From which country do the most popular family cars of all time originate? The answer is, of course, Germany, the birthplace of the three most famous German brands, which in turn gave rise to the family of cars so beloved by so many customers around the world.

Of these, two have always been among the best sellers: the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the BMW 3 Series, in Estate and Touring body styles respectively. Answering a hypothetical question about which is the better of the two is virtually impossible, given that both offer outstanding technological and mechanical content, but in this new comparison we try to pit them against each other to understand the main differences.

Exterior

Let's start with the exterior. The BMW 3 Series Touring and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate have more or less similar exterior dimensions. Starting with the length, in fact, the Bavarian is the shorter of the two, stopping at 4.71 metres, some 4 cm shorter than the star model, which therefore comes in at 4.75 metres. This is slightly above average, but still a far cry from the top segment (dominated by its bigger siblings, BMW 5 Series Touring and Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate).

Speaking of design, both have been styled closely after the bigger and smaller siblings in their respective ranges, with one difference. The seventh-generation 3 Series Touring, codenamed G21, after arriving on the market in 2018, underwent its first mid-cycle restyling in 2022: a light facelift that made it the standard-bearer for the company's new styling direction, with optics featuring vertical daytime running lights.

BMW Serie 3 Touring (2022)

BMW Serie 3 Touring

Mercedes-Benz Clase C Estate 2021

Mercedes-Benz Clase C Estate

For its part, the C-Class, which arrived on the market in 2020, is still in the first part of its life cycle, with exterior lines in this case inherited directly (as is tradition) from the flagship of the latest generation of the S-Class, thus with generously sized horizontal headlamps (both front and rear) and almost upper segment proportions, the latter also necessary to accommodate the electrified powertrains with large batteries that we will talk about in a moment.

Model Length Width Height Wheelbase
BMW 3 Series Touring G31 4.71 metres 1.83 metres 1.44 metres 2.85 metres
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate W206 4.75 metres 1.82 metres 1.46 metres 2.87 metres

Interior

While the overall bodywork is the same for both family cars, it is in the interior where the biggest differences between the two cars, designed to respond to two different philosophies of use, can be seen.

We start as always in alphabetical order with the Bavarian. The BMW 3 Series Touring (but in this case the reasoning also applies to the saloon) has welcomed the new iDrive 8 system in the cabin for the 2022 restyling, with dual curved screens connected in a single solution: an idea inherited directly from the company's larger and more powerful cars.

It is a highly evolved system, among the most popular in the world for its functions and fluidity of use, equipped with both an advanced voice recognition system and integration with Amazon Alexa.

It can be controlled via the now 'familiar' physical wheel, which is so popular with the German brand's customers, or via the touchpad. For some commands, in fact, gesture controls can also be used, being among the most precise in the world.

BMW Serie 3 Touring restyling (2022)

BMW 3 Series Touring restyling, the interior

The interior of the Mercedes C-Class Estate, codenamed S206, like the exterior, has once again been designed with a close eye to that of the company's flagship S-Class.

On the dashboard, in fact, are the two displays of the MBUX infotainment system, separated into two distinct components and positioned both horizontally, as far as the on-board computer display is concerned, and vertically and facing the driver, as far as the central display is concerned.

And speaking of infotainment, if it is true that the BMW can count on direct integration of Alexa 'voice', in the case of the Mercedes-Benz there is the already infallible 'Hey Mercedes', one of the most complete in the world in terms of functions and one of the most precise and punctual in terms of command recognition.

Mercedes-Benz Clase C Estate 2021

New Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate, the interior

In general, both cars can be upgraded at the order stage with all kinds of optional extras. These range from electrically adjustable seats with memory and heating, to multi-hundred-watt sound systems from Harman & Kardon in the case of the BMW and Burmester in the case of the Mercedes-Benz, to state-of-the-art ADAS level 2 systems and the two-part panoramic glass roof.

While we're on the subject of family cars, the luggage compartment should not go unmentioned. The one with the largest capacity, albeit only by 10 litres in five-seat configuration, is the BMW, which, on paper, has exactly 500 litres.

The Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile, is down to 490 litres, the lowest among family cars but still respectable for the segment (especially in relation to previous generations) and justified by the advanced hybrid technology present under the load floor in several versions, which we will talk about shortly.

Model Digital instrumentation Central monitor Luggage compartment capacity
BMW 3 Series Touring G21 12.3 inch 14.9-inch 500/1,510 litres
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate W206 12.3 inches 11.9 inches 490/1,510 litres

Engines

Now it's time to talk about the engines, and we advise you to sit down because it's going to be a long story. Indeed, both cars offer a truly immense range of engines, which need to be chosen very carefully depending on your travel needs.

At the bottom we start with the traditional petrols, which become light hybrids in the case of the two most powerful versions, the M340i and AMG 43, with 369 bhp and 402 bhp respectively, and in the case of the entry-level version of the C-Class, the 200 with 201 bhp.

Both family cars, therefore, do not offer non-electrified diesels. Those opting for the diesel route will therefore be offered as standard with light hybridisation, or even plug-in hybridisation in the case of the star models. BMW's engine outputs range from 120 bhp in the 316d to 335 bhp in the M340d, with the timeless 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder diesel also available with 'only' 282 bhp, again with light hybridisation.

El vano motor del BMW Serie 3

There is no six-cylinder diesel version for Mercedes-Benz, due to a particular sales strategy of the company. Instead there's a supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with an impressive 261 bhp and even higher up the 300 version, with the same 194 bhp OM654 engine as the C 220d, but combined with an electric motor in the gearbox crankcase that adds 120 bhp. The total? 302 bhp, obtained by means of a large 25.4 kWh (real) battery, located as mentioned above under the boot.

If diesel isn't your thing anyway, both cars also offer petrol plug-in hybrid versions. In the case of the 3 Series Touring we start from the small 320e with a total of 201 bhp, equipped with the 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder B48 petrol block and an 11.2 kWh battery, to the 330e, equipped with the same system but capable of generating a total of 288 bhp.

Mercedes-Benz Clase C 2021

Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the engine bay

In the case of the C-Class Estate, on the other hand, the range of rechargeable petrol hybrids starts at the bottom with the 309 bhp 300e and moves up to the 376 bhp 400e, both thermally equipped with the same 4-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo petrol M254 and the same 25.4 kWh (real) battery, again located under the boot as in the diesel version. A special feature? These two versions are the only ones of the C-Class Estate available with self-levelling air suspension for the rear axle.

And if power is never enough, both German family cars offer two very sporty engines in their range: the M3 Touring Competition and the AMG C 63 S E-Performance, the former with the S58 inline six-cylinder developing up to 503 bhp and 650 Nm of torque, while the latter is equipped with the M139 inline four-cylinder but in plug-in hybrid configuration once again (6.1 kWh battery), capable of developing a total of 671 bhp and 1,020 Nm of torque (combined). Both, of course, with xDrive all-wheel drive and 4Matic+, respectively, also available for the diesel engines in the range.

BMW M3 Touring

BMW M3 Touring

Mercedes-AMG C 63 S E Performance (2023)

Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG S E Performance Estate

Model Petrol Petrol Light hybrid Diesel Diesel Light hybrid Plug-in hybrid
BMW 3 Series Touring G21

318i 154 bhp
320i 181 bhp

330i 242 bhp

M3 503 bhp

M340i 369 bhp

n.d.

316d 120 bhp

318d 148 bhp

320d 187 bhp

330d 282 bhp

M340d 335 bhp

320e 201 bhp

330e 288 bhp

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate S206 n.a.

200 201 bhp

43 AMG 402 bhp

n.a.

200 d 163 bhp

220 d 197 bhp

300 d 261 bhp

300 e 309 bhp

300 de 302 bhp

400 e 376 bhp

63 S AMG and Performance 671 bhp

Prices and equipment

Let us now turn to the prices and equipment of the two German family cars for the UK market. The BMW 3 Series Touring can be taken home for a minimum of £42,395 for the 320i in Sport Touring trim and equipped with the 181 bhp 2.0-litre B48 turbo petrol with automatic transmission.

As you go up in power and version, the price goes up, and not a little, for example to £50,335 for the 330e xDrive PHEV Sport Touring version, and up to £87,825 for the coveted M3 Touring Competition xDrive with all-wheel drive. 

BMW Serie 3 Touring 2022

BMW Serie 3 Touring restyling, la trasera

Mercedes-Benz Clase C Estate

Mercedes-Benz Clase C Estate, la zaga

Prices for the Mercedes C-Class Estate, meanwhile, start at £48,120 for the 197 bhp C 220d MHEV and rise to £99,715 for the AMG C 63 S E-Performance 4matic+. 

Finally, it is worth remembering that both cars are offered as standard with automatic transmissions, 8-speed ZF in the case of the BMW and 9-speed 9G-Tronic in the case of the Mercedes-Benz.