What are they like inside?
Climb into the Audi A5 Sportback and you’ll instantly feel as though there’s something wrong with the way you’re sitting, because the pedals are positioned off-centre. The clutch pedal in manual versions is also too close to the footrest, which gets in the way as you press down on the pedal. And even if you miss the footrest, the pedal itself drops into a recess in the floor, so to get it down fully you have to poke it with the end of your toe.
Sadly, the dashboard isn’t perfect, either. The ventilation controls are fussy, and the rotary-controlled infotainment system can distract you from the road because the menus are overly complicated.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class also suffers from offset pedals, but they’re nowhere near as bad as the A5’s. The foot-operated parking brake seems antequated, and the single stalk to operate both the wipers and the indicators takes a little getting used to. However, the stereo can be controlled with a rotary dial near the gearlever, which is far easier than using the small buttons of the stereo itself. And at least the ventilation controls are clear.
The Volkswagen Passat CC’s clear dashboard layout and simple touchscreen stereo get it off to a better start than the A5 or C-Class, but the ignition key spoils things a bit. You push it into a slot to start the engine, but if you don’t push it hard enough or accidentally push it twice, the key pops out again. The push-button parking brake can be a pain, too, because it doesn’t always disengage when you want it to.
The BMW 3 Series is much more like it, because the instruments are clear and using the stereo and ventilation controls is as intuitive as breathing in and out.
You get a cracking driving position, too, but you have to work hard to find it. Like all these cars, the steering has two-way adjustment and a driver’s seat that moves up and down. However, whether setting the height of your seat or the angle of your backrest in the 3 Series, you have to pull a lever and shift your weight. The A5 has more accurate ratchet lever and rotary wheel arrangements for these functions, while the part-electric adjusters in the C-Class and Passat are simpler still.
Unless you’re the size of an Olympic shot-putter, you shouldn’t have a problem with front-seat space in any of these cars. Particularly tall drivers will notice they have less head room in the C-Class and Passat than in the A5 and 3 Series, but most mere mortals will be fine in any of them. All four have loads of front leg room, too.
In the back seats, the 3 Series and Passat have the edge on space, with identical amounts of head and knee room. The C-Class matches them for headroom, but there’s a bit less for long legs. Meanwhile, the A5 trails the rest on both counts, but if your passengers aren’t over six feet tall, they should still be comfortable.
The A5 and Passat have an important numerical disadvantage, though – they have only four seats apiece, while the 3 Series and C-Class have five. Okay, carrying five in the BMW and Mercedes is a bit of a squeeze due to limited shoulder room, but at least your passengers can cosy up for short journeys if they need to.
The Passat gives you the most space for luggage, with a boot that’s impressively long, but also shallow, so you’ll have to stoop and stretch to retrieve items from the back.
The A5’s boot is next biggest and a useful square shape, while its wide-opening hatch makes it easy to get stuff into and out of. However, you'll have to pack lighter if you choose the C-Class or 3 Series, with the BMW’s boot the most awkwardly shaped in addition to being the smallest.
As a bonus, Audi and Volkswagen both fitted split-folding rear seats as standard, whereas these were optional extras on the BMW and Mercedes, so you may struggle to find a used example that has them.
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