The BMW 3 series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class have always been about introducing younger buyers to their respective brands. These two arch rivals are tantalizingly within reach for people who want to move up from more common and cheaper models but cannot afford the huge step up to a bigger BMW or Mercedes. Both the 1994-99 BMW 3 series (E36) or Mercedes C class (W202) and the 2000 BMW 3 series (E46) and Mercedes C class (W203) have successfully done the job of tempting people into their first new “Beemer” (BMW) and “Merc” (Mercedes Benz). BMW and Mercedes have used these two platforms to rival each other in the race to be on top of the competitive entry-level luxury car market.
The E46 is the fourth generation of the BMW 3 Series while W203 is the second generation of the Mercedes C class in the compact executive cars segment. BMW E46 was produced from 1998 when it succeeded the BMW E36. The E46 was released to worldwide markets in the sedan body style. In 1999, a coupé and touring body style became available to all markets.
Mercedes C class (W203) was first sold as sedan and station wagon however in 2000 it debuted a fastback/hatchback coupe version called the CLC. BMW produced the M3 as a high-performance variant of the E46 while Mercedes introduced AMG to match the engine “fire power”. Both the E46 and W203 have experienced enormous success in all markets and still widely considered the performance benchmarks of their class.
BMW designed the E46 body shell and aluminium suspension with an emphasis on reducing un-sprung weight and increasing structural rigidity rather than increasing power output. E46 was released with a front engine rear-wheel drive layout with 50/50 weight distribution. This drive train balance allows for optimal handling and exceptional road manners. E46 feels like it is bolted on the road as it gives you a firm road grip on highway twists and bends even when you kick down the accelerator pedal. The steering is re-assuring and the ride firm.
This handling quality is appealing to the accelerator “happy”rally driver “wannabes”. Mercedes has accurate steering and faithful dynamics which give you a feeling of security and peace of mind. The combination of the M111 engine, 4 G Tronic four speed automatic gearbox and the electronic stability and traction control assure the driver of good performance even when the terrain becomes more slippery. Mercedes response to road dynamics, although not to rally standards, is good enough for our narrow and challenging highways which have uncanny and surprising speed bumps at every trading centre round the corner. Mercedes has better ground clearance which suits our uneven road humps and pot holed side roads.
The BMW 320i’s M52 2.0 litre engine comes with a six cylinder 24 valve straight DOHC engine with the nikasil aluminium block and the upgraded variable valve timing (‘dual VANOS’ continuous control for both inlet and exhaust camshafts). This BMW 32Oi’s higher engine power output gives it a livelier and more responsive performance. The BMW 320i accelerates one second faster than the Mercedes C200 Kompressor. Mercedes C200K puts up a spirited fight with its supercharged M111.955 engine but its four cylinder engine with a paltry 16 valves is no match for BMW’s sheer brutish force. Mercedes, however, strikes back with a much better fuel economy proposition to emerge with a more balanced engine performance option for the cost conscious average Ugandan motorist.
STYLE & DESIGN
Whereas E46’s proportions are more generous and its lines more plump, it still gives the same E36 sporty looks and solid legendary drive experience. Mercedes’ W203 Styling themes were carried over from the previous W201 series. They came with a smoother and rounder more aero dynamic design than the previous generation of compact Mercedes. The peanut shaped head lights, wider alloy wheels, more generous body chrome inserts served to accentuate the invitation to try out the Mercedes luxury and elegance.
COMFORT & SAFETY
BMW and Mercedes provide more than the bare necessities such as air conditioning and a decent stereo. Electric comfort features such as power mirrors, windows and seat adjusting facilities are provided. The Mercedes upholstery (seats) are a lot more comfortable and spacious than BMW’s sporty bucket seats. Mercedes has better rear legroom. The standard safety features are of world class: dual front air bags, all door fitted airbags, seatbelts with pre-tensioning kits, anti-lock brakes with traction control and electronic stability programme enhance passive driver safety. Mercedes stays the luxury king and BMW the performance king.
RELIABILITY & RESALE VALUE
German engineering behind the Mercedes and BMW ensures that their products are of world class quality and last a long time. However, “terms and conditions apply”, when you choose a used one in the bonds make sure you get an independent diagnostic inspection to ensure the dealer is not passing on a damaged or poorly maintained vehicle. These engines require high standards of maintenance in terms of maintenance technicians, lubricants and genuine service parts. Fortunately these parts are readily available at various independent parts dealers around town however they come at a high price. The good news is genuine parts fitted usually last a very long time. The resale value of Mercedes is better than that of the BMW because of the Ugandan perceived Mercedes luxury value.
BMW gets four points for better performance, good road handling, modern style and design, safety and comfort as well as reliability. Mercedes wins the duel with five points for better fuel economy, good handling, modern style and design, safety and comfort as well as reliability and better resale value. .