One of the oldest automotive battles rages on.
BMW unveiled its updated 3 Series this week, and it's possibly one of the most successful facelifts we've seen in recent years. Despite choosing what might be the dreariest color option available on the palette for the press photography, the new 3 looks more grown-up and elegant than ever before.
Looking at the comments from our original post, most BMW fans are simply happy not to see the infamous bucktooth grille pasted to the front. The 3 Series will now face an even tougher challenge than the court of public opinion, however, as it's been unveiled just days after the new W206-generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class touched down in America. Given the timing - and the age-old rivalry between these two brands and models - it's the perfect time to do an updated comparison of what might be the oldest, most-argued-about two-car shootout on the internet.
Here's the 2022 version of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class versus the BMW 3 Series.
Traditionally, both of these cars used to be scaled-down versions of the ultimate luxury barges available within respective brands. Mercedes-Benz continues to use this proven method, making the C-Class look like a mini S-Class to all but the most well-trained eyes. It's great if you're a prospective C-Class owner but less significant if you're paying more than $100,000 for a supposedly exclusive S-Class.
The new C is a handsome evolution of the W205's design language and one that looks better under natural light than it does in studio photos. It does, however, require the right color, style package, and wheels to help it pop. The three-box sedan, despite only having four-cylinder power, has a long hood and cab-back stance, with the grille positioned low and featuring intricate details like a new take on the diamond grille featuring dozens of tiny three-pointed stars.
The design lines are fluid, classy, and organic, with the short trunk accented by A-Class-derived taillights. It doesn't rewrite the rules, but it's subtly beautiful in its own way.
BMW has differed in its approach. At the recent launch of the controversial 7 Series, BMW made it clear that its controversial design represents a turning point for the brand. Top-tier models like the 7 Series and X7 will look entirely different than their smaller siblings.
Like the C-Class, the 2023 3 Series is an evolution, although this is to be expected from a facelift rather than a new generation entirely. Thankfully, small grilles live on a little longer here, but other design elements have been refined and enhanced. The notch in the headlights is gone and the DRL signature takes influence from the 5 Series. The features have been simultaneously made smoother and sharper, while signature elements remain, including the Hofmeister kink. The pre-LCI 3 Series wasn't unattractive, but BMW has successfully beautified it further and created a design that we feel will age well.
While both cars look attractive, the BMW is the most appealing to us and is instantly identifiable as a BMW 3 Series.
While we're fans of the minimalist interior trend, we don't like the "let's put a screen everywhere" trend.
The C-Class relies entirely on an offset center console-mounted screen to interact with the infotainment and driving settings. You get shortcut buttons below, making it easier to change driving modes and mute the sound system, and redundant controls, as well as voice controls, can be found on the steering wheel. MBUX ensures the voice controls are at least responsive in most conditions. Other than that, the center console is a clean surface that is lovely to behold but likely to be infuriating in reality. Keeping the center console smudge-free is a daily mission in futility, and sunlight on the screen is bound to be an issue. Likewise, using a touchscreen while driving is potentially distracting and dangerous. Digitalization continues ahead of the driver where a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is situated in an almost-frameless housing.
The rest of the cabin's design is relatively new, with squared-off air vents along the dash and a new five-spoke steering wheel design. The MB-Tex leatherette is sumptuous and seating for five is accommodating of adults front and rear with 37.5 inches of rear headroom and 36 inches of rear legroom.
BMW gets it right. The updated 3er now has iDrive 8, which has the same features as Merc's MBUX like voice control and wireless connectivity, various connected features using cloud-based software etc, and of course, voice controls. The 3 is also guilty of having a giant touchscreen, but the curved display housing both the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and the 14.9-inch touchscreen infotainment system looks much better. The shortcut buttons on the left of the screen give you quick access to the most-used features, and it's closer to your natural line of sight while driving. It also frees up the center console for practical storage and physical controls, the latter present for both the climate controls and various infotainment controls by means of the classic iDrive rotary controller. There's no need to take your eyes off the road once you instinctively know where the main buttons are.
Like the Merc, premium materials abound, albeit in a slightly less cluttered and more focused manner here. Based on the CLAR platform, the 3 Series LCI will likely retain pre-facelift interior measurements, meaning an ample 37.6 inches head- and 35.2 inches legroom in the rear seats, marginally less than the Merc.
At first glance, Mercedes seems to have given up on performance altogether as even AMG C-Classes will have four-cylinder power, while the 3 Series LCI retains that sweet inline-six in M340i guise. In base form, the C-Class and 3 Series are remarkably similar, both powered by 2.0-liter turbo four-pots, both boasting rear- or all-wheel-drive capability, and both utilizing automatic gearboxes - eight speeds for the Bimmer and nine for the Merc. The Mercedes C300 puts out 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque but utilizes a small electric motor to boost outputs with up to 20 hp and 148 lb-ft coming in as torquefill rather than on top of the combustion outputs. Whether equipped with RWD or 4Matic AWD, the brand claims a 0 to 60 mph sprint of 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph, limited.
BMW has been coy on the outputs of the 3 Series LCI, only stipulating the engine displacement. But a bit of digging reveals why as the brand has reduced outputs compare to 2021. The 330i's turbocharged 2.0-liter produces 241 bhp and 295 lb-ft, down 14 hp compared to the 2021 model but arriving 500 rpm sooner. Acceleration figures haven't been provided, but the pre-facelift managed 5.6 and 5.3 seconds to 60 mph, rear- and all-wheel drive, respectively.
At the upper end of the spectrum, BMW retains the services of the B58 3.0-liter straight-six, aided by a 48V mild hybrid system. It also loses power compared to before, down from 382 hp to 369 hp for 2023. Torque is the same at 368 lb-ft and the M340i could previously hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds with RWD and 4.1 with AWD. 2023 figures haven't been published yet.
Mercedes curiously counters this with a four-cylinder, measuring 2.0 liters and using turbocharging and hybridization to put out 402 hp and 369 lb-ft without the extra 13 hp from the hybrid system. Paired exclusively with an AWD system, 60 mph comes up in a surprisingly sluggish 4.6 seconds.
What Mercedes can't yet counter is the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid with 288 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. It's also faster than the C300 in RWD and AWD guises, and it can achieve 75 MPGe when driven carefully.
On power alone, Merc has the edge, but BMW has a soulful six-pot and quicker acceleration. How these rivals behave in the real world remains to be seen.
Pricing for the facelifted 3 Series is not yet available. However, expect nominal increases across the range, with 2022 pricing currently stretching from $41,450 for the RWD 330i to $54,700 for the M340i xDrive as a guideline. The 2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 currently retails for $43,550 in RWD form while AWD adds $2,000 to the price. Mercedes hasn't given us pricing for the C43, but we expect it to maintain a similar sort of price gap, so expect to pay around $56,000.
The new C-Class is a great car. Now, more than ever before, it is a mini S-Class, making it perfect for a person searching for a refined luxury sedan. If you want to glide along in sheer comfort, look no further. But what it hasn't yet proven is whether it can dynamically challenge the 3 Series, which was already fun to pilot before its facelift. And despite boasting less power, acceleration claims suggest BMW already has an edge, not to mention the aural advantage over a four-cylinder AMG C43.
On paper, the battle is closer than ever, but we suspect BMW may have pulled a rabbit out of the hat on this one to reestablish its segment dominance.