German Compact Luxury Sedans
German Compact Luxury Sedans. Click image to enlarge
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Review by Peter Bleakney and Mike Schlee
Photos by David Johannesson

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German Luxury Car Comparison

2013 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro vs 2013 BMW 328i xDrive vs 2013 Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic (and 2013 Cadillac ATS)

Was it divine intervention or just dumb luck? Call it what you will, our Holy Trinity of Euro-luxury compact sport sedans came dressed all in white. And while white suggests purity and peace, there was nothing here to suggest these archrivals from the Fatherland would be playing nice.

Historically, the BMW 3 Series has ruled this segment. It’s BMW’s biggest seller worldwide. The 3 Series’ intangible cocktail of refinement, handling, sweet underhood mechanicals, driver involvement, and just plain “rightness” has endeared it to purchasers and pundits alike—and no doubt has sentenced it to the indignity of many a reverse-engineering teardown at competitors’ R&D departments.

The Mercedes C-Class has carried a more stoic front, coming at this less as an all-out sportster and more as a scaled down S-Class. Although this third generation C, now in its fifth year, shows a more athletic bent when launched and has seen myriad improvements through its life cycle.

German Compact Luxury Sedans
German Compact Luxury Sedans. Click image to enlarge

The Audi A4 with Quattro all-wheel drive in its back pocket has traditionally played the outsider. Not as mainstream as the BMW or Merc, it traditionally hasn’t enjoyed those sales numbers, but now that Audi is on a mission to trounce its Teutonic rivals on the world stage (and parent company Volkswagen to dominate global sales), the A4 has grown, literally and figuratively into a serious contender. Like the current M-B C-Class, this latest gen A4 has been with us since 2008.
So with an all-new 2013 BMW 3 Series let loose on the world, you’d expect it to be a runaway winner— a foregone conclusion if history is to be our guide. Uh, not so fast. BMW has thrown us an automotive curveball here. They moved the goalposts when no one as looking.

The new 3 is bigger. It’s a little softer. And while still a fabulous car, it doesn’t cut with the razor sharp edge of its predecessor—it doesn’t goad you into max-attack on every onramp. The sport-luxury equation has been re-jigged to read luxury-sport.
This whole thing is busted wide open.

So say hello to our contestants. We stipulated all-wheel drive, and with the Bimmer and Merc we kept away from the top-tier six-pots. The A4 only comes with a 2.0L direct-injection turbo-four rated (rather conservatively, we suspect) at 211 hp.

The BMW 328i xDrive sports a 2.0L direct-injection turbo-four [Is there an echo in here? –Ed.], putting out 241 ponies. Both the Audi and BMW have eight-speed auto boxes.

We snagged a Mercedes-Benz C 300 4Matic, which uses a new-for-2013 detuned version of the 3.5L V6 found in the C 350. It produces 248 hp and 251 lb-ft and is hooked up to a seven-speed auto. And get this, the V6 Merc’s as-tested price undercuts its admittedly better-equipped four-banger rivals by at least five grand.
Let the battle for German luxury sedan supremacy begin. –PB

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