We use “premium” and “luxury” interchangeably these days. But the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 and 2022 Volvo S60 show just how different these two terms can be.
Mercedes has redone its smallest rear-drive model for this year. As has long been the case, the new C-Class brings more than a hint of the S-Class, the de facto luxury car poster child, to the compact sedan segment. It’s smooth, it coddles its passengers, and it has a reputation for quality.
So does the Volvo S60. In fact, we’d call Volvo’s smallest sedan one of the industry’s underdogs. Criminally overlooked, this handsome four-door has a lot to offer, if not the badge kudos that come with a brand new Merc.
Is there clear air between the premium Volvo and the luxury Benz? How much more car can you get if you’re willing to look beyond the Germans? Managing editor Mike Schlee and I spent a week finding out.
Interior and Cargo Space
C300: The new C-Class adopts the latest Mercedes cabin design, sleek and modern with a variety of available materials and textures. It’s a pleasant space, the wraparound dashboard making it more intimate than the Volvo without feeling tight. The general layout is similar to the S-Class, with a large portrait-style touchscreen rising out of the dashboard. We understand the ergonomic reasons for having it slightly angled, but it does look like the screen is simply crooked. The squircle break up the design nicely, and are satisfying to adjust.
Whoever specced this press car showed remarkable restraint, and that means Merc’s standard Artico upholstery for the seats. It might be artificial leather, but you wouldn’t know unless you were told. Front-seat comfort is high, with a flat cushion and short thigh support being the only real criticisms. The Merc has a little less front headroom of this pair (37.2 inches / 945 millimeters), which can force taller folks to adopt a more reclined driving position than normal. Sightlines are generally good; a little thicker A-pillars contrast with a lower windowline and better over-the-shoulder visibility.
The Merc’s second row is a mixed bag. It’s very comfortable, and has more headroom than the Volvo—and the front row. The C300 lacks any sort of climate controls for rear-seat rides, though. Spreading the ambient lighting to the rear door panels is a nice touch, and material quality is still strong back here. The Merc also has the edge in legroom, with an adult-friendly 36.0 inches (914 mm) of the stuff.
Pop the trunk and the C300 will swallow 12.6 cubic feet (357 liters) of stuff, with a 40/20/40 folding rear bench for the most practicality a sedan can offer.
S60: The Volvo can’t match the whiz-bang modernity of the Merc’s cabin. The dashboard is a blockier affair, looking more chiselled from an iceberg than the curvy C300 design. Volvo’s build quality is rock-solid, but the center console betrays the S60’s spot in the premium sedan pecking order. Where the Merc has a wonderfully flashy texture here, the Volvo has functional sliders to conceal the front cubby and cupholders. The plastic matte for the wireless charger looks and feels cheap. Not only that, its placement and size makes it useless for larger phones.
The carved-out door panels and thin A-pillars give the S60 a generous feeling of space up front. The Swede enjoys a narrow headroom advantage (37.4 inches / 950 mm), but where it really gains an early lead is seat comfort. Volvo has consistently produced excellent seating, and the S60 is no exception. The front thrones are well-sculpted and supportive, particularly with good under-leg support. Not only that, they look great, too.
The Volvo’s second row lets the side down a bit, with tighter dimensions made worse by a rising beltline and thick C-pillars. It’s comfy enough, but adult riders will likely prefer the Merc. That being said, the Volvo does offer rear-seat climate controls, which is a big win. A small-but-welcome feature: electronically-controlled headrests.
It might look larger, but the Volvo’s tail hides a slightly smaller trunk, giving up a full cubic foot to the C300’s third box. There’s a small passthrough in the middle of the bench for longer items, but the seats themselves are the more common 60/40 folding variety.
Bottom Line: The Merc is newer and flashier, with the marginally more accommodating backrow. The Volvo has the edge in seat comfort, though a cheapish center console dulls its shine. Let’s call it a draw so far.
2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 vs 2022 Volvo S60: Tech and Features
C300: Both of us had issues with these cars’ infotainment setups. Mike didn’t love the C300, with complaints focusing on the amount of menu-diving required to get to what’s needed. As someone who has spent more time in Mercs this year, my first reaction is to point out the learning curve is simply steeper. Is there an over-reliance on touchscreen controls? Yep—but at least it’s a huge screen, so hitting the wrong button is rare. We just want a volume knob…
The Stuttgart sedan’s instrument panel offers similar levels of menu adjustability, but it’s more welcome here. There’s so much info to be displayed, allowing almost any driver to find the right combination via the little thumb-pad on the right-side wheel spoke.
Mercedes offers tons of tech in the latest C-Class—head-up display, augmented navigation, super-smooth adaptive cruise control—but this mildly-specced tester eschews most of it. The lack of most modern driver assist features as standard feels more chintzy with each passing year.
S60: There’s no way the Volvo’s infotainment screen will wow riders after seeing the Merc’s. The setup looks dated, and its response times are comparatively tardy. There is a simpler menu hierarchy that’s easier to pick up, however, and we appreciate Apple CarPlay not taking over the entire screen. Volvo moved to on-screen climate controls a while ago, and though we still grumble about it, at least there’s no diving into sub-menus.
Instrument panel tweakers will be disappointed with the lack of customization here. The screen behind the steering wheel doesn’t do all that much, offering navigation and … not a whole lot else. At least the S60 has navigation, though.
Now admittedly, the Volvo does ask for extra coin for its full driver assist suite, just like the Benz. This tester does feature it, and the Pilot Assist makes for smooth, stress-free progress on highways. We’re always fans of head-up displays too, although this one requires a major dig into the menus to turn it on. Less fun, that.
Bottom Line: Is it awkward if neither car wins this category? Both of us had our separate issues with the S60 and C300’s infotainment setups. On top of that, the Merc feels stingy with its lack of driver assists, while the Volvo has some truly arcane menu setups to handle tasks that should be easy. If a system is pulling attention away from the task of driving, it’s a bad system.
Powertrain, Driving Feel, and Efficiency
C300: Mercedes has (in)famously relegated this new C-Class to an exclusively four-cylinder engine lineup. That’s no bad thing, as the mild-hybrid system here is a good one. The 2.0-liter turbo-four is rated at 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet on its own. On top of that, the EQ Boost setup provides short bursts of up to 20 hp an 148 lb-ft, largely functioning as torque fill. A nine-speed automatic sends power to the rear wheels, with 4MATIC all-wheel drive as an option (or standard, in Canada).
This is a smooth little package. The C300 is quick, and even sends out a subtly muscular engine note to other road users. According to the official figures and the seats of our pants, this is the quicker car of the pair, accelerating to highway speeds in about 6 seconds. We’ve found other Mercs sometimes jerky in their low-speed operation, but the C has none of it, near-silently swapping between its many ratios.
The big, thick steering wheel is light on feel but ultra-smooth, bang-on-target for a baby luxury car. Neither Schlee or I like the brakes however. Hit the left pedal and there’s initially plenty of travel, before the brakes suddenly bite. This non-linear nature makes it hard to judge just how much braking pressure is necessary. Every. Single. Time.
Mike notes a slightly stiff suspension, writing that the Benz “feels neither sporty, nor a comfy cruiser. Just a premium car that’s sort of there.” I took it on a longer-distance weekend getaway and found it very comfortable. Despite the addition of the Sport package, the C300 doesn’t egg its driver on the way a Genesis G70 or Alfa Romeo Giulia would, however. Sure, there are selectable drive modes, but you get the feeling the C300 is really rather over the whole twisty-road thing. Oh, and the low, long nose requires care on even moderately-graded driveways.
Officially, the C300 4Matic is good for 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 27 mpg. Canadian equivalents are 9.9, 7.1, and 8.6 L/100 km, respectively. We saw even better than that during our week, though the car gobbled up more highway mileage than city, skewing the results. Still, 29 mpg (8.0 L/100 km)
S60: Volvo moved the S60 to an all-four-cylinder lineup before it was cool. The Swede runs a 2.0-liter turbo mild-hybrid setup as well. It’s slightly down on power at 247 hp and 258 lb-ft, and is also hauling around an extra 56 lb (25 kg). There’s one less gear in the ‘box, too. The AWD here is also optional, though a standard S60 sends its power through the front axle, not the rear like the Merc.
It might not have the numbers, but the Volvo’s engine makes a strong case for itself nonetheless. This is still a quick car to 62 mph (100 km/h); about a half-second behind the C-Class but still plenty enough to get up to highway speed comfortably. The Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic is a perfect match, keeping the needle in the thick of the powerband while seamlessly shuffling between the gears.
The Volvo is a noisier car than the Mercedes. It’s not bad—in fact, both of us prefer the sound of the Volvo’s turbo-four, at least from inside the cabin—but the S60 lacks the vault-like silence that feels so luxurious in the C300. More vibrations also make their way into the seatbacks.
The S60 is a tauter ride than the Merc, but only just. Don’t mistake that, nor the R-Design pack, with driving enthusiasm, however. This is another car that feels best when relaxed, where the well-weighted and direct steering is natural. There’s none of the non-linearity to the S60’s brake pedal, either, which quickly builds confidence.
Fuel economy leans ever so slightly in the Volvo’s favor. It scores 25 mpg in the city and the same 33 mpg highway rating as the Mercedes, which results in a 28 mpg combined rating. Canadian figures are 9.4, 6.9, and 8.3 L/100 km. Like its competitor, the Volvo runs on premium fuel.
Bottom Line: Odd, disconcerting brake pedal aside, the Mercedes has the better drivetrain. It also does a better job pampering its riders, which is the point here.
2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 vs 2022 Volvo S60: Styling
C300: We’re not going to wheel out the whole “baby S-Class” line here but, well, if it quaken like an ente, then it’s probably an ente. The latest C-Class doesn’t stray far from the traditional Mercedes styling language, with teardrop-shaped headlights, a wide grille, and clean flanks. The rear adopts the triangular taillight setup found on most Mercs, though without the connecting chrome trim, it makes the C look more A/CLA than anything else.
We’re not sold on these aero-style wheels, either. The design makes the C300 look under-tired, and it’s not like the disc element is thin, either. We imagine it adds a fair amount of weight right where engineers don’t want it. What’s more, if you’re in a snow-susceptible area, the wheels will store that stuff like a chipmunk packing for hibernation.
S60: Look, we know Volvo’s current styling approach has been with us for a while. But why mess with success? The S60 might just be the best iteration of the design direction, too. Wide and low, the S60 is big without feeling ungainly, defined but not over-styled. The R-Design package and its subtly aggressive lines help, as do the upsized 19-inch alloys. There isn’t a bad angle on this sedan, as far as we’re concerned.
Bottom Line: Volvo has the most handsome sedan in the land. Don’t underestimate the appeal of that three-pointed star, however.
Pricing and Value
C300: As we mentioned earlier, someone exercised a Maybach GLS-sized amount of restraint while speccing this particular C300. This Canadian-spec tester saw only a handful of boxes ticked, including the Sport Package, along with standalone options like wireless charging, a foot-activated trunk, and extended metal weave trim in the interior. It’s a unique spec you can’t quite recreate in the US—or indeed, in Canada.
You see, checking the Sport package box on the official car configurator forces the addition of the $3,200 CAD Premium Package. That adds navigation, a 360-degree camera, traffic sign assist, extended interior lighting, and a few other goodies. But the Premium Package isn’t on this car.
The quoted price of our rather unique tester, then, is $60,365 CAD (before destination, as Mercedes-Benz Canada allows each dealer to charge its own amount). The closest US equivalent exists somewhere between the $50,650 C300 4Matic Premium and $52,900 C300 4Matic Exclusive trims.
S60: Like the C300, the S60 doesn’t have an exact equivalent in the US. Figure on $45,595 (including destination) for the “basic” B5 R-Design AWD model, and then add on the additional stuff like the Climate package, Advanced package, B&W sound system—the optional front and rear parking assists here are standard in the US. Call it around $50,000 or so.
Bottom Line: As-tested, the Volvo is very slightly more expensive, but comes with a comprehensive safety kit and more standard features. Naturally, matching those bumps the Merc well beyond. Meanwhile, in the US the gap is practically non-existent. That cements the S60 as the better deal here.
2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 vs Volvo S60: Verdict
We didn’t think this one would run so close. The 2022 Mercedes-Benz C300 is a proper luxury car, insulating its passengers from the world outside and whisking them to destinations far away. It’s just (slightly) smaller than the brand’s other offerings. Even this model, with hardly any boxes ticked, impressed. And who can argue the appeal of the three-pointed star? If you’re all about the latest tech, the C300 offers the bleeding edge in the compact sedan segment. If you’re willing to drop even more cash, it can be turned into the baby S-Class journalist so often call it, too.
In these particular specs, however, it’s hard to resist the charm of the Volvo. It’s handsome, smooth, safe, and comprehensively outpoints the Merc on features. Why shouldn’t you get more for your money? That’s precisely what the Volvo offers.
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