The BMW 2-Series takes on the Mercedes Benz C-Class to decide which of these entry-level European luxury sedans is truly the best bang for your buck.
It’s not always easy comparing two cars like the BMW 2-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. On paper, they don’t look all that similar. The BMW is considerably smaller both as a coupe and a sedan, the Mercedes only comes in one mainstream trim level with everything above that considered to be a performance-focused variant, and they both split their trims in completely different ways. Still, there’s a case to be made that if you’re looking at the C-Class, then the 2-Series should be on your list as well. Let’s dive into the details and find out just how close they really are.
As the smallest and most inexpensive model in BMWs lineup, we’ve selected the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe to compare. What that means in BMW lingo is that it’s powered by 2.0-liter 4-cylinder routing power to all four wheels through an 8-speed auto and it has four doors. On the other side we have the Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic which is only slightly easier to decode since it also uses a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder powering both front and rear wheels with a 9-speed automatic in between. Both get 23 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway.
The biggest differences come into play when we talk about exterior dimensions and pricing. The BMW 228i is half a foot shorter in length than the Mercedes-Benz C300 despite actually being an inch or so wider. The BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe costs just a shade over $36,000 while the Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic is just over $41,000. That price bump only grows when you start adding options or getting into the higher trim levels.
If we go all the way back to 1993 when the C-Class was first released, it was always considered the less athletic rival to the BMW 3-series. Now comparing it to the smaller 2-Series feels a little unfair. The BMW 2-Series is more than 100lbs lighter and more nimble thanks in part to its wider footprint. Like most modern BMWs, it feels like the first 60ish percent of pedal travel only unlocks about 30% of the actual power on hand. After that things get quicker and while the 228 horsepower shouldn’t be considered fast, it is capable of putting a smile on your face through just about any high-speed corner. That’s because it gives you ample grunt that’s beautifully paired to the excellent steering and braking feedback. This has always been a high point for BMWs and it remains true in the 228i xDrive. We wonder if the front-wheel-drive version would feel less capable though.
The Mercedes C-Class isn’t a slouch and makes up for some of its more ponderous behavior with 22 more horsepower and 15 more torques. That makes highway driving just that much more enjoyable and that’s truthfully where the C300 4Matic shines. On a road trip, we’d likely opt for the Mercedes C-Class every time, because it’s just perfect for soaking up miles in serene comfort. More on that later. What it’s not as good at is the stuff that looks good on camera, slides and high-speed maneuvering aren’t what it wants to do. The turbo lag isn’t horrible, but it’s there and the entire car suffers from more body roll than the BMW. Steering and braking are both fine, but both feel more muted than in the 2-Series. We imagine that the optional AMG Sport Suspension would fix these minor gripes, but that would tack on another $2,000 bringing the gap to around $7,000.
This is one area where the Mercedes C-Class shines. It feels incredibly high end considering the cost, and that theme continues throughout the experience of being a passenger in this car. The seats feel almost as though they came out of an S-Class, the center control stack feels incredibly premium, and the door cards make occupants feel special with the seat controls and audio system proudly on display there.
The only time the C300 will feel uncomfortable is on seriously damaged road conditions or in very tight high-speed bends. Although, let’s face it, not many drivers will experience either of those situations on a regular basis. Fit and finish is fantastic. While the C300 interior might not be for everyone, the finish on the center stack, dash, and door panels seams tickle that part of our brain that can sense luxury.
The BMW 228i aims for that luxury in a different manner. It’s mostly focused on the driver, which we love, but passengers will get a very matter-of-fact experience in this car. The seats are well-bolstered, supportive, and the quality of the materials is good. It’s not really special though. Perhaps for $36,000, we’re asking for too much. Still, the 2-Series is really impressive in one major facet inside, space.
Despite being a smaller car overall, the 228i xDrive gives up less than a single inch in overall legroom both front and rear. It actually has slightly more headroom in the front and only gives up an inch of headroom in the back to the Mercedes C-Class. What might be even more shocking is that it also has more cargo room. Where the Mercedes does with just over 12 and a half cubic feet of space in the boot, the BMW manages over 15. How does it pull that magic trick off? The fuel tank. You see, that’s one more reason the Mercedes is the king of long highway driving. It houses a 17.4-gallon fuel tank back there where the BMW can only carry 13.2 when full.
This might get confusing for a moment, but we’ll try to keep it simple. The BMW 2-Series comes in 5 different trims. Four-door cars in the lineup all send power to the front wheels first and then in the case of the xDrive models, power is also sent to the back.
There’s the car we’ve specified, the 228i, which comes with 17-inch wheels, an 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, automatic high beams, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, integrated navigation, dual-zone climate control, power front sport seats, and some excellent safety features.
While xDrive models power all four wheels, the 228i can also be had with front-wheel power only. Those include forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, as well as front and rear parking sensors. Then there’s the 230i which only comes as a two-door coupe in either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. It gets all of the same features, but horsepower from the same engine is bumped up to 248.
Above that is the 235i which uses that same engine, but now it’s making 301 horsepower and is only available in xDrive or all-wheel-drive. Customers will also get auto start/stop, M Sport brakes, an M Sport Steering wheel, an M Sport Suspension, 18-inch wheels, a spoiler, and a premium 10-speaker audio system.
Next is the M240i which is another coupe only offering and features an even more powerful 6-cylinder engine making 335 horsepower. It gets all the features mentioned above as well as a sport exhaust system, an Adaptive M Sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, special interior and exterior styling changes, and dynamic cruise control.
Finally, there’s the M2 Competition which is the full fat 402 horsepower two-door coupe that enthusiasts love. It comes with either a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic and features all the bells and whistles mentioned above.
The Mercedes C-Class is a much simpler animal when it comes to trim levels, there are 5. C300, C300 4Matic, AMG C43, AMG C63, and the AMG C63 S. Each of those trims can be had with two doors or four. All send power to the rear wheels with 4Matic versions also sending some power to the front. The C300 and C300 4Matic are likely the ones most buyers will opt for since they can be had with all the technology and comfort one might want without paying extra for the additional performance that the AMG models carry.
At the C300 level, you’ll get a sunroof, LED headlights, a 10.25-inch center touchscreen, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The 4Matic version is identical aside from being all-wheel-drive. All option packages are available for the C300 including the AMG package mentioned earlier that adds a sport suspension, sport seats, and some exterior touches.
There’s also the Premium Package that adds a 13-speaker Bose premium audio system, ambient lighting, and Satellite radio. The Night Edition package combines those last two and adds black exterior trim into a single selection. The Multimedia package adds navigation, Car-to-x communication which allows your Mercedes to communicate with similarly equipped vehicles and infrastructure on the road, and a touchpad controller.
The Parking Assist package adds a 360-degree camera system, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking sensors. Finally, the Driver Assistance Package adds a host of safety features like lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, evasive steering assist, and blind-spot integration.
Where the C-Class goes next in terms of trim makes it harder for the BMW to keep up. First, there’s the AMG C43, a 385 horsepower V6 powered version that gets sports suspension, a louder exhaust, and a bunch of athletic styling touches on the exterior. This is as close as the fast Mercedes C-Class gets to the M2 Competition before it just isn’t in the same league anymore.
That’s because the next step up takes us to hallowed ground, the last AMG C63 that will have a V8 under the hood. This one makes 469 horsepower and costs north of $68,000. Compare that to a fully equipped M2 Competition and it still costs more. The C63 S makes a touch over 500 horsepower and costs $76,200. If money were no object, these would be the ones to have simply because of how special the engine under the hood is and the fact that this will be the last time the C63 is equipped with it.
There’s no easy way to choose between these two cars. Despite being in slightly different sectors of the market, they’re very similar once you’re behind the wheel. The Mercedes C-Class does cost more, but it’s going to give the driver and their passengers a more luxurious, comfortable, and stylish ride. The BMW 2-Series, especially the two-door variant, is the driver’s car to have here. It’s easier to toss about and it’s far more flexible in terms of what it can do as well. While the Mercedes C300 4Matic is the car to have for highways, the 228i xDrive can nearly match it there in every meaningful way. What the Mercedes C-Class can’t do, at least at this price point and configuration, is keep up when things get passionate.