and 2021 BMW 3 Series side-by-side. Both seem equal at a glance, so let’s compare them feature-by-feature. Sometimes a modern, fresh look isn’t enough.
The issue with entry-level luxury sedans is that some are slightly bland, while others are too sporty. In other words, a luxury sedan should feel professional during the workweek yet fun and exciting on the weekend. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class has always pulled this off — it fits well in any situation. The icing on the cake? Roughly $43,000 can have you cruising the town like a black-tie exec in a C300. If you prefer a sportier sedan, Mercedes-Benz offers the pricier 385-hp AMG C43.
Though the C300 is fast approaching the end of its generational life cycle, it still sports a stylish exterior, a comfortable interior, and modern tech. Automotive journalists, including those at MotorTrend, seem to agree that a redesigned, next-gen C300 will likely debut next year. Depending on how you’re feeling, the 2021 C300 is available as a sedan, coupe, or convertible — from purely business to fun in the sun.
But don’t let the W204 C-Class’s age fool you into thinking the newer and fresher BMW G20 3 Series is more tech-savvy. Despite the 14-year gap between generations, the Mercedes provides more niftiness than its competitor. For example, it allows you to personalize and reconfigure readouts to fit your taste. Then there’s the fact that the C-Class gifts you with a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen.
Other nice standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity keyless entry, and a sunroof. True to Benz form, the highly stylish cabin comprises top-notch materials.
The 2021 BMW 3 Series
The BMW G20 sedan and BMW G21 Touring wagon are neck-and-neck with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class in many ways. Nonetheless, the biggest issue is that BMW doesn’t seem keen on offering many of those features as standard. Maybe that will change, but don’t count on it happening so soon after a significant redesign effort. With that said, the BMW offers a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system as well. But you have to purchase the Live Cockpit Pro package or buy one of the higher trims. BMW even makes you pay for the newest and most capable version of the iDrive system.
For you penny pinchers, at least you can brag about having dual 8.8-inch screens. Plus, MotorTrend reported that the optional touchscreens are lackluster.
BMW does attempt to make up for optionalizing every cent from your pocket with its modern-feeling interior, complete with superb materials and stately build quality. With well-placed and easy-to-use controls, there isn’t a single thing that feels or looks cheap. The new 3 Series boasts better outward visibility than previous models. BMW decided that improved visibility goes great with sporty bucket seats, so they come standard. To BMW’s credit, it even threw in advanced adjustment as standard.
The BMW 3 Series hasn’t quite brought its safety features up to par
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) designated the BMW 3 Series as a 2020 Top Safety Pick. That’s the institute’s second-highest award and not a cakewalk to achieve. However, the IIHS slapped the 330i (the 3 Series base model) headlights with a “Poor” rating, the lowest score. The IIHS ranked the Mercedes-Benz C-Class’s basic headlights as “Acceptable,” the second-highest designation.
Both the 3 Series and C-Class proved themselves worthy of the highest IIHS score of “Good” in every crash test. Both luxury sedans come standard with rain-sensing windshield wipers and front automatic emergency braking. From here on out, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class forces the BMW to take a seat while it racks up all sorts of designations. For example, the Benz provides blind-spot monitoring standard, while the BMW once again offers it as an option.
The C-Class finished its rival off in safety by earning the IIHS Top Safety Pick+. That means Mercedes-Benz had to equip its C-Class with emergency evasive steering, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and other assistive features. This comprehensive safety bundle is called the Driver Assistance Package.
And though you may find other brands use that term, it’s important to remember that any given package can differ. Be sure to read the list of features included in the bundle to know what you’re getting.
The BMW 3 Series may have once been considered the benchmark-setting luxury sedan of its class. But it seems this Beemer has veered slightly. Falling ambiguously between a luxury sedan and sports car, the 3 Series not only fails at being either but also might soon find the Mercedes-Benz C-Class far in the lead. The C-Class is old school and continues to stick to a solid set of principles — principles that are already at work designing next year’s probable reveal. If you’re looking to bet your money on one or the other, the C-Class clearly stands out.