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2021 BMW 3 Series or 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class? Pros and Cons Review

2021-bmw-3-series-or-2021-mercedes-benz-c-class?-pros-and-cons-review
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Full Overview

The rivalry between the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class is one of the oldest in the compact luxury sedan segment. These two icons compete for supremacy with their own approaches to style and performance. For 2021, these approaches have hardly ever been more different, despite some specifications being quite similar. Is the 2021 BMW 3 Series better than the 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class? Here are some of the considerations we made in our decision.

2021 BMW 3 Series: Pros Over the C-Class

Newness

The current G20-generation 3 Series was introduced for the 2019 model year. Meanwhile, the W205 C-Class went on sale for 2015 and received a refresh for 2019 that brought styling, technology, and performance improvements. Newer doesn’t necessarily mean better, but the 3 Series is indisputably a fresher sight on the road. The C-Class is starting to look a bit familiar. The tables will turn when the next-generation C-Class is revealed, likely for the 2022 model year.

Fuel Economy

With a few exceptions, the 3 Series achieves better fuel economy than comparable C-Class rivals. The rear-drive 330i and C300 both have a turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 producing 255 hp, but the 3 Series uses an eight-speed automatic transmission while the C-Class has a nine-speed unit. Nevertheless, the 330i gets 26/36 mpg city/highway, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, while the C300 sedan returns 23/35 mpg.

Up the range, the M340i and C43 AMG each have a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder, which gets 23/32 mpg in the BMW and 18/27 mpg in the AMG. That’s despite the M340i having just a 2-hp deficit to the C43’s 385-hp output.

In a twist, the twin-turbo 3.0-liter I-6-powered M3 and M3 Competition get worse fuel economy than the C63 and C63 S, which pack a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8. The M cars are rated at 16/23 mpg, while the AMGs get 17/26 mpg—a surprise considering their similar power output.

The 330e plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid is the clear choice for the economy-conscious. It gets a 75-mpg-e combined rating and approximately 22 miles of all-electric range. There’s no hybrid equivalent in the C-Class lineup.

Value

IntelliChoice is a MotorTrend subsidiary focused on determining car values. Looking at a five-year ownership period, the 3 Series range earns an Above Average value rating while the C-Class lineup gets a Below Average score. However, the AMG models skew the overall value rating of the C-Class. Those earn Poor IntelliChoice value scores due to their depreciation, thirst for fuel, and expensive maintenance costs. It’s been a similar case with past M3s. For more entry-level models, the value equations improve. The C300 earns a Good rating while the 330i gets the highest Excellent score; anticipated five-year ownership costs differ by about $2,000.

Transmission Choices

Manual transmissions are an increasing rarity in 2021, and the compact luxury sedan segment is no exception. Every 3 Series is equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission—except for one. The M3 is offered with a true six-speed, three-pedal, do-it-yourself manual transmission for more driver involvement. However, the more- powerful M3 Competition can only be had with the automatic. We’d prefer that BMW offered a stick shift in more 3 Series models, but if there can only be one, it’s a good thing it’s the M3. Regardless, the eight-speed auto’s tuning is top-notch. Meanwhile, every C-Class variant gets a nine-speed automatic transmission, not nearly as satisfying for enthusiasts who prefer to shift manually.

2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class: Pros Over the 3 Series

Styling

We’ll come right out and say it: The C-Class looks better than the 3 Series, inside and out. The design is a few years old but still looks good, with elegant, understated bodywork that’s offset by eye-catching LED headlights and taillights. Likewise, the cabin is fitted with large panes of wood and metal-look trim. Meanwhile, the 3 Series is somewhat disjointed, wearing different styling cues that look neat individually but don’t come together cohesively. Its interior is comparatively inartistic, not to mention riddled with buttons.

Between the AMG and M cars, there’s no comparison. The broad-shouldered C63 looks properly muscular, while the M3 is just straight-up—well, have you seen it?

Luxury

For a vehicle that aims to be a luxury cruiser, the C-Class rides a bit firm. Otherwise, though, it’s convincingly luxurious. Classical styling gives the C-Class a look that’s distinctly Mercedes, while the interior enjoys materials suitable for the brand’s highest-end sedans. The standard big-screen infotainment suite lends a modern vibe to the cabin.

Meanwhile, the 3 Series feels well assembled but has some cheap-feeling details that indicate its mid-tier status in BMW’s range. The available M Sport suspension setup does the most to undermine the luxury claim of the 3 Series. It’s stiff and uncomfortable and doesn’t return a worthwhile handling improvement.

Technology

Despite being an older car, the C-Class has a technology edge over the 3 Series. The Mercedes comes standard with a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The BMW can match with screens of the same size, but those are optional or included depending on trim; dual 8.8-inch screens are standard. Even with the optional screens, the BMW’s graphics aren’t as attractive and crisp, and the C-Class offers more options to reconfigure and personalize readouts. For those who are just going to plug in their smartphones, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard on both vehicles.

Safety

The 3 Series earned the 2020 Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the second-highest accolade from the institution. Only the Top Safety Pick+ designation is better—and the C-Class earned it. Both vehicles received the highest possible score of Good in every crash test. However, the entry-level headlights of the 3 Series got the lowest score of Poor. The basic headlights of the C-Class got an Acceptable score, the second-highest.

Both the C-Class and 3 Series include front automatic emergency braking and rain-sensing windshield wipers. The C-Class has blind-spot monitoring, which is optional on the 3 Series. In order to receive Top Safety Pick + status, the C-Class must be equipped with the Driver Assistance package, which adds rear cross-traffic alert, as well as adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and emergency evasive steering, among other features.

The Verdict

Once the benchmark-setting compact luxury sedan, the 3 Series seems to have lost its way. It falls somewhere between luxurious and sporty—and doesn’t quite succeed at being either. The C-Class feels more decided in its mission. In basic trims, it’s comfortable and nicely appointed, and the AMG models are proper fun. Whatever the case, the better styling and technology appointments of the C-Class make it our choice over the 3 Series.

Looks good! More details?

2021 BMW 3 Series: Pros Over the C-Class

  • Newer
  • Better fuel economy
  • Available manual transmission
  • Stronger value

2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class: Pros Over the 3 Series

  • Better looking
  • More luxurious
  • Compelling standard tech
  • Higher IIHS safety rating

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