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2013 Compact Luxury Sedans: The Germans Face Off

April 9th, 2013

Three German luxury sport sedans have long dominated the compact luxury sedan category:  The BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Class, and Audi A4.  How do these three stack up?  To find out, we assembled over 100 compact luxury sedan owners and had them systematically prod, poke, and rate the three Germans alongside their Asian and American rivals:  the Infiniti G37, Lexus IS250, Acura TSX, Cadillac ATS, and Lincoln MKZ.  When the owners’ ratings were tallied, the scores reveal the three Germans still lead the pack.  But which one is best for you?

Well, that depends.  If beautiful classic European sport sedan exterior styling and razor sharp dynamics are king, the BMW 328i is at the head of the class.  The BMW tied the Mercedes C250 for the top rated overall vehicle.  But the BMW interior disappointed our compact luxury sedan owners in a number if respects.  The overall interior design and materials rate only average, and are perceived as plain.  Seat comfort and materials rate the lowest of 8 sedans tested.  Also below average were center console storage and the ease of operating the gateless gear shift.  The 328i’s rear seat does not fold flat, limiting the car’s ability to carry larger items in the trunk.  Finally, the BMW comes with run flat tires and no spare tire, which can create headaches in the event of a tire blow out.  But for those who feel the BMW’s exterior styling and driving dynamics outweigh these practical considerations, the Bavarian may still be king.  But, if this is you, you would still do well to check out the Mercedes C250 first.

2013_Mercedes_C250_Sport_Compact_luxury_sedan_consumer_reviewsThe Mercedes C250 tied the BMW 328i for the top overall vehicle rating and for the most appealing exterior styling.  And, while the BMW edged the C-Class out in dynamic performance, the results were very close.  Where the C250 clearly beats the BMW is in interior design and materials.  The C250 rated second in overall interior appearance behind the Infiniti G37, with best-in-class interior materials, and center instrument panel and console design.  The C-class also bested the BMW for seat comfort, interior controls and trunk space.  So, category owners perceive the C-Class to match the BMW for exterior appearance, nearly match it for driving dynamics, and clearly beat it for interior execution and trunk space.

2013_Audi_A4_compact_luxury_sedan_consumer_reviewsBut what about the Audi A4?  Is it a credible alternative to the BMW and Mercedes?  Again, the answer depends on what you are looking for.  The Audi’s exterior styling rates above average, with everyone liking the signature Audi head lights.  But, the large front grille with its wide plastic cross bar receives mixed reviews, and some find the side and rear views to be a bit plain.  Similar to the BMW, the Audi’s interior is a bit disappointing to many, being seen as plain and somewhat dated.  Dynamically, the Audi is competent, but is not seen as the equal of the 328i or C250.  However, where the Audi shines is in its practicality as a daily driver.  Rear seat roominess was second only to the mid size Lincoln MKZ, and trunk space rated best-in-class.  Unlike the 328i and C250, the A4’s rear seat folds flat to allow larger items like bicycles or strollers to be easily carried.  So, if carrying a lot of luggage or gear in the trunk, or accommodating adults or large teens in the rear seat is important, the Audi may well get the nod over the other two Germans.

In the final analysis, all three Germans score well with category owners.  Which one is best for you depends on how you prioritize their strengths and weaknesses.  To learn more, start your own comparison.