Two old foes are at it again.
The never-ending battle of one-upmanship between BMW and Mercedes-Benz rages on. With the arms race for more power taking the M3 and C63 AMG to such ridiculous heights, both manufacturers have spotted an opportunity to fill the gap between these super sedans and the brand’s more pedestrian offerings.
Same Mission, Different Strategies
Mercedes’ solution is to introduce a new model, the ambitiously titled C450 AMG. Using a beefed-up version of the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine found in the C400, the new car makes 362 hp and, more importantly, 384 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission.
BMW is approaching things from a different angle. The 3 Series was once the king of the compact luxury sport sedan market, but recent offerings have gone a bit soft. So instead of adding another 3 Series variant, the company has decided to refresh the car from the ground up and replace the 335i with the new 340i.
SEE ALSO: 2016 BMW 340i xDrive Review
Not to be confused with BMW’s other 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engines, the 340i uses a new turbocharged inline-six that generates 320 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the Mercedes, power can be sent to all four wheels or just the pair in the rear and there is a choice in transmissions. Standard is a six-speed manual unit with a ZF derived eight-speed automatic as optional.
Specs Don’t Always Add Up
Even though both cars are still considered compacts, nothing is compact about their weights. When equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive, the C450 AMG weighs in at a portly 3,748 pounds. But that isn’t all that bad compared to the BMW 340i xDrive that’s in desperate need of a diet, crushing the scales at 3,820 lbs.
So, with lighter weight and a lot more power, the Mercedes is easily the faster car, right? Well, not according to the manufacturers. BMW has the 340i xDrive pegged for a zero-to-60 mph run in a time of 4.6 seconds while Mercedes claims the C450 AMG takes a little bit longer to reach 60 mph, needing 4.8 seconds.
And on the road, the disparity seems even greater. The C450 never seems to have the same urgency as the 340i, no matter which of the drive modes is engaged. There’s also a delay when trying to enlist some sudden acceleration while rolling at low speeds. A big pause occurs from when the throttle is depressed to the point in which the vehicle actually start to move with authority.
The Magic is in the Transmission
Some of this delay has to do with Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic, a transmission I’ve complained about being slow to react in the past. Once underway though, shift times improve and boost builds quickly.
But try as it may, the Mercedes transmission can’t match the eight-speed found in the 340i. It’s one of the most enjoyable eight-speed automatics I have driven. It’s not exactly fun, but it sucks the least amount of joy from the driving experience compared to most automatic transmissions. It actually wants me to play with the paddle shifters and change my own gears – a similar feeling I get with the Corvette and Jaguar F-Type’s eight-speed autos.
Loud vs Illegitimate
Even if the C450 doesn’t feel as quick or responsive in a straight line, it does win when it comes to sound. It’s easily the louder of the two cars and has a nice exhaust note that’s not too intrusive, but always lets you know it’s there. And when things get a little furious behind the wheel, the C450 emits those telltale German pops and barks during redline up shifts.
The 340i isn’t as loud as the C450 from inside the cabin, but does generate a pleasing straight-six soundtrack under hard driving. The problem is, not all of that sound is genuine, as it’s being partially enhanced through the car’s audio system. What has me perplexed is why this is needed as the 340i already makes plenty of real noise from outside the cabin.
|Vehicle||BMW 340i xDrive||Advantage||Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic|
|Engine||3.0 L turbocharged Inline-6||-||3.0 L turbocharged V6|
|Horsepower||320 hp||C450||362 hp|
|Torque||332 lb-ft.||C450||384 lb-ft.|
|Weight||3,820 lbs.||C450||3,748 lbs.|
|0-60 MPH||4.6 seconds||340i||4.8 seconds|
|Trunk Space||13 cubic feet||340i||12.6 cubic feet|
|Fuel Economy (US)||22 mpg city, 33 mpg highway||340i||21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway|
|Fuel Economy (CDN)||10.9 L/100 km city, 7.2 L/100 km highway||340i||11.2 L/100 km city, 8.1 L/100 km highway|
|Observed Fuel Economy||23.1 mpg||340i||22.8 mpg|
|As Tested Price(US)||$59,945||340i||$60,920|
|As Tested Price(CDN)||$66,445||340i||$68,725|
That Magic Feeling
Even if the sounds aren’t all that legitimate, the 340i’s handling prowess most definitely is. The car has that connected feeling that’s been missing in recent 3 Series models. I don’t know what it is about this car that feels like a return of BMWs of old, but it’s there. Steering, handling and braking are all lively and ooze confidence.
It’s that confidence that’s lacking the in C450 AMG. I was hoping the car would be somewhat of a C 63 lite, but instead it’s just a faster C400. There isn’t a big difference in handling over the C400 and the car lacks that next level of urgency found in the 340i. On twisting back roads, I felt more comfortable exploring the limits of the BMW, whereas I never felt fully comfortable pushing the Mercedes-Benz. Part of the issue is a stability control that’s a bit too eager to step in and a little too aggressive in its engine suppression when the faintest bit of slip is detected.
Performance is Nice, But is There Some Luxury?
With the BMW holding a decisive performance edge, it’s not all bad news for Mercedes-Benz. The C-Class definitely holds the advantage when it comes to interior style. There isn’t much on the market that exudes luxury and opulence like the C-Class does for the price. The center stack is a near work of art and many of us love the open-pore wood. The cranberry interior may not be my first choice, but it’s a nice contrast and there are other color options.
The 340i does have some merits of its own, like a front seat that offers greater adjustability and a thicker, nicer feeling steering wheel. And some preferred the Bimmer’s wide-screen infotainment display rather than the Benz’s larger, protruding screen. But when it comes to iDrive versus COMAND, it really is just a matter of personal preference, as either system can be used fairly easily once learned.
The Verdict: 2016 BMW 340i vs 2016 Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG
But luxury isn’t going to win the day with these cars, performance is and when it comes to compact performance luxury sedans, the BMW 340i is the better option over the Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG. Welcome back, 3 Series.
2016 BMW 340i xDrive
2016 Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic