BMW 3 Series VS Mercedes-Benz C-Class
BMW 3 Series
- A PHEV keen drivers can embrace at last
- Useable real-world pure-EV commuting ability
- Quality BMW cabin design and presentation
- Lofty pricing, and that's before expensive options
- Reduced boot capacity compared to regular 3 Series
- 2.0-litre turbo four lacks BMW six-cylinder refinement at higher revs
- Newfound maturity and bandwidth
- Improved design inside and out
- A great all-rounder
- Huge price hikes
- C200 could use more muscle
- Dull steering feel
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.
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.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Australia's relationship status with the Mercedes C-Class has long been… complicated.
Over 40 years and five generations, the German midsized luxury sedan has been a paragon of efficiency and safety on one hand, but on the other, well, the quality and ride comfort haven't lived up to brand expectations.
Now the completely redesigned version has landed in Australia, with shrunken S-Class limousine styling to take on not only the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Genesis G70, but rivals as disparate as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Tesla Model 3.
The question is? Is this latest, sixth-generation, new-from-the-ground-up C-Class good enough to take on all those and more? Let's find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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.
Over five decades, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has pivoted between mastery and mediocrity, and all-too-often relied on that three-pointed star up front to win over buyers.
Thankfully, the W206 is one is one of the better generations. It's easier on the eye, comfier to travel in, more intuitive to use, safer across the board and a huge improvement to drive. On the evidence of the C200 and C300 launch grades, there's newfound depth and consistency to savour.
Sure, prices have gone up, the C200 could use a bit more power, the steering could benefit from a bit more feel, the odd build-quality glitch made itself heard and there's a fair bit of road noise at times, but overall, the C-Class now deserves to be at the top of your luxury medium sedan shopping list.
Particularly if you can afford to stretch to the rorty C300.
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.
If you're checking out the new C-Class for the first time from the front, you'll probably think… hmm, it looks just like the old one, and that's largely true.
But a side view reveals proportions that have changed significantly, thanks to the more raked windscreen, shorter overhangs and cleaner lines, which give it a slightly smaller S-Class look.
Additionally, the taillights are split for the first time, allowing for a wider boot aperture since the lid now contains some of the lighting elements.
The shrunken limo looks aren't just the whim of some designer or Mercedes-Benz marketing department copywriter, either.
Underneath is an albeit highly modified version of the latest S-Class' MRA2 platform, which results in the longest (at 4755mm) and widest (at 1820mm) C-Class in the series' 40-year existence, as well as the first with this level of electrification capability.
Height and wheelbase dimensions also see a stretch, by 8mm and 25mm to 1450mm and 2865mm over the previous model respectively, and to the benefit of passenger accommodation.
Speaking of which, get used to this new interior aesthetic and general layout – it's a look that's probably going to filter through to most coming non-EQ-branded Mercedes models over the next few years.
From S to C to future E and A classes and beyond. It's a rare instance of trickle-down economics actually working!
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.
One of the best things about the new C-Class is that it's larger and therefore roomier than before. It's also higher quality, easier to use, more comfortable to sit in and - overall - more of a delight to behold.
In contrast, the old C-Class dash looked and felt like it was designed for a much cheaper car, especially compared to Audi's efforts.
Obviously related to the S-Class this time around, it's clear Tesla provided the inspiration for the twin floating screen look and layout, which are just right in their driver orientation and ease of functionality.
There's never really been anything wrong with Mercedes' old front seats, but these AMG Line items are both sumptuous and bracing, keeping their occupants well located ahead of the clever and thoughtfully laid out dashboard.
The brilliantly high-resolution MBUX multimedia and voice-recognition system now works as it should - intuitively and logically, with the screen menus simple to recognise and easy to use, and most without the need to get lost in confusing sub-menus. Just like BMW has managed for years.
If you want to change the instrumentation design, it's now a couple of clearly marked steps, using handily placed switchgear. The same goes for the superb climate control and audio systems. And the wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connected faultlessly and worked a treat. Effortless see-and-push operation all round, backed by concise and classy graphics.
No more degree in Earth-to-Mercedes comm skills required to master this C-Class interior.
Yet there's just enough old-school Benz features to appeal to brand diehards, from the eternal door-card mounted electric seat controls and column-mounted gear shifter, to the deep centre console and turbine face-level air vents. They meld together beautifully with the advanced tech also on offer, like the optional augmented-reality head-up display with 3D-graphics.
Annoyingly, on one of our test cars, that tradition also extended to a couple of squeaks and rattles, proving that maybe Mercedes hasn't quite conquered all its past quality gremlins. And, like most luxury cars nowadays, endless ambient lighting choices are available of dubious taste.
Never mind. This is the finest C-Class front-seat environment since, well, probably the original W210 190E's of the 1980s.
And all those extra dimensions pay dividends in terms of interior space in the back seat.
There's plenty of knee room even with the tester sat behind their 178cm frame; head room is adequate even with the optional sunroof fitted, and there's ample shoulder space. So, it's more comfortable than any C-Class ever has been in terms of sheer dimensions.
Additionally, the rear backrest is well angled, while the cushion is deep enough to provide sufficient thigh support. But the centre perch is a bit of a squeeze for all concerned. Best avoided.
There's also added practicality to be found with the large and deep door pockets, front seat-back map pockets and folding centre armrest, that not only has a tablet holder, but when pressed in twice, also reveals sliding cupholders as well. Clever.
The C-Class rear seat is really lacking for nothing, with face-level air vents, overhead lighting, grab handles and coat hooks all highlighting the level of thought that went into making this a practical compact family sedan.
Plus, the C-Class comes with this folding ski port, which along with the folding rear seats, increases boot volume from 455L to, well, a lot more. While that's not quite as good as others like the BMW 3 Series, it's big enough for this car.
Note that there is no spare wheel, as the tyres are of the limited-distance runflat variety.
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.
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!
Initially, there are two sedan versions of the new W206 series C-Class on offer – the base C200 from $78,900 before on-road costs, and the more-powerful C300 grade from just over $90,400 before ORC.
There's no sugar coating this. These prices represent a shocking $12,000 and $15,100 jump, respectively, over the outgoing W205 equivalents. Which means that, now, even the cheapest C-Class costs significantly more than any of its corresponding direct rivals.
For example, the Audi A4 35TFSI kicks off from $59,900, Volvo S60 B5 Inscription AWD from $62,490, Genesis G70 2.0T from $63,000, Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport from $63,950 and BMW 320i Sport Collection from $69,900 (drive-away). And even the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range (SR) Plus RWD and Polestar 2 SR EVs slip in at under $60K apiece. All before ORCs, BMW-aside.
But the news isn't all bad, because even though prices have jumped, Mercedes reckons it gives you more, as well as the very latest in technology, design and engineering, since the W206 is the newest kid on the block by some margin.
Let's begin with equipment levels.
On top of the front electric seats, satellite navigation, automatic parking, dual-zone climate control, artificial leather Mercedes brands ARTICO, digital radio, remote boot lid closing and 18-inch alloys that the base C200 all came with previously, the new one now adds an AMG Line body kit and interior trim, adaptive cruise control, Lane Keep assist, a 360º camera, auto high-beam headlights and keyless entry/start. These go a long way to offset that $12,000 price hike.
Plus, for the first time, you'll also score a centre airbag between the front seats, fingerprint scanner ID tech for the new 11.9-inch media display and a 48V mild-hybrid system to help cut fuel consumption and emissions. Most of these items are segment-firsts. Note, too, that the engine's been downsized from 2.0 litres to 1.5L. More on that later.
Meanwhile, the C300 gains all of the gear above, as well as a new 2.0L mild-hybrid engine, leather trim, privacy glass and a Driver Assistance Package Plus – a very worthwhile addition since it brings Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Emergency Stop Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist, among heaps more driver-assist safety features.
More details follow in the Safety section below.
Of course, these are just the start of a wave of fresh C-Class models. Soon they'll be joined by the AMG 43 and thunderous AMG 63 sports sedans, as well as plug-in hybrid versions.
So, from a pricing perspective, yes, the new C-Class sedan does come at a premium compared to its direct competitors. But all that kit – including the advanced hybridised and safety technologies that are now either standard or available – presents a compelling value proposition.
Especially as the W206 sedan is measurably larger and thus roomier than before.
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.
Probably the biggest departure compared to any previous C-Class is this generation's switch to direct-injection four-cylinder-only powertrains – including the coming Mercedes-AMG high-performance versions. Now that should be interesting.
As mentioned earlier, the C200's four-cylinder turbo engine is now about 25 per cent smaller in capacity, down from 2.0L to a 1496cc 1.5L twin-cam 16-valve turbo engine. Dubbed the M254, it pumps out 150kW of power at a high 6100rpm and 300Nm of torque between 1800-4000rpm.
That's not to say it's lacking in muscle, though, since it can sprint from zero to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds, on the way to a 245km/h top speed. These outputs are at least a match for the bigger-engined 3 Series and A4 equivalents, by the way.
If it's more you want, then the C300 features a 1999cc 2.0L turbo version of the M254, delivering 190kW at 5800rpm and 400Nm between 2000-3200rpm. This slashes that 0-100km/h time to a speedy six seconds flat. There's also an extra 20kW of overboost available for short periods if you're really in a hurry, while - where legal - it's possible to hit 250km/h.
Both send drive to the rear wheels via a nine-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, while the 48V mild-hybrid system, dubbed EQ Boost, employs an integrated starter-generator and lithium-ion battery that provides an additional 15kW and 200Nm of electric boost at low engine speeds.
So, while it doesn't ever run purely on electricity, the electrification tech certainly either brings more punch or takes the load off the petrol engine, depending on how you're driving it.
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.
Remember when I said that the C-Class moved to an all-four-cylinder engine range? Well, that's primarily to help it better meet fuel consumption, efficiency and lower emission targets.
On the Australian combined fuel consumption cycle, the C200 manages 6.9 litres per 100km – and that's extremely impressive for a medium-sized sedan weighing almost 1.8 tonnes. So is the fact that the larger-engined C300 returns only 0.4L/100km more at 7.3L/100km. Fitted with a 66-litre tank, these numbers suggest that the former can average nearly 960km between refills while the latter can manage just over 900km.
These figures translate to averages of 157 and 164 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions respectively. On the flipside, both these Euro-6 emissions rated engines require 98 RON premium unleaded petrol to deliver their best.
So much for lab tests. Out in the real world, we drove both cars for several hundred kilometres on a hot summer's day, from inner Melbourne during peak-hour traffic, to some great curvy rounds out in central Victoria, featuring some tight corners and ample opportunity to really stretch both cars' legs.
Over these routes, we averaged an indicated 8.4L/100km in the C200 and – astonishingly – 7.4L/100km in the C300. Yes, the larger and more powerful engine proved more economical.
Clearly, along with the advanced aerodynamics, engine stop/start system and 48V mild-hybrid tech, all that downsizing works. No wonder Mercedes deemed it unnecessary to bother with diesel engines for this generation C-Class.
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.
There has been a philosophical shift in how the C-Class is presented.
Even with their standard-in-Australia AMG Line package, the regular grades like the C200 and C300 are now leaning into the brand's luxury heritage, while the BMW-baiting sports sedan versions will be left to the coming AMG versions.
And this in turn profoundly informs how the W206 drives.
Even with the optional Sports Pack on 19-inch wheels, the C200 as tested finally feels like a premium midsized sedan experience. Muted at start up, the 150kW/300Nm 1.5L turbo steps off the line smartly and smoothly, its nine-speed auto shifting effortlessly through the gears to keep the engine feeling lively and lusty.
Around town it's easy to mistake the engine as a larger-capacity unit, since throttle response is instantaneous, with little to no lag detectable. It's a strong start for a base powertrain, especially as the C200 settles into a relaxed cruise at freeway speeds. Cycling through the driving settings also reveals how feisty the 'Sport' mode is.
But the 1.5L's lack of size becomes obvious the moment you need to overtake quickly, or when a quick squirt of acceleration up a hill is required, because the engine needs plenty of revs to approach that 6100rpm power peak. While still pretty brisk in these situations, it's also fairly vocal too, with a sense of having to work hard to maintain momentum.
Switching to the C300 highlights how much better suited the 190kW/400Nm 2.0L turbo is to highway driving, leaping forward with much more force and conviction, across the entire performance spectrum. In every metric, this is a better choice – throttle response, mechanical refinement, cruising ease. And the fact that the onboard computer showed less fuel consumption cements our preference for the larger-hearted C-Class.
In fact, both models possess a chassis that feels like it could do with a whole lot more power. Light and tight around town, the steering weighs up nicely at higher speeds, with a linear and reassuringly planted feel. The same also applies to how confident and controlled the Mercedes feels through fast, tight turns, yet settles into a relaxed and comfortable tourer along long, straight stretches of road.
It's a pity, then, that such dynamic agility and prowess doesn't really involve the driver, since the steering feels quite isolated from what's going on underneath; for the vast majority of C-Class buyers, that's fine. But, as a quick spin in any latest BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE will reveal, there isn't an intimate, two-way connection going on here. That's probably going to be reserved for the AMG models.
Our C200 rode on bigger wheels and steel springs, while the C300 was fitted with optional adaptive dampers. In the previous-generation C-Class, the differences would be stark: a busy and jittery ride in the former, compared to soft yet still unsettled suspension in the latter.
That's all ancient history now, as even the 'passively' suspended C200 now isolates its occupants from the rough and tumble of our inconsistent roads. Still firmish, but no longer harsh.
And the C300 with adaptive dampers seems downright plush by comparison, while offering the driver personalisation options within the aforementioned driving models to tailor the steering, performance and engine sound settings that best suit the prevailing mood.
Too bad there's some road and tyre noise intrusion heard inside when driving over coarse bitumen roads. This is a common pitfall amongst German vehicles in Australia.
Still, it doesn't detract from the fact that the whole chassis set-up can at-last cushion and cosset occupants like, well, a mini S-Class.
Which is the whole point of the W206 C-Class. It now majors on comfort and reassurance like the better Mercedes-Benz models used to, while still being suave and sprightly enough to be a memorable – if not over-exciting – drive.
As a result, the C300 especially is a much-more likeable car than past iterations. Just remember to tick the adaptive damper option for the most optimal experience. Job well done, Mercedes.
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.
The W206 C-Class has not been crash-tested yet by ANCAP or European affiliate EuroNCAP, so does not have a star rating. However, Mercedes-Benz claims it has striven to create one of the safety vehicles on the planet.
To that end, there are now 10 airbags fitted, including dual-front combined pelvic/thorax airbags, front centre airbag, rear side airbags, window airbags and driver's knee airbag.
Plus, you'll find Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians, at speeds from 7km/h to over 200km/h), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, a 360 degree camera, Active Parking Assist, drowsy driver monitor, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Assist, ABS anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, Adaptive Brakes with Hold function, brake drying and Hill Start Assist, electronic stability control, traction control, dusk-sensing LED lights, rain-sensing wipers and runflat tyres with tyre pressure warning.
The C300, meanwhile, adds Driving Assistance Package Plus, with features such as Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Steering Assist, and Active Stop-and-Go Assist… basically, this is where the car actually intervenes to help avoid accidents and impacts. There's also the PRE-SAFE side accident anticipation and protection system.
Both models also feature two ISOFIX child seat restraints as well as three top tethers for straps.
BMW 3 Series
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.
Kudos to Mercedes-Benz for being the first luxury manufacturer in Australia to offer a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty – matching most other mainstream makers. Lexus and Audi have only recently followed suit.
A five-year roadside assistance subscription is also included. Service intervals are 12-monthly or at every 25,000km, whichever occur first.
Additionally, a four-year capped price service plan is available, at $550 for the first year, $900 for the second, $1000 for the third and $2450 for the fourth, totalling $4900.
Alternatively, buyers can also choose three pre-purchase service plans to save a bit of money, but these must be bought prior to the first service.