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Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 3 Series – which is best?

Two heavyweights of the saloon market go head-to-head, but which is better for you?

Think of a saloon and chances are it’ll be one of these two – the Mercedes C-Class or the BMW 3 Series. Traditionally, the battle was waged in the office car park – or on the outside lane of the motorway – but private buyers will also find a lot to like in these plush, handsome executive shuttles.

The BMW is a little sportier and the Mercedes is a little more elegant, but which is best? 

Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 3 Series compared

Mercedes C-ClassBMW 3 Series


  • Feels a bit posher
  • Modern interior design


  • Better to drive
  • Slightly more interior space


  • Busier infotainment system
  • Materials don’t always feel as great as they look


  • Firmer ride
  • Not as exclusive

Styling and design

Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 3 Series rear

If you only base your decision on styling, you’ll get a great car either way – neither car has particularly glaring flaws. Mercedes’ habit of giving its cars Russian doll styling works in the C-Class’ favour, as anyone who doesn’t see the badge could easily mistake it for an E-Class or S-Class. With its chiselled lines and intricate tail-lights, the C-Class looks expensive.

The 3 Series looks taut and athletic – especially in the popular M Sport trim that most 3 Series seem to come in. To our eyes it also looks a smidge busier than the C-Class, and the fact it’s such a big seller means it doesn’t have the exclusivity of the C-Class.

Interior and practicality

Both these cars major on interior tech and comfort while away long motorway slogs. The Mercedes’ interior immediately looks more modern, more high tech and more luxurious, with its clean look and its portrait infotainment screen borrowed from costlier Merc models. However, the actual build quality isn’t quite as good as the initial perceived quality.

Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 3 Series interior

In comparison, the BMW’s interior looks more traditional than the Mercedes’, even with two large screens ahead of you. It won’t wow you or your passengers as much as the C-Class’ interior will, but the build quality is top notch and so are most of the materials.

Both these saloons throw a huge amount of information at the driver, and their respective screens can both look a little busy. The C-Class’ whopping touchscreen is used for every major function, and all the different nuggets of information compete for your attention – it can take a couple of glances away from the road to make sure you’re hitting the right part of the screen. Similarly, the 3 Series’ digital instrument cluster requires a couple of checks to see the information you want to see at that moment.

The BMW is marginally more practical. It’s a little more spacious in the rear seats and has a slightly bigger boot on paper – although the Mercedes’ 455-litre boot won’t feel much less spacious than the 480-litre boot of the 3 Series in the real world. The saloon body style keeps your cargo isolated from the passenger compartment, if you can put up with the smaller boot openings. If you need a larger boot or a more versatile opening, check out the C-Class Estate or 3 Series Touring estate.

Engines and performance

Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 3 Series infotainment

With the C-Class and the 3 Series designed to sit at high speeds on the German Autobahn all day long, it’s no surprise that both have powerful enough engines to make high-speed overtakes a piece of kuchen. And both have kept with the times – alongside petrol and diesel engines, these cars both offer a flexible plug-in hybrid version that combines electric power with a petrol engine for longer journeys.

Besides the hybrid, the C-Class offers two petrol and two diesel engines, as well as a couple of brawny AMG performance models. Even the entry-level engines get from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, which is enough to give the C-Class sophisticated performance.

Funnily enough, the 3 Series’ most popular petrol and diesel engines almost exactly match the C-Class’ for acceleration. But the 3 Series offers three distinct performance options, including the M340d – the fastest-accelerating diesel currently on sale, with 0-62mph in just 4.6 seconds.


Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 3 Series headlight

The BMW has long been the better choice for keen drivers, and that’s still true to this day. It’s agile and sporty – as good down a twisty B-road as it is on long, bleak motorway stretches. And yet, while the ride has a firm edge, the 3 Series is composed and soothing over bumps, so you’d never call it uncomfortable.

Wisely, the C-Class doesn’t try to chase the 3 Series for driving thrills. This is a car that’s best when you take it easy, with a mature and comfortable driving experience – well, as comfortable as you can expect given the state of some of the UK’s roads.

Value and reliability 

These premium models aren’t known for poor reliability, but they do have serious amounts of technology on board so there’s always the potential for electrical gremlins appearing. Consider taking out an extended warranty to keep you covered outside each car’s three-year, unlimited-mileage manufacturer warranty.

Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 3 Series rear seats

It’s hard to make a direct comparison on value – both cars are pretty well matched here. They’re typically more expensive than indirect rivals like the Volkswagen Passat and Mazda 6, but many buyers are happy to pay the extra for the extra plushness and extra brand kudos that comes with a Mercedes or BMW. The BMW is perhaps a little cheaper, especially for used buyers – expect to pay up to £300 per month (plus a 20% deposit) for a two-year old 3 Series at the time of writing, while a similar C-Class is closer to £330 a month.

Which is best?

Even if you’re not interested in a sporty driving experience, the BMW 3 Series has a lot to offer. It’s a comfortable cruiser, more practical than the C-Class and marginally better value, too. Our pick would be the 3 Series because it’s a slightly better all-rounder than the C-Class, but the Mercedes doesn’t embarrass itself. It’s the best choice if you want a comfortable ride and dazzling interior tech that looks like it’s dropped from the next century.

Made up your mind? Browse our used Mercedes C-Class cars and used BMW 3 Series cars for sale. Or, if you still can’t decide, read our Mercedes C-Class review and BMW 3 Series review.