Photography by Jeff Wilson
Canadians may be flocking to crossovers and SUVs these days, but sedans still command a respectable amount of market share and are worthwhile investments for automakers. The entry-level luxury sedan segment is a popular and highly competitive one, with various models laying claim to the sales title over the years. The BMW 3 Series has long been the benchmark in this segment since its introduction in 1975 but is frequently cross-shopped with the Benz C-Class, so it made sense to pit these two in a head-to-head comparison. The 330i xDrive and C300 4Matic we tested were close in price and evenly matched in terms of specs and available equipment – both making use of 2.0-litre four-cylinder powerplants mated to all-wheel drive.
An Audi A4 would have been a logical choice as well, but unfortunately there wasn’t one available for us to test. Given that it impressed us enough to take home the 2019 autoTRADER.ca Overall Top Pick Award, we decided to invite the Genesis G70 to the party to see how it would fare against these heavy hitters. The G70 is also available with a 2.0L turbocharged engine, but we felt it made the most sense to step up the trim level to the 3.3T with HTRAC all-wheel drive, since its sticker price still came in well below the other two, making it a more realistic comparison in terms of how buyers will be shopping. After all, who doesn’t want to see how far they can stretch their hard-earned dollars?
Each of these vehicles brings a compelling argument to the table – be it functionality, luxury, fuel efficiency, or performance. There will be some who won’t include the Genesis on their shopping list simply because of its badge, which would be a mistake because it’s proven to be capable competition against the established stalwarts. Not only was the G70 better equipped for the money, it also boasted an extra 110 hp over the two Germans for less money. But there’s far more to the story.
Our editorial team congregated to consider these four-door sedans inside and out over the course of two days of comprehensive testing. These three vehicles were driven back-to-back under the same conditions – impressions and opinions varied but results were unanimous.
Third Place: 2019 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic
The C-Class has had a winning formula for years. Sophisticated entry-level luxury wrapped up in a handsome-looking package at an accessible price point has made it ubiquitous on urban streets. The recent styling changes have watered down the looks, quite literally. It’s as though Salvador Dali had his way with it, melting the body panels like wax and letting it cool. Updates for 2019 didn’t do it any favours either. The new LED headlights were deemed too busy with multiple layers of lenses reminiscent of what Acura has done for years; the wheels have a new lip for improved aerodynamics, but which makes the wheels look small and frumpy. It was also agreed that the diamond-patterned grille doesn’t work as well visually as last year’s horizontal two-bar design. The Emerald Green Metallic paint (an $890 option) was subtle and sophisticated in most lights but gleamed in the sunshine. It was well complemented by the silk beige leather and open-pore walnut wood trim ($1,990 and $250 options respectively).
The Merc’s interior felt adequate on its own, but wasn’t as visually appealing or intuitive as the Genesis and not as supportive or substantial as the BMW when driven back-to-back. The seats also didn’t feel as supportive or comfortable. While the rear seating areas of both the BMW and Genesis offered amenities like climate control and charging capabilities to passengers sitting in the back, the C-Class was very basic and barren. A child may not have an issue getting in or out of the vehicle, but each our testers had a challenge bending themselves into the rear row, which also lacked headroom. Once settled in, however, the large dual-pane panoramic moonroof makes the interior bright and airy.
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Defying tradition and seemingly insight, Mercedes continues to place the switchgear for automatic transmissions where most manufacturers put the windshield wiper switch, meaning drivers are likely to accidentally select neutral or change gears while trying to activating the wipers until they are familiar with the vehicle.
The C300’s steering is light and effortless, but is also somewhat vague and lacks feedback, particularly when compared to the BMW. The new 2.0L engine has sufficient power for most consumers, but is noisy at idle and only gets worse when pushed. The nine-speed transmission offered smooth shifts but prioritizes fuel economy and comfort over performance. Accessing the Sport mode didn’t seem to make much of a difference in steering inputs or throttle response and also doesn’t impact suspension settings. Its suspension felt poised on smooth to moderate road surfaces, but didn’t feel as composed when things got rough or bumpy. Braking was strong, linear, and predictable, offering good initial bite and modulation.
Gauges are well laid out and the C-Class finally gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though the new larger screen is still only operated via the Comand input pad and dial located on the centre console. It can be configured multiple ways to suit a driver’s particular preferences, but still feels needlessly complex and finnicky. The voice recognition system also offered challenges, requiring drivers to pull over and painstakingly input addresses manually.
Second Place: 2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
Now is the time you need to ask yourself, just what is it you’re looking for in a luxury, sport sedan. The Genesis G70 turned the entire class on its head last year, scooping up kudos, accolades, and awards from driving enthusiasts and media around the globe. The Korean luxury brand had something to prove, and was entering into combat against legendary performance sedans (like BMW’s 3 Series) where a half-baked offering simply wouldn’t cut it.
In driving it back-to-back with both the new 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s C300, it became clear: the Genesis is the real deal and deserves to be here. The more I drove this car, the more I loved it.
Dynamically, the G70 is brilliant. At low speeds, the Genesis feels heavier than the other two cars, but as speeds increase, it simply comes alive and any weightiness becomes surefootedness and stability, making the G70 an easy car to drive fast. Its Brembo brakes are strong and offer good, linear pedal feel too.
It’s the engine that really shines in this company. The G70’s twin-turbo, 3.3L V6 is like bringing the proverbial Howitzer to a knife fight in this group. With 365 hp and a monstrous 376 lb-ft of torque at your disposal, the Genesis delivers 110 more horses and 80 more lb-ft than the next most powerful competitor here, the BMW.
Yes, it’s true the BMW and Mercedes both offer turbocharged six-cylinder engines that are at least a match for the G70’s engine, and yes, it’s also true the Genesis is available with a more comparable 2.0L four-cylinder turbo engine. However, looking at the price lists, it became clear the V6 Genesis is still priced lower than the four-cylinder competitors in this test and that potential buyers of the Bimmer or Merc could rightly consider a top-of-the-line G70 if they weren’t as concerned with the badge on the hood.
And it isn’t as if G70 is all engine and no luxury, either. With a full host of active driver aids, an excellent Lexicon stereo, and supportive seats finished in lovely quilted leather, the Genesis represents stellar value. It’s as though the Genesis engineers studied all of their competitors interiors to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. Everything is well laid out and intuitive. The quilted seats were a big hit with the entire evaluation team. Plus, its a great looking car, with an aggressive stance and well-balanced proportions.
So, why isn’t the Genesis sitting in the top spot? For one thing, that larger engine consumes a lot more fuel than the two German four-bangers, so you’ve gotta pay to play. But there are other areas where the G70 fell a little short.
Its interior, while unanimously celebrated for its ergonomics, isn’t as artful or lavishly finished with materials as high in quality as the BMW. Plus, it’s quite cramped in the backseat, another area where the 330i easily dominates.
The Genesis also feels a generation behind in its applications of technology. The screen for the infotainment system is small and dim compared to the Germans’, and the keyless entry requires the driver to push a button on the door handle, whereas newer systems save the step by having a touch panel on the back of the door handle. First-world problems, yes, but this is the luxury market. It’s little details like these – or the adaptive cruise control that’s not quite as polished for smooth operation as the others – that an owner will endure every time they drive the car, and they are the one footing the bill.
Still, when that V6 snarls up the rev range, thrusting the G70 forward, it’s pretty easy to forget the minor details. Factor in that it offers the most affordable test price of the trio by a substantial margin, and the Genesis G70 makes a very compelling case for itself.
Winner: 2019 BMW 330i xDrive
Don’t hate the latest generation BMW 3 Series because it doesn’t offer a manual transmission, because when you drive it, especially back-to-back against its key rivals as we did here, there’s still no question that it’s the enthusiast’s choice in the driving feel department – even if its engine was leagues behind in power to the G70’s twin-turbocharged tsunami of torque.
After all the driving was done, and we had sat in the back of them all, poked around in every trunk and (at least tried) folding every seat, the BMW stood out in multiple areas, both practical and aesthetic. Out of seven scoring categories (which comprises over 30 data points), the BMW finished first in four of them: design, seating, suspension/chassis, and – by far its most convincing win –fuel economy.
Exterior styling always tends to be subjective, but there was general consensus that the BMW had the most modern design of the bunch.
“The front end is especially well-done with the wide grille and squinty headlight treatment lending a broad, mean visage to the Bimmer,” said prior-gen 3 Series owner Jeff Wilson, while a close-up look reveals tech-forward details like its optional laser headlights. “It’s fresh and contemporary, but still immediately recognizable as a BMW.”
The BMW was even more future-ready with its all-digital instrument panel, allowing the driver to customize the instruments directly ahead as well as the large horizontal screen in the middle of the dash. But surprisingly there are also lots of physical buttons too, including station preset buttons and the always-welcome volume knob. It was clearly the most advanced and high-tech interior here; but the overall interior score placed the BMW just behind the G70, which offered a few more features, such as cooled seats and active driver seat bolsters that move when cornering to keep one’s torso in place.
Speaking of seats, Jeff noted the artfulness of the contrast stitching on these BMW’s seats, as well as their overall comfort, holding drivers nicely in place on curvy roads even without those fancy active bolsters. But it was in the rear seat area that the BMW truly garnered big points, with notably more space than its rivals and also niceties like three-stage heated seats, three-zone climate controls, and multiple USB ports, though it’s the super-modern USB-C variety, so don’t forget your adapters.
The brilliant steering and handling response in this car may just become its calling card, as 3 Series were long known for, before they shifted focus toward “mainstream” luxury sales leadership. But there’s a price in comfort to be paid for this high bar in handling – though the run-flat tires likely contributed to the BMW’s fairly rough ride quality, which had me wondering why I had it in Sport mode in the city, before realizing that it was in the default Comfort setting all along.
Another clear lead was in the BMW’s observed fuel consumption average of 9.5 L/100 km, which blew away the others, and especially the G70, not surprisingly.
Overall then, the latest BMW 3 Series shines in a whole host of areas, both ones it’s known for – driving dynamics, fuel efficiency – and new ones, with roomy back seats and the latest in high-tech interior displays.
“I’ve had a trio of 3 Series BMWs over the years and despite its size, styling, and high-tech functions, it still just felt like ‘home’ to me,” said Jeff. “The 330i is very good indeed, and should appease most buyers simply looking for a decently quick, luxury sedan – but this car makes me ache for the upcoming M340i’s lusty inline-six.”
||2019 BMW 330i xDrive||2019 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD||2019 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic|
|Peak Horsepower||255 hp @ 5,000 rpm||365 hp @ 6,000 rpm||255 hp @ 5,800 rpm|
|Peak Torque||295 lb-ft @ 1,550 rpm||376 lb-ft @ 1,300 rpm||273 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.2/7.2/8.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||13.3/9.5/11.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb||11.0/7.3/9.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||480 L||298 L||480 L|
|Price as Tested||$62,845||$57,600||$61,505|
|Optional Equipment||$11,500 – Premium Excellence Package $8,900; M Sport Package $2,000; Adaptive M Suspension $600||None||$12,855 – Premium One Package $4,000; Premium 2 Package $2,300; Sport Package $1,700; Heating Steering Wheel $250; Sirius Satellite Radio $475; Surround Sound System $1,000; Walnut Wood Open Pore $250; Emerald Green Metallic Paint $890; Silk Beige Leather $1,990|