Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A white 2021 Mercedes C-Class is shown from the front with a city landscape.

German Luxury Cars: A4 vs. 3-Series vs. C-Class

Interested in getting your first German luxury car? That’s great, but if you start looking at what’s out there, then you’ll probably get quickly overwhelmed by all the options – not only the different brands, but also the huge selection of models available. When it comes to sedans alone, Audi has the A3, A4, A5, A6, A7, TT, and e-tron GT; while BMW comes in with the 2 Series, 3 Series, 4 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series, and 8 Series; and then Mercedes-Benz has the A-Class, C-Class, E-Class, S-Class, CLA, CLS, and GT. How are you supposed to tell which BMW / Audi / Mercedes models are comparable amidst all those letters and numbers!?

While each of these models has its own strengths and weaknesses, the most popular option from all three of these brands is the compact sedan, which makes it a great place to start if you’re looking for the incredible luxury experience from Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz while sticking to a budget of about $45k. This segment includes the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. That’s not too bad, right? Just three options that we’ll take a look at and see how they compare.

A red 2021 Audi A4 is shown driving on a city street.

Power and Performance

Few things are as important as the engine and overall performance when it comes to the kind of driving experience you’ll get. While you want great luxury features from a luxury car (see below), German engineering means you should also get a fantastic ride from these models. Let’s take a look at what each of them has to offer.

Audi A4

There’s one engine available for the Audi A4, though there are two different options for how it’s tuned. It’s a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine that delivers 201 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque in the 40 TFSI, or 261 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque in the 45 TFSI. Both versions come paired with an S tronic dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission. Every model also comes with a mild-hybrid system to help boost performance and Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive for a great overall driving experience.

BMW 3-Series

Two engines are available from BMW: a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder option that offers 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, or a turbocharged 3.0L I-6 engine that delivers 385 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. There’s also a plug-in hybrid model available with impressive performance, and all models come with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard, though all-wheel drive is available; overall, these numbers are very impressive.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Much like the offering from Audi, the C-Class also has a single engine available: a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine that delivers 255 hp. It has a mild hybrid system that can boost that by another 20 hp; rear-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive available. A 9-speed automatic transmission is standard on all models, but there’s no option for a higher-tuned engine with this one like you can get from Audi.

For raw power, the BMW definitely comes out on top. The Mercedes-Benz model is next unless you go with an Audi that has the higher-tuned available engine. But Audi’s standard Quattro all-wheel drive system is definitely something special and not to be overlooked.

The interior of a 2021 Mercedes C-Class is shown.

Interior Luxury

When looking at luxury cars, you’ll want to consider the sort of luxury and comfort options they have for you to enjoy. After all, there are plenty of great cars out there with impressive engines that offer excellent driving experiences. But something like an Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz surpasses them when it comes to the kind of sophistication and decadence they have to offer.

Audi A4

The Audi A4 has a sleek interior with a clean design that isn’t minimalist like a Tesla but keeps everything concise and refined. You’ll find Brown Walnut wood inlays with Gray Oak available, plus numerous details like Brushed Aluminum or dark aluminum throughout the interior. There’s no denying how stunning it is, with an available interior lighting package that features 30 different colors and focused contour lighting that creates an experience unlike any other.

BMW 3-Series

Not to be outdone, the interior of the 3-Series is also quite the work of art, with controls and buttons exactly where you want them to be. It’s spacious and incredibly comfortable, with rich leather and impressive details throughout, including customizable interior ambient lighting and available heated front and rear seats. There are a number of different leather interior options for you to choose from, so you can get just the right sort of comfort.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

2022 is the start of a new generation for the C-Class, and Mercedes-Benz has gone above and beyond to take luxury to the next level. The interior has been redesigned with a stunning look that includes heated front seats with memory settings, a sunroof, and open-pore wood trim with aluminum accents standard on every model. There are numerous options to choose from, of course, including different seating materials and ventilated seats for extraordinary comfort.

Although all three of these models have exquisite luxury details and features, it’s hard to argue with everything the all-new 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class brings to the table. You certainly won’t regret either of the other two models, but with its redesign, the sophistication of the C-Class has been elevated for a new generation. The last major redesign for the A4 was in 2017, while the BMW 3-Series was updated a couple of years ago, leaving them both a bit lacking.

An arm holding a phone is shown in front of a blue BMW 3Series.

Tech Features

Alongside luxury, you expect a vehicle from one of Germany’s premier auto companies to offer some of the most impressive technology on the road. You’d be right, of course, as all three of these models have fantastic features, both standard and available. With its update for 2022, the Mercedes-Benz has the most in terms of cutting-edge tech, but all three are fantastic.

Audi A4

You get a 10-inch infotainment display inside the Audi A4, which has all of the features you’d expect, like support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus USB ports and voice recognition. The available Audi Virtual Cockpit Plus system includes a 12-inch driver display that can show your location using Google Earth or on a 3D map, along with the gauges you expect. An available Bang & Olufsen sound system features 19 speakers for an audio experience that will leave you breathless.

BMW 3-Series

The standard Infotainment display in the 3-Series is just 8.8 inches, though a 10.25-inch screen is available to keep up with Audi’s A4. Unfortunately, the standard driver display is pretty small too, though higher trims come with a 12-inch digital instrument cluster. A HiFi Sound System with ten speakers and a powerful amp comes standard in every model, while an available 16-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system delivers an amazing experience.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

With its full redesign this year, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz C-Class has really come into its own in terms of technology. A 10.25-inch infotainment display is standard in every model, surpassing what you get in either the Audi or BMW, along with a 12.3-inch digital driver display – plus there’s a fingerprint sensor that can identify who’s driving, and the C-Class will automatically adjust various settings for the driver. To take your driving experience even further, available features include a head-up display, ambient lighting system, and a Burmester 3D Surround sound system that redefines car audio.

You can see that the 2022 update and full redesign for the Mercedes-Benz model is a big advantage in terms of tech features, as you’d probably expect. While all three of these vehicles have fantastic tech options and systems, both standard and available, the Audi and BMW show their age a bit when you look at them alongside what you can get with the all-new C-Class. You’ll have to decide on which features are most important to you, alongside the levels of performance each can offer, and choose the German luxury car that’s right for you.