By Paul Maric
Lo and behold the Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe and the BMW 430i. We’re about to experience the life of a person that owns a ‘non-performance’ variant of a sports car and most certainly has no kids.
We weren’t sure what to expect, and we didn’t think that these two cars would have the same street cred as their more powerful siblings, let alone be as enjoyable to drive through a set of bends. Their more powerful siblings are of course the with AMG and M badges – cars that treat rear tyres like well-used primary school erasers.
PRICING AND SPECIFICATIONS
Priced from US $583,400 (before taxes), the C300 Coupe is the most expensive non-AMG C-Class Coupe on the market.
The vehicle had a number of options fitted, which included the US $3150 Vision Package (which includes active headlights with automatic high beam, head-up display and an electric sunroof), the US $350 Air Balance fragrance package and US $480 heated front seats.
The C-Class Coupe range starts from US $46,100 (before taxes) for the C200 Coupe and goes up to US $113,700 (before taxes) for the C63 S AMG Coupe.
It’s no longer like the old stingy days with these types of cars. They actually come very well equipped from the factory, meaning you won’t have to spend mega dollars on options. The C300 Coupe, for example, comes with the following features:
A whopping 13-speaker sound system; 19-inch alloy wheels; dual-zone climate control; seven airbags; Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; blind spot monitoring; brake assistance; front, rear and side cameras; front and rear parking sensors; forward collision alert; radar cruise control; LED daytime running lights; electric seats; steering wheel mounted paddle shifters; satellite navigation; automatic headlights and wipers; lane departure warning; leather seats; electric park brake; semi-autonomous parking; power boot control; DAB+ digital radio; rear cross traffic alert and tyre pressure monitor.
In terms of other options (aside from those fitted to our car), there’s only air suspension (US $2100), alarm (US $700), climate controlled front seats (US $1000), a TV tuner (US $1050) and optional paint colours (pricing varies between US $1400 and US $2100).
Powering the C300 Coupe is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 180kW of power and 370Nm of torque. It sends its torque to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The Benz uses a combined 6.6 litres of fuel per 100km, which is pretty reasonable considering the feisty four-cylinder engine and 1565kg kerb weight. Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-100km/h time of 6.0 seconds.
It’s much the same with the BMW 4 Series on pricing and specifications. Pricing starts from US $48,200 (before taxes) for the 420i and climbs all the way to $206,300 (before taxes) for the limited edition M4 GTS. The 430i tested here is priced from US $55,900 (before taxes), making it around US $2500 cheaper than the C-Class Coupe.
The vehicle came with a few options, namely radar cruise control (US $1100), power sunroof (US $2050), Internet connectivity (US $150), metallic paint (US $1290) and the M-Sport package.
Like the C-Class Coupe, the 4 Series range comes loaded with standard kit, including: a nine-speaker sound system; 19-inch alloy wheels; dual-zone climate control; six airbags; Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity; blind spot monitoring; front, rear and side cameras; front and rear parking sensors; proximity entry and start; autonomous emergency braking; LED daytime running lights; leather and electric seats for first row; steering wheel mounted paddle shifters; satellite navigation; automatic bi-xenon headlights; lane departure warning with passive steering; launch control; power boot control; DAB+ digital radio; tyre pressure monitoring and run flat tyres.
Unlike the C-Class Coupe, BMW offers a number of options. Some of these include special paint colours and LED headlights all the way through to a digital TV tuner.
Under the 430i’s bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 185kW of power and 350Nm of torque. The BMW sends torque through an eight-speed automatic gearbox to the rear wheels.
Fuel consumption is almost 15 per cent less than the C300 Coupe, coming in at 5.8 litres of fuel per 100km. BMW also claims a faster 0-100km/h time of 5.9 seconds.
The striking C-Class exterior design continues inside the cabin. Acres of wood and S-Class inspired switchgears leave a lasting impression. Ergonomically, everything is within easy reach and the clever use of seat controls on the door trim becomes second nature.
Additionally, the lack of a gear shifter means there is plenty of room in the centre tunnel. That includes a sizeable storage area between the driver and front passenger. But it also reveals the clumsy controller that sits ahead of the storage area. It can be hard to see buttons on the passenger side of the controller and its integration with COMAND can be a bit confusing.
The seats are very comfortable with a heap of side and bottom support. The same can be said for the AMG-inspired steering wheel, which sits nicely in hand and features all the buttons necessary for driving without taking your eyes off the road.
Trip computer functions take place on an LCD display that sits between the speedometer and tachometer, while main vehicle settings can be changed using the 8.4-inch COMAND infotainment screen.
That leads us to the infotainment system. The sound system is sensational and offers a heap of bass and very clear high frequencies. Audio comes in the form of AM/FM radio, in addition to DAB+ digital, along with a host of alternatives such as Bluetooth, auxiliary connectivity and USB.
Despite recent changes and usability improvements, COMAND still isn’t amazing to use. There’s an excessive amount of clicks and menus to reach the setting(s) you need. Entering navigation destinations can be time consuming, as can browsing through radio stations — especially on the digital frequency.
Mercedes-Benz does make up for this with an excellent voice recognition system. It’s very accurate and can be used to enter full navigation addresses or even call the hardest contact names.
While you’re unlikely to constantly carry passengers in the rear seats, we jumped in the back to see how much room was on offer. Both the BMW and Mercedes-Benz seat four, with the section between the rear seat passengers offering space for storage and cup holders.
Leg room is good, but not amazing, likewise with head room. It’s a slightly cramped space, but once you’re settled in it’s comfortable. I wouldn’t want to be sitting there for a long time, though. The backrests do fold, but not completely flat, meaning you could fit larger and longer items if required.
Boot capacity is a modest 400 litres — some 80 litres less than the BMW. You won’t find a spare tyre under the boot floor either, with both the C-Class Coupe and 4 Series featuring run-flat tyres.
The 430i’s interior takes on a very different approach. While it’s not as elegant, it’s typical BMW and feels better built and more solid in comparison to the C-Class Coupe. Where Mercedes-Benz opts for minimalism, BMW seemingly goes for the million buttons approach.
There’s also more space taken up by the manual parking brake (electric in the Mercedes-Benz) and the gear lever; which would be better suited to creating more storage space in the centre console. The M steering wheel sits nicely in hand, with the thin design housing buttons for cruise control and infotainment.
Speaking of infotainment, the 4 Series uses BMW’s iDrive system, which we consider to be best in the business. The 10.2-inch colour infotainment screen is driven by an iDrive circular controller and features logical menus with easy shortcut buttons. We found it far easier to scan through DAB+ digital radio stations as they were all presented in a vertical list, as opposed to a rotary display as in the Mercedes-Benz.
The voice recognition system is on par with Mercedes-Benz, offering easy and clear voice inputs for things like satellite navigation destinations and phone contacts. An excellent nine-speaker sound system is backed by a number of music streaming options, such as radio, Bluetooth and a several auxiliary connection methods.
While the seats offer a heap of side support, they lack adequate support in the bottom. But they are easily adjusted to squeeze around the hips and hug you in tight.
In the second row, it’s also tight in terms of leg and toe room, but the 4 Series roofline affords slightly more head room. There’s also the added versatility of a fifth seat should you require the extra space — mind you, fitting three across the second row would be hard work.
Cargo capacity is an impressive 480 litres, while the second row folds in a 60/40 split to an angle, but not quite flat. This offers extra space for longer items that wouldn’t normally fit within the boot.
While the 4 Series offers more room and a sturdier feeling interior, it’s the C-Class Coupe that really impresses. The interior is very well presented and makes the car feel like it’s worth much more than it actually is; which isn’t an easy feat in this price bracket.
ON THE ROAD
Before I even mention a single word on how these two cars drive, we need to point out public reaction to both. We were blown away with the reaction these received on the open road. The BMW impressed punters with its sleek design and long body, but it was the Mercedes-Benz that stole the show.
Many have commented on how impressive the C-Class Coupe looks, especially in its striking white colour.
It probably didn’t help that the 430i was finished in the most boring car colour known to man (silver), or that the interior looked drab. With a nicer colour, tinted windows and a respectably coloured interior, we think the BMW would have turned a few more heads.
As it stands, though, the Mercedes-Benz was the clear crowd favourite.
But, was it our favourite on the road?
We started out with a highway run, where we had the chance to measure sound in the cabin, radar cruise control and assess fuel consumption.
The C300 Coupe uses a more advanced version of radar cruise control that quickly responds to breaks in traffic and accelerates sooner when changing lanes with clear traffic.
It’s also unique in the sense that it offers a semi-autonomous mode that allows the driver to operate the vehicle without holding the steering wheel.
While it sounds good in theory, the system is far from being as effective as AutoPilot in the Tesla Model S and X, which allows longer periods of driving without driver intervention. It also allows for greater vehicle steering input — the Mercedes-Benz limits steering input on tighter freeway bends and can sometimes have a pinball effect in its lane when it over-compensates steering inputs.
During this stint, the C300 Coupe measured an ambient cabin noise of 63dB at 100km/h on a coarse surface. This is a pretty impressive figure and indicates good sound deadening from both the engine and road (the BMW, as a comparison came in at 65dB at the same speed and on the same stretch of road).
Surprisingly, the Benz used a hefty 8.0L/100km during the highway section of the drive, which was considerably more than the 5.5L/100km in the 430i over the same stretch of road.
In terms of ride comfort; the Mercedes-Benz was good, but a little firmer than it needed to be. The seats were comfortable and offered plenty of side and bottom support, which would come in handy under tougher conditions.
Steering feel at highway speeds was accurate and responsive. The electrically assisted steering rack features a variable ratio, which allows the steering to variably adjust ratio when the car feels it necessary in relation to speed and driving mode.
The available driving modes allow the driver to move through an economy mode, right through to a Sport+ mode, which puts the gearbox and steering into their sportiest setting and restricts stability control intervention to offer a sporty drive.
Without selecting the air suspension option, the damper firmness can’t be adjusted. This became more of an issue when we left the highway and drove on some country roads that were undulating and poorly finished.
Road abrasions would be sharply transmitted through the chassis, while the steering would kick at times through corners with mid-corner bumps. There were times that sharp bumps collected during cornering and would cause the car to shuffle along the road laterally, which wasn’t overly confidence inspiring.
It was around this point that we started noticing two rattles from within the dashboard — one on the driver’s side near the air vent and another on the passenger’s side. The rattles would occur when the tyres contacted a bump or travelled over an uneven section of road. It became quite annoying and wasn’t befitting of a luxury cruiser.
On the back roads full of corners, the C300 Coupe’s engine was sharp and offered quick response, but it was ultimately let down by an overly intrusive stability control system. Out of corners when throttle was fed on, there was a sudden change from traction to no traction; it wasn’t as progressive as the BMW, which made it hard to drive.
We found that the Benz couldn’t keep up with the BMW on the same run because the traction control system would continuously bog down on torque delivery. But, where it lost out on cornering and acceleration, it make up for in braking.
The brake pedal felt firm and offered plenty of feedback. It was confidence inspiring and never left you in the lurch. The rotors offer cross drilling for even greater braking performance.
In the sportiest drive mode, the steering firms up nicely and offers a progressive variable ratio. It can easily be fed in and the steering wheel is the perfect size to lob the C300 Coupe through bends. Inside the cabin, it was also noisier thanks to artificial engine noise induction. The sports exhaust also helped enhance the exterior noise proposition too.
During both regular driving and harder driving, the C300 Coupe’s seven-speed automatic gearbox could be a bit cumbersome. It wasn’t as smooth as we would have liked, especially at low speeds. Gears can be manually selected using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
Over in the BMW, it’s not hard to see why BMW builds its brand around the slogan ‘ultimate driving machine’. On the highway run, it used barely any fuel and felt the most comfortable. Variable dampers come standard on the 430i with M Sport package and offer the perfect balance between ride comfort for highway cruising and sportiness for country road driving.
Despite being slightly louder at cruising speed, it made up for this with an excellent ride on rough surfaces of the country stretch of road. Both vehicles were fitted with 225mm wide front tyres and 255mm wide rear tyres and 19-inch alloy wheels and despite this, their rides were vastly different.
Where the Mercedes-Benz bucked about at times on rough portions of road, the BMW soaked up mid-corner bumps and sat flatter through tighter stretches. The steering also offered superior feedback with a natural feel that wasn’t overly assisted.
The difference became even more apparent when we drove up the country roads. Like the Mercedes-Benz, the 430i comes with several driving modes ranging from Eco Pro through to Sport+. Also like the Mercedes-Benz, the higher sport settings adjust throttle feel and steering feel, in addition to ride damping.
In its highest setting, the 430i was settled and offered excellent communication through the chassis and steering. Progressive applications of the throttle led to predictable changes in direction and a highly communicative drive experience.
We could easily push harder in the 4 Series and know that it would do as we expected, as opposed to surprising us with stability control intervention or a reduction in torque.
The only thing we didn’t like about the 4 Series in comparison to the C-Class Coupe was brake pedal feel. In isolation it’s fine, but in comparison to the Benz, it’s soft and requires a great deal of force before it reacts as intended.
In terms of the transmission, the 430i’s gearbox is very smooth at low speeds. It’s also fairly well placed throughout its rev and speed band to be in the correct gear at the right times. Eight gears is a lot to work with, but it manages to do a good enough job.
Like the C300 Coupe, the 430i has steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, but it also has a launch control program. Activated by pressing the brake and the throttle at the same time and then releasing the brake, gear shifts are far more rapid and it allows the car to reach a 100km/h sprint from standstill around one second faster than the same run without launch control.
We learned from this drive that while both vehicles feel comfortable in the urban grind, the differences open up significantly when they are pushed a little harder or when the road surface becomes more complex.
The on road win definitely went to the BMW.
The realisation is that the Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe and BMW 430i are actually style multipliers. Anybody can jump into these cars and instantly become cooler and more desirable, than they were before. It doesn’t matter that they’re not showered with AMG and M badges, they cut a sleek line in traffic and get plenty of attention — the C300 Coupe more so.
As a driver’s car, the 430i wins hands down. It’s fast, it’s easy to drive and it’s the most confidence inspiring. It’s also damn quick for a car sporting a turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
But, it’s the C300 Coupe that looks best and has the premium presented interior.
So which should you buy? I would recommend the C300 Coupe. It comes loaded with plenty of equipment, the interior looks nice at first glance and it wears the all-important Mercedes-Benz badge. But, the BMW is far more enjoyable to drive.
If you want to be the hip trend setter, buy the Benz, if on the other hand you want to head out for a weekend blast on occasion and have a damn good time doing it, buy the BMW.
- DT Dobie is the official and sole distributor of all new and approved Mercedes Benz vehicles in Kenya. They are located off the roundabout joining Lusaka Road and Enterprise Road.
- Bavaria Motors is the official and sole distributor of all new and approved BMW vehicles in Kenya. They are located off Mombasa Road adjacent to Simba Colt Motors (a sister company).
- Both companies offer after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles. Check out their official websites or visit their showrooms for more information.