The German trio that is the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class continue to garner popularity in the junior executive car buying market where luxury, prestige and that all-important symbolism of success are regarded as essential qualities.
Each of the models accounts for more than 30% of their respective stable’s total sales volumes, a phenomenon that is prevalent globally, not just in the South African context.
So it comes as no surprise that rival manufacturers continue to try to emulate the Teutons, with varying degrees of success. Audi Has always set itself apart as being the purveyor of the latest technology and the best looking cabins, the latter item prevalent right through the stable’s offerings. BMW, on the other hand, continues to be the sportiest and most dynamic in the segment, while Merc seems to meld elements of each of its compatriots with a slightly less exuberant execution.
Jaguar, meanwhile, has launched its more meaningful competitor to the segment in the shape of the XE, which offers superb handling and dynamics, not to mention better efficiency. As great as that is, it does have a thorn in its side in the form of high pricing due to it being built and sourced from the UK where the pound has strengthened considerably in recent times against the beleaguered rand.
Japanese Manufacturers Lexus and Infiniti have both the IS and Q50 models respectively and, while these are fairly good vehicles, they never quite upset the apple cart of the Germans who command a strong brand cache. The Swedish Volvo S60 is yet another advocate that is well put together, has great engines and drives with a premium polish not dissimilar to the market leaders, yet it remains in the periphery of compact executive buyers. It all boils down to perceptions, or simply the strong brand image roots that the German manufacturers seem to have entrenched in the psyche of buyers over the years.
Having recently returned from driving the new Audi A4 (available in SA early next year) at its international media launch in Italy, I came away impressed by the levels of refinement that seems to have trickled down from its larger A6 sibling, making it the segment benchmark in that regard. The slightly updated 3 Series, meanwhile, continues to be the most dynamic in the segment and appeals to those looking for a sporting quotient from their executive saloon.
Merc’s C-Class is for the buyer who prefers the elegance that is synonymous with the brand, but it does seem to straddle between the A4 and 3 Series aforementioned virtues, which is perhaps not a bad thing on the three-pointed star maker’s part. Interestingly, the 3 Series has sold 39,000 units locally of the current model since its launch in 2012, while Audi’s now seven year-old A4 managed 37,783 units since its launch in 2008, once again showing just how strong the Beemer brand is in the segment.
Unfortunately, as global company policy Daimler (parent company of Mercedes-Benz) does not report sales figures, so we cannot share any nuggets on the sales of the C-Class since its launch here in 2014. Suffice to say there are a fair number of them on our roads. The crux though is which model is the best in the segment, which is something many people have asked the Motor News team over the years. Things continue to heat up, with each manufacturer pushing the envelope further, while retaining the hallmarks that define the segment.
Chatting to a few people about what they would buy, it was intriguing to see just how the three Germans remain firm favourites among aspirational buyers. However, adding the Jaguar XE into the list of vehicles yielded a different result, with many saying they would consider that instead as it offered something different to the Germans. That said, the Germans continue to dominate the segment and it seems the trend will continue unabated. Audi has made significant refinement strides with the forthcoming A4, while the updates to the 3 Series mean it continues to be best in class as far as dynamics are concerned.
The C-Class is unashamedly the most elegant offering, while the XE has technological virtues. Great cars in their own right, with great engines, comfort and space, but for me though, if I had to drive away in one, then it would be the 3 Series. Not only does it fulfil the premium and prestige elements of those shopping in the segment, but it remains the most balanced and rewarding to drive.