For those of you who are reading this that are already BMW fanatics, this might seem like a pointless question. I mean, BMW was already mentioned in the sentence, what’s the point of mentioning the other guys? When people think of BMWs though, the other brand that typically first comes to mind is Mercedes Benz. It makes since of course, both of them are luxury German car brands, and they compete for many of the same consumers. So what traditionally separates these two guys and how well do they stack up against each other in today’s market?
Mercedes Benz and BMW are both standalone companies headquartered in Germany. They both have a tradition of innovation, and have been major auto producers since the early 20th century.
BMW was initially founded as an aircraft engine manufacturer in Bavaria, Germany in 1916. The company made many of WWI Germany’s airplane engines. Apparently they were excellent airplane engine makers, setting several records.
BMW has always been best known for its award winning inline-six engines, which have shocked and awed time and again with the 3 Series.
When talking about early automotive history it’s impossible not to mention Mercedes Benz. In 1886 Karl Benz patented what is widely regarded as the world’s first gasoline powered car. The company achieved tremendous success in the years following and became the leader in the luxury car market. The company has also introduced many innovations over the years, such as the keyless entry car system, and CFC-free climate controlled vehicles.
Like BMW, Mercedes-Benz produced vehicles and armaments for the German war effort during WWII. After WWII, both companies were forced to reinvent themselves as many of their assets were confiscated and sold off to help pay for war reparations.
Traditionally BMW and Mercedes Benz have focused on somewhat of a different consumer, even though they are both in the high-end auto market. Mercedes Benz has been known for a long time as one of the top luxury car makers in the world, whereas BMW has tended to fall on the side of performance autos. However, this has changed in recent years, as both companies have attempted to expand their offerings.
The vast majority of BMWs and Mercedes Benz are rear wheel driven, although there has been more and more differentiation in recent years. BMW launched the two series in 2014, which is a front wheel drive vehicle (I consider this heretical). Nowadays Mercedes Benz also has front wheel drive options in their A and B Class.
Traditionally BMW has been able to stand above and beyond the competition with its inline six, rear-wheel drive 3 series and several other series have made notable appearances. They have been universally well regarded in terms of handling, suspension and all-around drivability. However, in recent years BMW seems to have changed its focus from performance driving, toward a focus on comfort. Unfortunately this has had a degenerative effect on performance in the minds of many BMW enthusiasts (myself included).
BMW and Mercedes Benz are made easier to compare when you realize that the brands have several somewhat equivalent models. The BMW has the 3 Series and the Mercedes Benz has the C-Class. Then there is the BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes Benz E Class. Finally you have the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S Class.
When car owners think about reliable cars, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are not two brands that frequently come up in thought. Luxury German cars often get a bad rap on the reliability consideration, because they tend to be more expensive than other vehicles to repair. I’m not going to get into the idiocy of comparing the maintenance costs of a Mercedes Benz to a Honda Civic, as if they were built for the same consumer. I’ll just leave it as many people make this comparison in their heads and conclude that German cars are unreliable.
There have been many studies in recent years comparing the maintenance costs of various car brands over 5 – 15 years of ownership. There have even been several specifically comparing BMW to Mercedes Benz. A study by AM-Online specifically researched the cost of long-term maintenance between Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.
The study found that Mercedes and BMW maintenance costs around the same for the first several years. This makes sense as most new model vehicles are going to have low mileage and need less repair.
Interestingly enough, the study found that the high end Mercedes Brands such as the S class were significantly less expensive to maintain than the C class. This can probably be attributed to the fact that Mercedes puts higher quality parts into their more expensive vehicles. Overall, this study found that Mercedes Benz was the more reliable out of the two over a long period of ownership.
Consumer Reports also performed a study where they compared major car brands cost of maintenance over a ten year period. What they found was that BMW was the most expensive at an average of $1,125 a year in general maintenance. Mercedes Benz was coming in at second at an average of $1,085 a year. This certainly is not a blowout comparison for Mercedes, but the study did shine a light on BMW’s creeping expenses in recent years, as BMW used to consistently rank as more reliable than Mercedes Benz.
I’m going to go ahead and say it, I don’t care what I read to the contrary, I will always believe that BMW has the best handling car in the business. I have been driving these vehicles for ten years, and I have yet to find another car that handles quite like a 3 Series.
That being said, both Mercedes and BMW handle and perform at a high level, they just do it very differently. Mercedes Benz has been using big V8 engines in their vehicles for a long time, whereas BMW has traditionally sided with the sleek inline six motors. Interestingly enough, BMW has got into the business of throwing V8 motors in its M3. Giving them a huge power boost, but sacrificing a lighter weight.
Car and Driver did a comparison test on what they thought to be the seven best handling vehicles for under $100k. They placed the 2011 BMW M3 in fourth place. It was notable for being the “best of all worlds”, however it was unable to score in the top place in handling partially as a result of the larger V8 engine BMW has moved into their M3.
The LA Times did a comparison of what it found to be the top ten handling vehicles in 2014. It felt that the BMW 135i deserved ninth place in its comparison, but no Mercedes Benz model was found on the list.
Overall, BMW typically gets the better rating in terms of performance and for good reason. The 3 Series is a handling demon, and the ride is traditionally oriented toward performance. As I mentioned previously however, the lines have blurred to some degree between Mercedes and BMW. Mercedes now has several extremely impressive sports cars in its current lineup, and BMW has been consistently moving into the V8 and even V10 engine space in recent years.
Cosmetics is somewhat of a personal preference type of consideration, but I figured I would throw it in. It’s no question that as far as interior looks go, BMW bows to Mercedes. Mercedes Benz interiors are simply gorgeous. When you first get into a new one you almost don’t even want to drive the thing. BMW interiors have always been nice, but they certainly don’t go the extra mile in the way that Mercedes does.
Exterior is a different subject though, and I think BMW was much more competitive with Mercedes Benz in past decades than it is currently. BMW has appeared to have lost its touch with exterior styling in the eyes of many of its fans. The common criticism is that many of its models look pretty much the exact same, and the styling innovation simply is not there among new BMWs.
Although the BMW i8 has been highly rated for its overall appearance, it is the exception among newer models, not the rule. Don’t believe me? Don’t want to believe me? Check out the new i3, CSL Hommage, E60, and Jesus will I even go as far as the X7?
Mercedes Benz on the other hand tends to rank highly in appearance with the vast majority of its new vehicles.
Like I said previously there is a lot of personal preference that goes into cosmetics, but I’m willing to bet if you see pictures of these various BMW models you will understand exactly what I’m talking about when I say that BMW has fallen off the wagon with design in recent years.
The advantage by a wide margin here goes to Mercedes.
Ask people today what they think of a BMW vs a Mercedes. There’s a good chance that they will say that a Mercedes is for the rich older guy that loves a top end luxury vehicle, whereas a BMW is for the young person who wants performance. This is traditionally how many have thought of these two brands when compared, but perceptions are changing as the two companies continue to expand their offerings.
I really hate to say it, but I believe that right now in today’s market the Mercedes Benz brand is pulling off more home runs than BMW is. Although, BMW is still making some great cars, I honestly have not fallen in love with one since I purchased my E46.
As a BMW fanatic I don’t believe the new ugly model BMW’s will continue to roll out of the factory for long. I just hope BMW comes to their senses sooner rather than later, so we can all have a better BMW.