If you’re looking for a classy, roomy saloon car with a feel-good factor as well as a premium badge, then chances are you’ve considered the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. But which is best? Mat Watson, carwow’s expert car reviewer, has driven both back-to-back to find out.
But first – the numbers. The entry-level version of the E-Class costs from £36,005, and the equivalent BMW from £35,835, but what matters the most is getting a price you’re confident in. At the time of writing, the Mercedes has higher average discounts on carwow, meaning it’ll likely be less expensive than the BMW. So that’s first blood to the Mercedes, but what about the styling?
The E-Class has plenty of wow factor – especially in AMG Line form. It gets upgraded 20-inch alloy wheels and a sportier AMG bumpers over the regular SE model.
The BMW 5 Series can also be specced with a sporty trim called M Sport, which also gets bigger wheels and more aggressive styling than the tamer-looking SE trim. But it looks more understated than the posh-looking E-Class, so it’s another point for Mercedes.
Step inside the E-Class and you’re greeted by a sweeping dashboard with the sort of look you’d expect to see at the helm of a luxury yacht. It mostly feels good too, although there are a few areas of scratchy plastics where Mercedes has saved a few pennies.
That’s not the only issue. While you can add a lot of tech to the interior such as the dual-screen sat-nav and digital driver’s display – which combined cost almost £2,000 – the E-class’s infotainment system is a little confusing to use, even though it’s nice and bright and shiny.
It’s just not as slick as BMW’s iDrive system which is simply the best on the market. It’s easy to navigate, you can operate it using the touch screen, by a physical control wheel and even by waving your hand about like an orchestra conductor thanks to the gesture control. The 5 Series also gets BMW’s top-of-the-range infotainment screen and digital dials as standard.
However, despite the standard screens and digital dials, the BMW’s cabin doesn’t have that air of luxury that you get in the E-Class. The quality is beyond reproach – you’ll struggle to find any cheap plastics – it just doesn’t have the same feel-good factor as the Mercedes.
The front seats of the BMW are comfy as well as supportive, and the news is just as good in the rear. The only problem is that a raised centre seat and large hump in the floor means that the person in the middle won’t be anywhere near as comfy as those in the outer seats. Still, fitting a baby seat is a doddle thanks to the big doors and flip up isofix anchor covers. But then it’s the same story with the Mercedes. But how does the E-Class cope with adults?
Ironically while the E-Class may not be quite as good as the BMW for outer passengers when travelling three up, its lower centre seats and smaller hump in the floor makes it better for those marooned in the middle. When it comes to storage, both cars are impressive but the BMW, with its numerous cubbies is slightly better than the Mercedes.
The BMW may be better for small storage than the Mercedes but when it comes to boot space, the E-Class is the winner. Despite a slightly awkward boot opening, the E-Class is easily practical enough for your needs. Plus with the seats folded you can even load a bike without taking its wheel off.
While the BMW’s boot is easily big enough, the shape is not as square as in the Mercedes and this makes it harder to pack stuff in. For instance even with the seats folded you will still need to remove a bikes wheel to fit it in.
The Mercedes may be more practical, but is it better to drive? That depends on what you want from your executive saloon car. If comfort and relaxation top your list of priorities then few cars do it better in the class than the E-Class.
The Mercedes, equipped with the optional air suspension, floats over bumps in the road and wafts around in near silence. The drawback is quite a lot of body roll which induces car sickness, but the E-Class rarely puts you in the mood for aggressive driving anyway.
The E-Class also has the better 2.0-litre diesel engine of the two. It’s quieter, smoother, more fuel efficient and quicker than the equivalent 2.0-litre in the BMW. Where the BMW snatches some points back is with a better automatic gearbox that’s even quicker and smoother than the already good one in the Mercedes.
The gearbox in the BMW isn’t the only thing that’s more responsive than in the Mercedes. The whole car feels smaller when driving, which give you confidence to tackle corners at higher speeds than in the E-Class. The drawback is that the 5 Series doesn’t have air suspension. It can still get pretty comfy with the optional adaptive dampers, but can’t match the E-Class for that magic-carpet feel.
What you have here are two cars that have bag of style, luxury, space and technology. Both the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class are highly accomplished executive saloons and you can’t go wrong whichever you pick. However, for the sake of this comparison there must be a winner and that is the BMW 5 Series because it’s a better all-rounder – it does the luxury thing well but is just that bit better to drive, and has better tech.
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