Could there be a more practical car than a medium-sized premium wagon with a diesel engine? Yes, a mid-class estate with a diesel engine and all-wheel drive. Auto Motor und Sport has tested the Mercedes C 250 d T 4Matic, BMW 320d Touring xDrive and the VW Passat Variant 2.0TDI 4Motion.
Four-wheel-drive is excellent. Particularly in winter, when four driven wheels often signify the difference between hitching and rushing through. If we also have some 200 bhp diesel under the hood like the BMW 320d xDrive, the Mercedes C 250d 4Matic and the VW Passat 2.0 TDI 4Motion, we are already very close to the ideal companion for all living situations.
C-Class with permanent four-wheel drive
A front-wheel drive, which brings the rear axle to help (Passat), a rear-wheeler, which sends forward the torque if necessary (BMW) – we also need a candidate with permanent all-wheel drive. Meet the C 250 d. Its 4Matic 4×4 drive divides the force in the fixed ratio of 45:55 between the front and rear axles: a pretensioned lamellar clutch juggles back and forth with a maximum of 50 Newtonmeters if necessary.
Amazing: Despite different technology, the four-wheel drive systems are very similar in practice. The Benz steers almost without delay, remains neutral and easy to control even at high cornering tempo. The ESP systems of the three models work so skillfully and sensitively that basic differences such as weight distribution or power supply level to nuances. In corners the Mercedes is not really inferior to the BMW. And it actually goes straight ahead of the Bavarian: its 2.1-liter diesel with 204 hp delivers 100 Nm more than the 2-liter engine in the 320d, and thanks to nine gears, remains silent even when pushed and consumes the least.
In the space offer, however, the longitudinally-motorized C-Class has to be defeated, and its rear seat is not so comfortable. The rear seat backrests snap forward at the push of a button and make room for a step-free luggage compartment. His infotainment system is now antiquated. The E-Class shows that Mercedes can do better. The relaxed Mercedes wins the property evaluation, however, because of the outstanding comfort of its fine-responsive air suspension (1.416 euros) and the most solid workmanship. It also protects its occupants with the widest range of driver assistance systems. The fact that it is not quite enough for the overall win is mainly due to the high price. In the tested version, the C 250 d costs 6,000 euros more than the better equipped Passat.
Passat Variant: 300 liters more trunk volume
Ideal companions swallow purchases and luggage like a Passat Variant. With a length of 4.77 meters, the VW is already a few centimeters above the competition, its space-saving transversely installed four-cylinder creates further space advantages. Passengers therefore enjoy a very comfortable upholstered rear seat with top-class legroom and a maximum luggage compartment volume, which ranks almost 300 liters over the T-model and Touring. If the height-adjustable loading floor is located on the upper support rail, a free-standing and even luggage compartment is created, which can be used very comfortably thanks to a wide opening.
Sense for the practical underline favorably located shelves, large door pockets or a trunk rollo, which purrs on touch into its cassette. The fact that the luggage compartment is equipped with felt instead of carpet or that VW has only a simple head-up display on offer, which is projected on a small glass plate and not on the windshield can be forgotten – everything important is more than solid.
“More than solid” is the case with the Passat. Example driving behavior: the VW engages in bends, remains easily manageable despite noticeable lateral inclination. Even at full power, almost no drive effects are felt in the steering – no self-evident at front-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive? Even as a 4Motion, the quiet and powerful TDI with 190 hp drives mostly only the front wheels. Only when traction is lost, a lamell clutch automatically brings the rear axle to help. For this VW registers a balanced comfort. The standard adaptive dampers can only be used for short transverse ribs, but the large combi can not be brought out of the concept either by long waves or strong loading.
Moderate quality in 320d touring
What is especially noticeable when switching to the BMW is that the 3 Series is heavier when filtering out unevenness. In addition, engine and chassis noise are more evident in the interior. Even after the facelift in mid-2015, there are still cheap plastics. Stainless steel inserts on the loading edge and soft carpets are not the same.
The fact that the 320d is a Touring does not automatically make it belong in the category “space miracle”. Extending wheel arches make the trunk narrow, on the hard-cushioned rear seat passengers sit closer together than in the VW. The old touring trick with the separately swinging rear window still attracts though. A variable separation system also keeps luggage in order. And although the 3 Series is the oldest car in the test, its versatile and easy-to-use infotainment system continues to set the benchmark.
So there are quite practical reasons for the BMW, which can be used for internal family discussions. Does not everyone need to know why we buy 3s: because the side seats fit the driver perfectly in position. Or because it jaggles through the driving dynamics parcours better than the competition and can be precisely guided by its sensitively responsive steering. Even BMW became famous with six-cylinder engines, the 190 hp strong four-cylinder diesel fits well and accelerates the lively Kombi in under eight seconds to 100 pace.
However, the xDrive system prevents smoke from the wheel arches. Depending on the driving situation, a lamellar clutch closes at the transmission output and sends up to half the force to the front wheels. In the border area the 3er therefore only shrugs briefly with the stern, until the front axle pulls straight again.
1. VW Passat Variant 2.0 TDI 4Motion
The practical Passat does not drive quite as spiritedly as the competition, but it offers the most space and comfort at the best price.
2. Mercedes C 250 d T 4Matic
Powerful engine, great nine-speed transmission, impressive suspension comfort. The C-Class drives sovereignly, but it is also the most expensive.
3. BMW 320d Touring xDrive
Driving dynamics still sets the 3er apart, just as the infotainment and ergonomics. In comfort and quality there is still room for improvement.