There was a time, not too long ago, when the C-Class and the 3 Series were entry-level luxury cars. Portals to the world of German luxury and quality which both Mercedes-Benz and BMW stand for. Technology, development, and rising costs have moved both the C-Class and the 3 Series to a segment higher now. The new C-Class is, well, completely new and the 330Li we have here is the Limo version of the fan-favourite 3 Series. Both are not just entry-level cars anymore, and that’s what makes this matchup interesting.
As far as looks go, both the cars are what one expects a C-Class to look like, and what one expects a 3 Series to look like. The new C-Class gets a fresh and sleek look with the new grille, a redesigned front bumper, a massive three-pointed star, and a thick chrome strip. At the rear, the C-Class gets split-tail lamps for the first time, and I think they work well. The profile is where you start noticing why the baby S-Class comparison is made. Overall length of the car has increased by 65mm and the wheelbase has been stretched by 25mm. On the topic of being stretched, the 330Li has a 110mm increase in wheelbase over the standard 3 Series. It is in profile, and the badging, that you truly notice this is the 330Li. Otherwise, it looks very similar to the standard 3 Series — agile and sporty.
On the inside, however, these two cars could not be more different. The new C-Class does have the unfair advantage of belonging to the latest generation, although I doubt any buyer would consider this an unfair advantage. The new C-Class is like a mirror image of the S-Class on the inside. Large screens give the cabin a very modern, digital feel, and the backlit turbine-shaped aircon vents add to the vibe. The driver’s display is a 12.3- inch screen configurable through multiple display themes and modes, however, it is the 11.9-inch central touchscreen that will wow you. Subtly tilted towards the driver by six degrees, it is a beautiful, high-resolution screen that is high on functionality. All the buttons are the haptic kind, where you slide over them and not press, including opening the sunroof. Everything is logically laid out on the screen, too, and Mercedes has aimed at reaching every setting in under three taps. Clothed in pinstripes, this interior seems like it has been designed in a fashion house, not a shop floor.
The 330Li gets dark open-pore wood trim and a lot more chrome compared to the standard 3 Series. There is a Harman/Kardon audio system, heads-up display, gesture control, and paddle shifters. There is a 10.25-inch touchscreen, a 12.3-inch information display, and the latest version of BMW’s Drive. The interior is what you expect in a BMW, high quality and premium. Definitely not as modern and techy as the C-Class, but certainly upmarket and luxurious.
The other significant change in the new C-Class is the technology on board. The infotainment screen gets the latest version of the MBUX infotainment system (NTG7), with important updates. The climate control settings are always at the bottom bar, which is really convenient. The C-Class finally gets wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and it works seamlessly. You can set up up to seven different profiles and each user can log in through a PIN, a fingerprint scan, or voice recognition. ‘Hey Mercedes’ are magic words in the new C-Class and the system does understand Indian accents better. For each profile, the C-Class remembers the seat and steering position, ambient light colour, temperature, last media source, and the route followed. The Mercedes me app has also been updated, and now allows you to pre-cool your car before you reach it, along with monitoring a number of systems like tyre pressure, geofencing, eco-display, door/sunroof open or closed, and more.
The 330Li gets its dose of technology, too, with the BMW Operation System version 7.0, which supports gesture, speech, touch, and has the iDrive controller to allow for easier operation. There is a virtual assistant on standby to answer questions on the car, and like all modern machines, it is always listening and learning. There is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, a parking assistant, and cruise control with braking assistance.
Let’s tilt the balance in favour of the 330Li, should we? The biggest ace up the 330Li’s leather-covered sleeve is the engine — a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with 255 bhp and 40.79 kgm of torque, and an 8-speed ZF gearbox that is as smooth as you expect it to be. The engine is quite refined while coasting, and ready to snarl the moment you want things to be exciting. It is rev-happy and responsive, as one would want a 3 Series to be. You may want to keep the added length in mind before you start chucking the 330Li into corners. The stretched wheelbase has led to a softer suspension, and there is a trade-off in favour of better ride quality over body roll. Nothing you would notice on a regular day, though.
The 1.5-litre engine on the C 200 sounds small in comparison, but it makes a respectable 201 bhp and 30.59 kgm of torque. There is a seamlessly integrated 48-volt mild-hybrid system, which provides an extra 20.39 kgm of torque, and essentially covers up for the lack of low-end torque on the C 200. The engine does require a nudge, but it does wake up and around the 3000 rpm-mark is when you actually hear it — it sounds pretty decent for a 1.5-litre four-cylinder motor. If power is what you want, the C 300d and the M340i are the ones you should be looking at.
In isolation, it is hard to fault either the C 200 or the 330Li. Both are comfortable, luxurious, fun to drive, and feature-loaded. When you drive them back-to-back, however, you realise how much one is trying to be like the other. The 330Li with the extra legroom and softer ride wants to attract someone who values rear seat comfort more, while the C 200 — with its technology and performance — wants to attract someone who wants a sporty, but comfortable sedan. And that, to me, is a classic case of target fixation. Mercedes has come out of this target fixation with an improved and well-rounded C-Class and we will wait for the all-new 3 Series to see how BMW fares. Till then, the new C-Class is definitely the car to beat in this segment.
AUTODATAMercedes-Benz C 200
1496cc, I4, turbo-petrol
201 bhp@5800-6100 rpm
30.59 kgm@1800-4000 rpm
F/R: 205/55 R17
Rs 55 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)
1998cc, I4, turbo-petrol
255 bhp@5000 rpm
40.79 kgm@1550-4400 rpm
F/R: 225/50 R17
Rs 54.58 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)