Once upon a time the BMW 3 Series was only available as a saloon, and was really the only contender for the top spot among luxury compact cars. 1975 was a long time ago, though, and in the meantime the line has expanded, and so has the competition in the form of the Mercedes-Benz C Class in 1993, as well as Audi’s A4 in 1994 and the A5 in 2007. Can the 3 Series really still claim to wear the crown among all this distinguished competition? We’ve compared them to find out.
Versus the C Class
The C Class certainly has the luxury look down. Outside it has the square-cut dignity you’d expect of a compact estate car from a manufacturer with a pedigree as illustrious as Mercedes-Benz, and its sleek, ergonomic interior is one of the best on the market with a treasure trove of infotainment options that will satisfy the most avid technology fiend.
Unfortunately, it cannot boast the same level of quality for its driving experience, which feels unrefined thanks to less-than-stellar handling and a rough sounding engine. BMW’s offering, meanwhile, offers precise handling and a range of powerful engines that deliver fuel efficient power for the high-performance driving experience people expect from a luxury saloon.
The other aspect of the C Class that fits its luxury image is the price point. At over £28,000 for the most basic model, all the extras you would need to add to bring the performance close to what you’d get from the 3 Series make this a significantly larger investment.
Versus the A4 and A5
The A4, Audi’s luxury saloon, and the A5, a coupé derived from it, are again more expensive than the 3 Series with price points starting at £26,665 and £32,265 respectively.
The A4 is quick to accelerate, but with lower transmission speed than the 3 Series and only seven gears to the BMW’s eight. Both the A4 and the A5 offer the power and precision needed for the confident driving experience the connoisseurs crave, rivalling the 3 Series, though the latter is built more for controlled movements than quick reactions, and the overall sleek look of the Audi line is a little snazzier than the businesslike BMW.
The real question is whether the difference from the 3 Series is significant enough to justify the higher price tag, and there doesn’t seem to be that much in it.
It looks like the 3 Series is still on top. If you want to try it for yourself for less, it’s not hard to find a BMW 3 Series for sale in your area and you can’t do better for a luxury saloon.