By Jonathan Yarkony Feb 10, 2017
As part of our long-term test of the Audi A4, we wanted to challenge it against the class leaders, and the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class dominate the small luxury segment.
To see whether the A4 deserves your consideration, we brought out the Mercedes C-Class in C300 4Matic trim, perfectly matching our A4 2.0T Quattro long-term tester. A competitively priced and equipped 3 Series was not available at the time of the test, but we continue to search for one before we wrap up this long-term test.
SEE MORE: Audi A4 Long-Term Test Introduction
It’s actually kind of crazy how closely these two cars line up in terms of power and capability, so it will all come down to the details: Which car has a more polished ride, refined interior, advanced technology and better value for the buyer that wants some luxury without being too extravagant? Does this Audi have what it takes to break into the top tier of luxury sedans this time around?
2017 Audi A4 2.0TFSI quattro
2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic
|Vehicle||2017 Audi A4 2.0TFSI quattro||Advantage||2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic|
|Engine||2.0L I4 turbo||–||2.0L I4 turbo|
|Power||252 hp @ 5000-6000||A4||241 hp @ 5500|
|Torque||273 lb-ft @ 1600-4500||–||273 lb-ft @ 1300-4000|
|Transmission||7-speed dual-clutch||–||7-speed automatic|
|0-60 mph||5.7 sec.||A4||6.0 sec.|
|0-100 km/h||6.0 sec.||A4||6.3 sec.|
|Weight||3,626 lb/1,645 kg||C300||3,594 lb/1,625 kg|
|US Fuel Economy (city/hwy/comb.)||24/31/27 mpg||–||24/31/27 mpg|
|CDN Fuel Economy (city/hwy/comb.)||9.8/7.7/8.8 L/100 km||A4||10.1/7.8/9.0 L/100 km|
|Cargo capacity||13.0 cu-ft (368 L)||A4||12.6 cu-ft (357 L)|
|Rear headroom/legroom||37.4/35.7 in. (950/907 mm)||A4||37.1/35.2 in. (942/894 mm)|
|US Starting price||$34,900||A4||$39,500|
|US Pricing as tested||$54,250 ($950 freight included)||A4||$59,520 ($925 freight included)|
|CDN Starting price||$38,500||A4||$44,000|
|CDN Pricing as tested||$59,495 ($2,095 freight included)||A4||$64,430 ($2,075 freight included)|
Both cars come to the table with 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbos and all-wheel drive, and identical EPA ratings of 24 mpg in the city, 31 highway and an estimated 27 mpg combined. In Canada, the A4 comes out slightly ahead at 9.8/7.7/8.8 L/100 km to the C300’s 10.1/7.8/9.0 L/100 km. Although the A4 dropped some weight this generation, the C300 is lighter still (3,594 lb/1,625 kg). The Audi has a slight edge in power, its 252 hp more than enough to handle the 3,626-lb A4 (1,645 kg), with a slightly stronger pull once you get rolling and a quicker time to 60 mph – 5.7 seconds to be exact (0-100 km/h is 6.0).
And although both transmissions have seven gears, the A4’s dual clutch auto is a segment leader – whether commuting into town and shifting smoothly or cracking off quick shifts braking into a corner (you want to be in S mode for that kind of behavior), Audi’s S tronic is a gem and does everything well, except low-speed maneuvers like parking or making a tight three-point turn.
The C300’s 241 hp is short of the A4’s power, but torque is dead even at 273 lb-ft, and the C-Class’s torque comes on a bit earlier for effortless acceleration, but it doesn’t have quite the urgency or punch that Audi does. Despite being lighter, the C300 is a few tenths slower to 60 mph at 6 seconds flat (6.3 to 100 km/h).
However, Mercedes has the edge when it comes to smooth power delivery and refinement, easily rolling off the line and surging ahead in complete control.
While I’m not a huge fan of the A4 gear selector, the C300’s stalk shifter annoys me even more. A luxury car should feel substantial in all regards, and this shifter seems like it might just break off in your hand.
The transmission itself is smooth and seamless, superbly suited to the C-Class’s luxury personality, but never quite as sharp as the A4 even with its sportier setting applied. The C300 gets the luxury part right, and while the A4 is slightly behind in smoothness and refinement of the powertrain, it more than makes up for it with the sporting character it also offers.
The C300 is a dream to drive. Is it as sporting as the Audi? No. Despite an adjustable suspension and sport modes, the C-Class doesn’t have the engaging dynamics that the A4 offers – there’s always a bit more body roll in the corners, nose dive when braking, and the steering just isn’t as sharp.
But you know what? That’s OK. Mercedes seems to have remembered that some people want a comfortable ride.
The C-Class just rolls over rough pavement, smothering them out with its superb suspension, yet remains dignified and unflappable when you turn it up a notch on some fun roads.
On busy highways, the adaptive cruise is just as slick as Audi’s, and other driving aids like blind spot warning, lane keep assist and many more provide a security blanket on the road, though Audi offers those features as well, so it doesn’t set the C300 above the A4.
SEE MORE: Audi A4 Long-Term Test Update
However, with that long hood, the Mercedes feels larger than it is, so it takes extra care when driving in tight quarters.
This A4 is optioned with the sport package, meaning a stiffer suspension and bigger 19-inch wheels that deliver flat cornering and excellent balance in weight transfer at the expense of some ride harshness, though it’s perfectly acceptable in my books.
Ultimately, when it comes to their driving characters as equipped, the A4 and C300 simply have different personalities, the A4 leaning more towards the sport-sedan end of the spectrum, while the C-Class sticks closer to a luxury mission.
Interior Space and Quality
While the A4 and C300 have both grown in their recent redesigns, they are still smallish cars inside, and this is felt mainly in the crowded back seat and trunk.
The A4 does have slightly more rear legroom and headroom than the C300, but in both cars the middle seat is raised, uncomfortable to sit in, and obstructed by a big hump limiting foot room. The Audi also holds a slight edge in trunk space, with a flatter cargo floor, but both cars have handy 40/20/40 folding rear seats for occasional hauling duties and allowing skis and long items to be carried along with four passengers.
From the driver’s seat, the A4 feel plenty spacious, excellent supportive seats with heating and cooling, an open airy cabin and good outward visibility, but what most impresses is the quality.
Every part of the thoroughly modern cabin is convincingly luxurious, solid and substantial, from the alloy pedals to every panel, button and surface. We’ve come to expect this from Audi, but they’ve raised the bar again.
Although there’s little to separate the two on the spec sheet when it comes to interior measurements and features, it’s the details that fall short in the C300.
The seats are comfortable and highly adjustable, but the leather isn’t quite as nice as in the A4, and while the open-pore Ash wood trim looks lovely at first glance, on closer inspection feels a bit plasticky (I was certain it was fake, but Mercedes reps swore it was genuine). And many surfaces around the center console and other touch points feel hollow and flimsy where they should be rich and luxurious.
While the size differences are negligible, both are sufficiently comfortable for their mission, but the improvement in quality apparent when one hops into the A4 from the C300 give it the edge in this category.
Aside from performance, the single greatest advance in the 2017 A4 has to be Virtual Cockpit, the fully digital gauge cluster that puts the best parts of the infotainment system right in front of you, managed via intuitive steering wheel controls.
Beyond the gauge cluster, the rest of the A4 tech is easy to use with barely a glance, and Audi has finally adopted USB ports instead of their ridiculous custom connectors. Rounding out the convenient tech, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are standard for access to your smartphone through the dashtop screen.
Both of these cars are so loaded up with various driving aids that it would be impossible to list them all here, but one notable advantage of the A4 is its 360-degree parking cameras, and its wand for adaptive cruise control is better positioned and more clearly labeled.
When it comes to tech, pretty much anything the A4 does, the C300 does too.
Audio, nav, phone and more can be accessed in the small gauge cluster screen, and the dash-mounted screen offers stunning graphics and control over every aspect of the car, from ambient lighting to driving modes. Menus are navigated by using the scroll wheel on the console or the trackpad that rises above it, which, like the A4, has handwriting recognition to quickly find contacts or enter destinations. Unfortunately, that trackpad is also clickable (like many laptop trackpads) that is too easily triggered when trying to use the scroll wheel, interrupting the menu navigation and causing distractions.
While the Benz matches the A4 almost feature for feature, Audi’s technology is better integrated, and Virtual Cockpit offers a more intuitive and less distracting experience.
Value and Verdict: 2017 Audi A4 vs 2017 Mercedes-Benz C300
When it comes down to it, these two competitors are closely matched in almost every respect until you look at the price sheet. Our fully loaded A4 2.0T Quattro is almost $55,000 (CDN$ $59,495, $2,095 freight included), which is plenty to spend on a smallish sedan, but as seen here, the C300 4Matic is almost $60,000 (CDN$64,430, $2,075 freight included), and is missing a couple of features that I always look for in a luxury car these days – 360-degree parking cameras and ventilated seats.
For some people, the allure of the Mercedes brand and that luxurious ride will be enough to turn them to the elegant and sophisticated C-Class, and it’s a vehicle that will make its owners very happy.
Overall, the A4 manages to fulfill its luxury mission while offering greater sporting involvement and all the latest technology in a more seamless experience and flawless cabin. If you wanted a luxury-first ride and trim as in the Mercedes, you would save even more by eliminating the sport packages and equipment.
It still has a long way to go to catch up to the C-Class when it comes to sales, but the 2017 Audi A4 is a convincing winner that you need to look at if you’re in the market for a luxury sedan.
Smooth power delivery
Visually appealing interior
Audi A4 2.0TFSI