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Used test: BMW 3 Series vs Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Buying a five-year-old executive saloon gets you lots of car for your money – but which is the better bet: a BMW 3 Series or a Mercedes C-Class?

Words By Alex Robbins

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BMW 3 Series interior

What are they like inside?

The BMW 3 Series is bigger than the Mercedes C-Class on the outside, so it’s no wonder that it has more head room for front and rear occupants, while those sitting in the back also enjoy more leg room.

Both cars have virtually identical amounts of luggage space. However, the 3 Series' boot is wider towards the back of the car, so it’s easier to slide in a set of golf clubs or a baby buggy.

There’s also a generous chunk of extra space under the boot floor. The C-Class doesn’t have any underfloor storage, but its more evenly shaped boot is better for suitcases.

You’ll find it easier to get comfortable in the 3 Series, because there’s lots of adjustment in the driver’s seat and the steering wheel. By comparison, the front seats in the C-Class always feel as though they’re tilting forward – even in their flattest positions.

Manual versions of both cars are blighted by offset pedals, but it’s not so much of an issue in these automatic models. The C-Class's steering wheel still feels offset to the left, however.

The 3 Series has always had the edge over the C-Class in terms of quality, and so it goes here. Everything in the 3 Series oozes class, from the dense, soft-touch dashboard to the well-damped switches and dials. The C-Class's dashboard lacks that deep, ingrained sense of expense and its design is fairly sombre, but at least everything feels solid.

It isn’t only quality where the 3 Series has an edge, though. Its dash is also the more logical, with well-positioned, self-explanatory controls. Some of those in the C-Class are unnecessarily obtuse, particularly those on the centre console, which are poorly labelled and awkward to use.

The 3 Series gets a basic version of BMW’s excellent iDrive infotainment system (a widescreen version with sat-nav was also available and is worth having if you can find it). Either way, you get an intuitive rotary dial controller and a simple menu system, which controls some of the car’s functions, including the stereo.

The C-Class's Comand system is also controlled by a rotary dial, but the software isn’t as quick to respond to inputs and the menus aren’t as instinctive.

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