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BMW 3 Series


Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Summary

BMW 3 Series

Is the 330e the best of both worlds?

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), it’s a part-time electric car for the city and a full-time sports sedan for everywhere else.

Sound familiar? BMW’s been down this path before, back with 2012’s ‘ActiveHybrid 3’ and then its first 330e-badged successor four years after.

Both were based on the previous F30 3 Series shape. However, this year’s all-new G20 iteration improves the breed with a bigger boot, up to 50 per cent better range and brawnier performance.  

The thing is, it shares showrooms with the 330i and M340i xDrive, which represent a powerful return-to-form for the 3 Series.

So, the question isn’t so much ‘Is the 330e a good enough PHEV?’ more so than ‘Is the PHEV worthy of the BMW badge?’ Let’s find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency2.2L/100km
Seating5 seats

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Do you know how many bones you have in your body? Stop counting, there are 207. And if say half those bones were replaced with different ones would you consider yourself to still be the same? Well that’s what Benz has done with the new C-Class – sort of. Of the roughly 13,000 parts which make up a C-Class car, 6500 of them have been modified or changed.

You don’t need to know every change to the new C-Class, but at the end of this review you will be across the differences that you can see, feel and hear.

Just a note before we start. The top-of-the-range Mercedes-AMG C63 S arrives in early 2019 and wasn’t available to drive at the Australian C-Class launch. That’s why we’ll focus on the other grades here - the C 200, C 220 d, C 300 and C 43. We’ll test drive and review the Australian C 63 S when it arrives – promise.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

BMW 3 Series9/10

You know about Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right?

Well, its themes of too little or too much apply for buyers of an eco-focused luxury sports sedan. If a hybrid like the Lexus IS 300h isn’t electrified enough, and a pure EV such as the Tesla Model 3 is going too far, then a PHEV like the 330e plugs the gap just about perfectly.   

Yes, prices are high (and especially so with a few choice options), boot capacity is on the low side for a 4.7-metre long sedan and that lusty four-pot turbo is sonically no match for a turbine-smooth BMW inline six as per the M340i, but the 330e does most of the expected things well and some of the ones you might not exceptionally.

Pay the price and you can have your cake and eat it too.


Mercedes-Benz C-Class7.9/10

This may well be just an update to the C-Class, but the changes made are significant in terms of technology and performance, and you’re paying hardly any extra money for it. A good all-rounder for dynamics, features, refinement and value.

The sweet spot in the range has to be the C 300. It’s less than $10K more than the entry grade C200, but gets a powerful 2.0-litre engine, leather seats, the extra advanced safety equipment, tinted windows and convenience features such as a power tailgate (on the wagon) and proximity unlocking.

Is the C-Class still the king of the mid-sized prestige world? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Design

BMW 3 Series

Remember when BMW 3 Series were compact three-box sedans that looked like nothing else? Today’s version seems so close in size to a 5 Series that only an anorak can instantly tell them apart. In fact, at a glance, differentiating the current G20 from the old F30 generation isn’t so easy, either.

It’s no surprise, then, to learn that both the 3- and 5 Series share the company’s scalable, light but super-strong ‘Cluster Architecture’. Imbued with a large-car feel, the 330e is elegant in silhouette and handsomely detailed, its imposing stance highlighted by the M Sport lowered suspension (by 10mm) and bi-colour five-prong double-spoke 19-inch alloys and (optional) Laser-light LEDs.

Flying under the radar for an eco-warrior, there is nothing other than two ‘filler’ flaps to give the PHEV game away externally. It’s all business as usual.

The same cool insouciance permeates our 3 Series’ leather-laden and metallic-accented cabin, that is now properly spacious for four adults. It still retains the signature-BMW driver-centric dashboard angle, but the style certainly isn’t retro, with twin large digital displays and a myriad of personalisation and vehicle configuration choices underlining the 330e’s modernity.

Aided by plenty of eco incentives to go PHEV, in Europe, BMW expects the 330e to be the best selling version; that said, given the inherent conservatism of premium medium sedan buyers globally, there is virtually nothing about this model’s overall execution that is too futuristic, intimidating or oddball.


Mercedes-Benz C-Class8/10

Now, to spot the difference between the new and the old C-Class from the outside just look at the headlights – the shape of the fitting is the same, but the new standard headlights on the C 200, C 220 d and C 300 have an LED set-up which looks like teeth, while the optional units (standard on the C 43 and C 63 S) are also LED but with a tall staggered design. Tail-lights also keep the same shape but with a different LED pattern, too.

The front and rear bumpers have also been restyled for all grades and the C 43 and C 63 S have had their grilles updated, with the former getting a new twin-louvre design, while its big brother now has chrome vertical slats reminiscent of the grille worn by the 1952 Carrera Panamericana winning 300SL.

The AMG Line Exterior package is standard on the Coupe and Cabriolet, but if you option it on the sedan it will fit a sports body kit with AMG front spoiler and side skirts.

The C 43’s gloss black rear diffuser looks tough with the new quad exhaust and the car in wagon form wins my award for best looking of the C-Class bunch.

Cabins haven’t been overhauled but they have been updated with a 10.25-inch dash-top display for media and a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster - both are standard across the range and make a big styling impact in the cockpit. Mercedes-AMG grades have their own sporty version of the virtual instrument cluster.

The layout of controls remains the same, but you can now option a new real wood veneer to the centre console with 'open-pore brown walnut' and 'open-pore black ash' being your choices.

The Artico upholstery in the C 200 looks and feels ‘plasticky’. I’d option the real leather which comes standard on the C 300.

New to the C 43 are the optional ‘Performance’ seats with integrated head restraints and standard on this grade is a new leather AMG steering wheel. Other cool cabin features are the stainless-steel pedals, the AMG floor mats and stitched dash (even if it is Artico upholstery).

All grades now come standard with the 64-colour ambient lighting system. You should see the system fading through the colours at night and with the right music the whole effect is amazing.

The C-Class comes in four body styles: Sedan, Coupe, Estate (wagon) and Cabriolet.

Exterior and interior dimensions stay the same, all variants measuring about 4.7m in length. That’s a good size; not too big or small, making parking and manoeuvring in tight spaces pretty fuss-free.

The C-Class is made in various parts of the world, but I can tell you the C 200 Sedan we get in Australia is made at Mercedes-Benz's East London plant on South Africa's east coast.

Practicality

BMW 3 Series

For a swoopy sports sedan, the 330e’s interior is pleasingly practical and – after a little familiarisation – user-friendly. As the biggest-ever 3 Series, four average-sized adults can fit in easily, while a smaller fifth person can crowd in on the rear-centre cushion. For short periods, anyway.

One surprise is the lightness of the doors due to them being partly aluminium, which means while they close with a reassuring thud, they’re might feel flimsy at first.

No such misconceptions await once inside the cocoon-quiet cabin, thanks to solid and lush materials everywhere the eye lands and hands touch. Even the plastics seem expensive.

As the 3 Series is famous for, the 330e’s dash is driver-centric, with ample adjustability of the fat-rimmed wheel and unimpeded reach for most of the important switchgear. Sat low and cosily ensconced between door and bisecting centre console, the mood is definitely grand-touring sports sedan.

For this generation, BMW has honed the once-controversial 'iDrive' controller into an artful yet logical example of on-the-move multimedia interface and data retrieval, with a concerted effort to simplify what is a mountain of available information.

Of course, familiarisation is essential, but even a short tuition will open up a world of configuration and customisation of every single facet of the car – chassis, powertrain, climate control, audio, communication and media being the main platforms. Sounds intimidating but isn’t.

To help relax (or energise), there’s even a ‘Caring Car’ feature in the sub menus with appropriately chilled ambient lighting, audio and climate control.

Indeed, the Germans have made strides in improving the perceived quality and functionality in other areas of the latest 3 Series, such as the gear lever operation, thoughtful storage and effortlessly effective ventilation.

However, the digital instrumentation has ignored decades of classy analogue style for a messy computerised multi-view layout that is just too Space Invaders.

Sure, it’s multi-configurable and includes a less-cluttered basic screen, but where’s the sophistication and beauty here? Notice to carmakers: would you wear a watch this ugly?

Moving to the back seat, the optional sunroof might eat into rear headroom, and really long-legged travellers need to ensure the front-seat occupants are as far forward as comfortably possible, but otherwise it’s the same story of well-sculptured cushions and backrests, set within a business-class style environment.

Twin USB-C ports, a 12V outlet and temperature controls are a bonus, hungry door pockets can take a large drink bottle and the essential cupholders are set within the centre armrest.

The only giveaway that this 3 Series is hauling extra electrification is inside the boot. Somewhat shallower than the regular 480-litre item, a higher floor than usual cuts that by 105L to 375L.

But at least the battery doesn’t intrude to the point where you can’t use the cabin load-through with the tri-sected backrests folded down (via a handy lever if you’re standing behind the vehicle). A through-loading system is part of the standard 40/20/40 split-fold backrest.

The floor itself is stepped half way, but if you require a flat surface, it can be lifted to even out the area. And remember, there is no spare wheel – just tyres that can be driven ‘flat’ as required to drive you to the nearest garage.


Mercedes-Benz C-Class7/10

This depends on the body style, but being a mid-sized car practicality can be limited, but Mercedes-Benz has been clever with the way it has used the available space.

The boot, for example in the C 200 is 434 litres, which isn’t as big as the cargo space offered by the BMW 3 Series or the luggage capacity of the Audi A4. This is partly because the hybrid system uses space under the bonnet, so the car’s battery needs to go to the boot.

The C 300 doesn’t use the hybrid system and so the sedan in this grade has 455 litres of boot space.

Choosing the C 300 Coupe’s will reduce your luggage carrying ability to 380 litres and the C 300 Cabriolet’s cargo capacity varies from 360 litres with the roof up and 285 litres when it’s down and eating into the luggage area.

The Estate is the best luggage hauler but it’s still not enormous – the C 43 Estate that we test drove has a cargo capacity of 480 litres.

Legroom in the back of the C 43 Estate is good and at 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with about 20mm to spare thanks to the sculpted seat back.

Headroom is getting tight in the Estate and especially in the Sedan – well for me, anyway – and the optional sunroof will lower the ceiling height even further.

Up front space in the Sedan and Estate isn’t an issue with plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder room offered.

Storage throughout the Sedan and Estate is good with a large centre console storage bin, two cupholders up front and another two in the back along with a storage area in the fold down armrest, but all four door pockets are on the slimmer side. Still they can fit a small bottle of water, plus a wallet or purse.

That centre console bin houses two USB ports, and a 12-volt outlet can be found in the storage area under the climate controls – which also houses the optional wireless charging pad. Without the charging pad that small area is too tiny to place my iPhone8 Plus.

Rear headroom and legroom in the four-seater Coupe and Cabriolet is limited, but both get a pair of cupholders in the back and two more up front.

Price and features

BMW 3 Series

It’s clear that electrification will become the norm in the not-too-distant future, from hybrids combining internal combustion engines (ICE) with electric motors and batteries, to the full battery electric vehicle (EV) and eventually hydrogen EV experience.

Somewhere along that spectrum, and nestled between the 320i (from $68,900) and 330i (from $74,900), is the 330e.

Arriving from Germany in either racy M Sport or dreary Luxury grades from $81,900 (before on-road costs), it features an electric motor and battery pack for up to 60km of pure EV propulsion, before a four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine kicks in for in excess of 1800km between refills, officially. Range anxiety be damned.

Mind you, the similarly-engined 320i but minus the electrification is almost 300kg lighter. Blame all that extra electrification swag like an 83kW synchronous motor, 10.3kWh lithium ion battery and a five-metre 1.8kW charging cable.

Being a PHEV means it needs up to six hours to recharge from a regular 10-amp household plug, down to a minimum of around 3.5 hours from a larger power source.

In contrast, a non-plug-in, series-parallel hybrid like the Lexus IS 300h barely manages 2.0km of sub-40km/h-only EV range, before its ICE takes over to replenish a much-smaller battery pack, and relegate the electric motor to mere performance and/or economy boosters only. That’s why the Lexus is some $20,000 cheaper.

This leaves the Mercedes-Benz C300e and Volvo S60 T8 Hybrid from $82,300 and $84,990 respectively as the BMW’s only true equals, as they’re PHEVs, too.

Though both promise slightly less EV range than the 330e, the former is comfort-biased while the latter is a bit of a Swedish hot-rod, blitzing all for sheer oomph while scoring all-wheel drive into the bargain.

Note, however, that from $75,425 (before tax and on-road costs) will buy you the mouthful Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus RWD (rear-wheel drive). As a pure EV, the Yank has kicked the ICE habit with a silent and furious need for speed. 

Not that our 330e M Sport Package isn’t hot to trot, with its M Sport-enhanced suspension, brakes, aero body kit, 19-inch alloys shod with run-flat tyres (so no spare wheel), steering wheel, Alcantara/Sensonic vinyl upholstery and ‘Shadow Line’ gloss-grey trimmings. Menacing.  

The BMW’s list of goodies is barely good enough for a sedan that’s over $90K drive-away. You’ll find adaptive dampers that switch seamlessly from firm to soft depending on how stiff/supple you want the ride to be, auto entry/start, stop/start, heated/folding/dipping mirrors, two USB and a single 12V ports, tri-zone climate control, electrically adjustable front seats with driver’s-side memory, three-year subscription-based in-car emergency and concierge services, Apple CarPlay (but still not Android Auto at the time of publishing), 12.3-inch digital instrumentation with head-up display, a 10.25-inch central screen, satellite navigation, extended Bluetooth connectivity, an unreliable ‘Hey, BMW’ voice-activation system, digital radio, 205W amplifier audio, a 32GB hard drive, wireless smartphone charger and a personalisation function in the key saving all your preferred settings.

On the safety and security front there’s also autonomous emergency braking (AEB), warnings and active assistance/intervention for steering, lane-change, lane-departure and front/rear cross-traffic (with braking) situations, full-auto parking with surround-view 3D cameras and sensors, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go, auto high-beam LED headlights with delay/off, rain-sensing wipers, low-speed EV-mode acoustic warnings for pedestrians and localised recharging info including range radius. Handy.

Still, a sunroof is optional, as are our car’s trick 'Laser-light' active/adaptive LEDs, ambient cabin lighting, motion-sensor electric bootlid, seat and steering wheel heaters, galvanised trim, and other goodies, amounting to over $10,000. All blow out pricing towards $100K. Ouch.

At least you can pre-set the climate control in your 330e via a BMW app. Cool!


Mercedes-Benz C-Class8/10

The range kicks off with the C 200 and its C 220 d diesel siblings, then steps up to the C 300. Prices for these grades have increased by $1500 in this update but you’re being given more features. Above the C 300 live Mercedes-AMG’s wild animals – the C 43 and C 63 S.

The C 200 Sedan now lists for $63,400 (plus on-road costs), and if you want the Estate version add another $2500, and an extra $4500 for the Coupe, while the Cabriolet is $25,000 more at $88,400.

The C 220 d Sedan lists for $64,900 and the only other form it comes in is the Estate for $67,400.

The C 300 Sedan lists for $71,400, the Estate is $73,900, the Coupe is $84,900 and the Cabriolet is $101,900.

The C 43 Sedan lists for $107,900, while the Estate is $110,400, the Coupe is $111,900 and Cabriolet is $124,900.

The C 63 S Sedan lists for $159,900, however, prices for other body styles have not yet been announced.

So, about all the stuff you’re receiving in return for the price increase – a 10.25-inch display screen replaces the smaller one in the previous car and it’s standard across the range. Don’t stab and poke at it like I did with my finger for hours, because it’s not a touchscreen.

Also new is the 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster, and it’s standard on all grades, too. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come on all C-Class cars.

Other standard features, starting with the C 200 and C 220 d, include 'Artico' upholstery, which is a synthetic attempt at leather, a reversing camera, shifting paddles, dual-zone climate control, aluminium roof rails on the Estate, LED headlights, 64-colour ambient lighting and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The C 300 has the C 200’s features and adds leather upholstery, privacy glass (coupe only), proximity key and 19-inch alloys. The C 300 also gains the 'Driving Assistance Package' which I’ll tell you all about in the safety section below.

The C 43 picks up the C 300’s equipment and adds an enormous list of its own gear including a new AMG steering wheel, brushed stainless steel pedals, Burmester 13-speaker stereo, heated sports front seats, head-up display, wireless charging, intelligent LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, black roof racks on the Estate, analogue clock and 19-inch AMG alloy wheels.

Metallic paintwork is also part of the C 43’s standard features list which includes 'Obsidian Black', 'Iridium Silver', 'Mojave Silver', 'Cavansite Blue', 'Emerald Green' and 'Brilliant Blue', but you’ll have to pay for 'Hyacinth Red', which is a sort of candy apple red. Non-cost colours for the lower grades are non-metallic black and 'Polar White' non-metallic.

The C 63 S adds to the C 43’s equipment list with its own AMG steering wheel, illuminated door sills, digital TV tuner, nappa leather upholstery, an electronic rear differential lock, 19-inch alloys in matte black with high-sheen rim, plus high-performance brakes with red calipers.

Engine & trans

BMW 3 Series

BMW’s modular (B48) 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine delivers 135kW of power and 300Nm of torque, and drives the rear wheels via a ZF eight-speed automatic. The latter is regarded as one of the best transmissions of its type in production today.

That transmission also houses the 83kW/105Nm synchronous motor, while the 10.3kWh battery pack is located underneath the back seat. Total outputs are 185kW/420Nm.

Each power source works together to create a smooth and quiet EV experience up to a published 60km, before the 2.0-litre takes over the main driving function, but powering down again when coasting or under very light throttle, to help eke out maximum mileage between refills.

There are three modes to choose from ­– 'Sport', 'Hybrid' and 'Electric' – with the latter allowing for pure EV driving as long as the batteries are juiced up enough; otherwise the default Hybrid setting kicks in, where both propulsion options are used to maximum efficiency.

Back in Electric mode, in Battery Control mode, the driver can pre-select a minimum battery charge level for use later on where conditions are better-suited to EV driving – such as in downtown.    

There’s also a so-called ‘XtraBoost’ function, providing up to 30kW of extra power (topping out at 215kW) for short periods, and is accompanied by a fake/enhanced exhaust note. It’s a bit of a scorcher, actually, revving hungrily to the redline and reeling in the horizon like a proper BMW should.

Don't go searching for an evocative in-line six-cylinder soundtrack, however. Instead, there's simply a zingy metallic snarl as the tacho swings swiftly upwards. S mode loves holding on to each gear ratio, aided by a thoughtfully placed set of paddle shifters.

Overall, the 3 Series PHEV is surprisingly rapid – clearing the 100km/h marker needs just 5.9 seconds – but subjectively actually feels even faster. BMW limits the 330e's EV top speed to 140km/h, or 230km/h in dinosaur-fuel mode.    


Mercedes-Benz C-Class9/10

The previous C 200’s 2.0-litre 135kW/300Nm four-cylinder petrol engine has been swapped for a 135kW/280Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol with what Benz calls a ‘mild hybrid’ function.

This isn’t a hybrid with an electric motor driving the wheels, it’s an electrical system which is able to provide an additional 10kW/160Nm when accelerating. Known as the 'EQ Boost', the system also allows the C 200 to coast at a constant speed if the driver takes their foot off the accelerator. The battery is then re-charged when braking.

The C 220 d offers a diesel alternative and its new 2.0-litre engine now makes 18kW more power at 143kW and the same 400Nm of torque.

The C 300’s 2.0-litre turbo four has had a 10kW increase, taking power to 190kW, while peak torque is still 370Nm.

Also getting a power bump is the C 43 and its 3.0-litre V6 petrol is now good for 287kW (up from 270kW) while torque stays at 520Nm. The C43 uses Mercedes-Benz’s '4Matic' all-wheel drive system, while every other grade, including the C 63 S, is rear-wheel drive.

The C 63 S still makes an impressive 375kW and 700Nm.

The C 200, C 220 d, C 300 and C 43 all use the same nine-speed automatic transmission, while the C 63 S uses a ‘AMG Speedshift 9G’ which is a nine-speed dual-clutch auto.

Fuel consumption

BMW 3 Series

On the flipside, BMW reckons over 1800km is possible, thanks to the official combined figure of only 2.2 litres per 100km. That’s outstanding range, especially considering the fuel tank is a teeny 40 litres.

Maybe it was the addictive allure of all that XtraBoost oomph, or perhaps it’s the porky 1740kg throwing its weight around, but we could not better 6.3L/100km during our week with the Bavarian wunderkind.  

BMW recommends either premium unleaded (95 RON plus) or E10 ethanol, so no standard stuff, please.

Meanwhile, in EV mode, less than 40km is the real-world range, and that can drop dramatically with amenities running like the AC. The EU electricity consumption figure is 15.4kW/h/100km, which is reasonable for the 330e’s size and weight.


Mercedes-Benz C-Class8/10

Fuel consumption obviously depends on the engine, but did you know the body type also affects mileage?

Mercedes-Benz says the C 200 Sedan uses 6.4L/100km over a combination of open and urban roads. The trip computer in our C 200 Sedan recorded 7.1L/100km after 254km of mainly country roads.

The C 200 Estate according to Mercedes-Benz will need 6.5L/100km, the C 200 Coupe uses 6.4L/100km and the C 200 Cabriolet will need 6.8L/100km.

The C 220 d Sedan is frugal with diesel fuel consumption being 4.7L/100km, while the Estate version needs 4.8L/100km.

Mercedes-Benz is yet to announce the C300’s fuel consumption figures.

The Mercedes-AMG cars are the thirstiest with the C 43 Sedan using 9.4L/100km, and the Estate will use 9.6L/100km. After 286km of country roads the trip computer in our C 43 Estate was reporting an average consumption of 10.3L/100km. The Coupe economy is 9.5L/100km and the Cabriolet needs 10.0L/100km.
 
The C 63 S Sedan puts it away at the rate of 10.4L/100km, and the Estate’s usage is 10.7L/100km, while the Coupe and Cabriolet’s fuel efficiency is yet to be announced.

Driving

BMW 3 Series

The good news is that the 330e is designed for built-up and urban environments, since it benefits from a quiet electric motor to whoosh you along almost silently and always serenely for up to that 60km official range. Acceleration is instant, punchy and remains strong as speeds quickly rise, making the BMW ideal for darting in and out of traffic gaps.

In the real world, with the climate-control switched on and other drains on the car, that drops to under 40km, though that can often be more than enough for most commutes. If there’s access to a normal 10a socket, the BMW will be fully charged to get you back home in fewer than six hours.

Of course, the beauty of a PHEV is that the main form of motivation is a brilliantly muscular and responsive BMW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, which really gives the 330e wings as a fast and fluent open-road grand tourer. It just laps the miles up.

Still, running on petrol, the Bavarian is as impressive around town, too, since there’s a hefty lump of low-down torque on tap for prompt throttle responses. The superb eight-speed torque-converter auto provides an almost supernatural ability to select the right ratio at the right time, and in a most harmonious manner too.

Perhaps this is a one-off blip in our test car, but a concerning powertrain jolt was discernible from somewhere in the transmission at step-off, as if the 330e is struggling to reconcile electric and petrol power seamlessly.  

Every aspect of the BMW PHEV’s powertrain and chassis – engine, transmission, steering and suspension – can be altered from a cushy softness to a muscular firmness, according to the mood of the driver (or passengers).

Although never heavy, there is substance to the steering even at slower speeds, and the upshot is an engaging and involving experience. Switching to Sport intensifies everything, for an edgier, more athletic experience.

Great for keener folk seeking the 3 Series’ enthusiast’s machine reputation. That said, the turning circle is tight for easy manoeuvrability, while the auto parking feature helps getting the sedan into tighter spots, and generally works reliably.

Adaptive dampers do a great job in helping to smother out most of the bumps and ruts of suburbia’s roads, though larger speed humps can expose the limits of available suspension travel as well as ground clearance (147mm).

Out on the open road, the steering is a boon, working with the taut chassis for sharp handling and balanced roadholding. Displaying towering levels of roadholding, the 330e simply remains glued to the road, even at speed.

One small observation is that the 330e lacks a mechanical limited slip differential, so there isn’t quite the surgical handling crispness that elevates the latest 330i into the dynamic stratosphere.

That, plus the extra mass of the PHEV, do dull the steering’s sharpness and BMW’s overall agility slightly. Never stodgy, just not supernaturally athletic. That’s the price you pay for parsimony.

Finally, in the sportier settings, with the stability and traction controls’ hold loosened, the tail can be made to swing out, meaning the driver must remain alert and ready to reel it all back into place.

This isn’t as much a flaw as a playful aspect of the 330e’s very broad dynamic bandwidth. There’s something for everyone.


Mercedes-Benz C-Class8/10

The Australian C-Class launch gave us the opportunity to drive the C 200 Sedan and C 43 Estate on a test route stretching from Melbourne's Tullamarine airport, roughly 300km north to Milawa in Victoria’s alpine region and back, with the conditions being dry and cool.

I knew the C 43 would be ridiculously fun, but you can’t eat your dessert first, right? So, I started in the C 200, which is far from just meat and three veg – it’s refined and enjoyable to drive.

Steering is well weighted and accurate, offering a better sense of connection to the road compared to some of its prestige rivals. The steering wheel itself felt good to hold, too – and this is on the base car.

The test car wasn’t without its options though and it did have the 'Dynamic Body Control Suspension' with its Comfort mode softening the dampers for a more compliant ride and the Sport setting for better handling.

And that ride was comfortable. The only disturbance to the serenity (we did go through Bonnie Doon) was a bit of wind noise created by what sounded like the wing mirrors.

Apart from that, the experience was serene – those seats up front are comfortable and supportive even after hours, the vision all-around is excellent and then there’s the engine, which is perfectly adequate.

Okay, 1.5 litres sounds small but the output is almost the same as the previous 2.0-litre and the 48 Volt EQ Boost hybrid system does provide just enough of a kick to get you away from the traffic lights or overtake without any discernible lag.

The hybrid system's coasting function is excellent – take your foot off the accelerator and your revs drop to zero but the car will maintain its speed. When you brake the battery is recharged so you’ll have the extra grunt again when you need it.

Now for dessert. Just idling the C 43 sounds sedate, but that’s with the exhaust note and engine in the Comfort setting. It means you can pull into your street at night or start it up early in the morning without waking the up the entire neighbourhood.

Or, to hell with them, the people next door are jerks anyway: put it in Sport and the twin-turbo petrol V6 snarls and crackles as you shift through the gears. It’s not as vicious as the V8 C 63 S, but that’s the appeal of the C 43 – it’s a milder form of wild that’s easier to live with, but still so much fun.

The back roads from Milawa to Mansfield were a great testing ground for the C 43 Estate with their hill-climbing bends and downward forest runs. Merc AMG claims the C 43 can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 4.7s, and while that’s more than half-a-second behind the C 63 S, it’s still plenty quick.

With fantastic turn-in, all-wheel drive offering superb traction and great grip from the Continental ContiSportContact rubber (225/40 R19s front, 255/35 R19 at the back), a smooth-shifting nine-speed, impressive brakes and that turbo V6 which pulled the car heroically out of corners, it was hard not to grin like an idiot.

Only my mouth hurt afterwards, not my body. There’s a line you’re not going to read in any other car review. Some sports cars have a ride so firm, and seats so hard, and driving positions with hip points so low, that I almost have to leave the vehicle on all fours.

But only my face hurt from smiling so much – you could pilot a car like the C 43 until it ran out of fuel from a full tank and still feel comfortable – which is almost what we did. How much fuel did it use? Keep reading to find out.

Safety

BMW 3 Series

As part of the G20 3 Series line-up, the 330e achieved a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating in October, 2019.

There basically isn’t an active or passive safety item left unticked in this grade, meaning AEB (operational from 5km/h to 210km/h), stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, cornering brake control and brake-assist, active lane-change and lane-departure warnings and intervention, front and rear cross-traffic alert with braking and blind-spot monitoring.

Eight airbags are fitted – front and side airbags for driver and front passenger and head airbags for all outboard seat occupants.

There’s also adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, as well as a low-speed EV-mode acoustic warning for pedestrians and cyclists to get out of the way. That’s set to about 20km/h.

BMW fits a pair of ISOFIX points for the outboard back seat positions, as well as top tethers for strap-fastened child seats.


Mercedes-Benz C-Class8/10

The C-Class was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2014. The base grade C 200 is fitted with nine airbags, AEB which works most effectively at lower speeds, and blind spot warning.

Stepping up to the C 300 brings the 'Driving Assistance package' which adds a more sophisticated AEB with cross traffic function and evasive steering, plus lane keeping assistance.

No spare tyres here. The C 200, C 220 d and C 300 all come with run-flat tyres, while the Mercedes-AMG grades have a puncture repair kit.

For child seats, you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tethers across the back row of the Sedan and Estates, while the Cabriolet and Coupe have two ISOFIX points in the back.

There are also two hi-viz vests in the cargo area and, yes, you do get a warning triangle, too.

Ownership

BMW 3 Series

BMW’s warranty is one of the worst in the business. Its meagre three years/unlimited kilometres matches Audi’s Scrooge-y efforts but is two-years shy of arch nemesis Mercedes-Benz.

The 330e’s servicing is condition-based, depending on how it’s driven and other factors, with a dash warning appearing to let the driver/owner know when it’s time. In the UK, a two-year/30,000km interval is advised, if that helps.

No capped-price servicing regime is offered, but the 'BMW Service Inclusive Basic' packages cover scheduled servicing from three years/40,000km to five years/80,000km, and start from $1350.


Mercedes-Benz C-Class7/10

The C-Class is covered by Mercedes-Benz’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. We’re keen to see Mercedes-Benz move to longer warranty periods as is becoming the norm with mainstream brands, many of which are offering five year coverage.

Servicing is recommended at 25,000km/12-month intervals for the regular C-Class cars and the C 43. The C 63 S needs servicing every 20,000km or annually.

It’s great to see Mercedes-Benz offers capped price servicing. For example, the C 200 will cost you $396 at its first service, the second is $792 and the third is also $792.