These Cars Can Turn, Too

Being relatively small cars with big power means nobody should be surprised that the 340i and C450 can really hustle in a straight line. And anyone who knows the lineage of these two models should also expect them to be eager handlers when the roads become circuitous, and they’d be right.

BMW claims to have made incremental changes to the steering and suspension set up to a sportier result versus the 335i. Our tester came equipped with the $1,900 M Performance Package that includes handsome 19-inch wheels fitted with proper summer tires (225/40 R19 front and 255/35 R19 rear Bridgestone Potenza S0001) as well as Variable Sport Steering and Adaptive M Suspension.

The latter enables the driver to electrically adjust between varying degrees of firmness, and it should be said that even in its tautest setting, the 340i’s suspension does a better job of taking the edge off bigger bumps than in previous 3-series generations.

The former contributes to a steering feel that is best described as artificial, particularly in highway driving where it just seems light and aloof. Still, with the prodigious grip offered by great tires and BMW’s excellent xDrive all-wheel drive system, the 340i is nevertheless a spectacular dancer when the roads get twisty.

The Mercedes is no slouch in this department either. Also fitted with adaptive suspension, the C450 offers a more natural steering feel that translates good feedback from the road surface, more communicatively than the BMW’s. The adjustable dampers have been yanked out of the full-on-ferocious C63 sport sedan and do a wonderful job of keeping the C450 planted during cornering maneuvers, especially with Sport mode selected.

Despite slapping the coveted AMG performance division’s badges on the C450, our test car still wore the same (admittedly attractive) 5-spoke 18-inch wheels. Like the BMW’s, they have a wider rear than front, but the Benz wears a narrower 245-section rear. Worse, the tires Mercedes fits are Continental ContiProContact “all-season” performance rubber that gave up their grip far sooner than the BMW’s when both cars were pressed hard. Mercedes ought to at least make proper summer performance tires an option on such an otherwise stellar performer.

Braking is outstanding on both cars with firm, linear pedal action and stellar stopping power, neither one of them offering appreciably better or worse braking that we could discern.

Beauty Within the Beasts

Both cars have been updated stylistically for 2016, though you’ll need to look pretty closely to see either car’s changes. The most obvious ones on the Bimmer are new lights front and rear, with the traditional BMW ‘corona rings’ augmented with a slight horizontal line toward the kidney grilles. It’s still a handsome car, but the current Mercedes C-Class took the segment’s fashion to a whole other level when it arrived last year and makes the BMW look ordinary by comparison.

The C450 AMG’s updates are equally subtle. The grille is new and is likely the most easily identifiable feature with it’s chromed dots visually filling the otherwise black void surrounding the three-pointed-star. At the back, a subtle trunk lid spoiler is affixed and quad tailpipes replace the duals from last year’s C400.

The interiors on these two particular cars represent a bit of a reversal of tradition for the brands. Whereas Mercedes has traditionally leaned more toward a sedate, luxurious finish, BMW has typically been more closely associated with sportiness.

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