Mercedes E 220 d vs. BMW 520d: The eternal duel of business sedans

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Business sedans with four-cylinder diesel – at the first glance, sounds quite grounded. However, a ride in the all-new BMW 520d and its sharpest competitor, the Mercedes E 220 d, creates doubts about the class boundaries. FIRST COMPARISON TEST via

Actually, this story is about the simple question of which is the better business sedan. Like so often in the last 40 years, when a new E-Class is challenging the 5er, or just the other way round – as now.

BMW 520d with top-class luxury

For the first time in its history, the 5 Series offers a truly spacious interior. Although it grew only three centimeters in length, the leg-freedom in the rear gains more than six centimeters, even surpassing the traditionally airy E-Class. Passengers also travel on a very comfortable rear seat, which can be divided in the ratio 40: 20: 40 when folded. Advantage: If only the narrower middle section is folded, two passengers on their outdoor areas do not sit as closely together as usual.

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Although BMW promises a weight reduction of up to 100 kilos, our test car weighs 25 kilos more than its predecessor with an automatic. As so often, ambitious diet plans are crossed by new technology. At least the 5-series underbids the E-Class by more than two hundred kg, but the most important bodywork differences are already enumerated: in the case of outside dimensions, space or trunk volume, the two are nearly equal.

If car body construction is not yet suitable for differentiation, the infotainment is. While the E-Class now also integrates the most important online features and represents it all on two impressive 12.3-inch widescreen displays (Extra).

Driving instead of surfing

Displays, apps, internet? No, you did not inadvertently open a computer magazine. We hear you and start the OM 654 engine, which with 194 hp and 400 Nm has nothing to do with old diesel-Benz lethargy. A six-cylinder is only missed for the most part for acoustic reasons; when twisted, the two-liter diesel sounds rough and banal. The four-cylinder, however, straddles the E-Class with force from the block. In principle, the narrower speed range of a diesel engine is countered by the smooth switching automatic gearbox with its wide spreading.

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Not only this: In position “Sport”, the converter automatically switches back several gears, when braking before cornering, bringing the engine brake into play and providing a pull on the exit when accelerating out. The Mercedes not only accelerates a tad more quickly, but is also more adept at driving dynamics – unlike the test of the six-cylinder variants, when the E 350 d had to leave the 530d ahead.

Measured values, however, are only one side: With its optional four-wheel steering, the 520d feels astoundingly agile. At low speed, front and rear wheels strike in opposite directions, increasing handiness. At higher speeds, front and rear axles steer in the same direction, which improves stability. However, the steering feels minimally artificial, the Mercedes acts in direct comparison a bit more honest, more direct. At the limit, both candidates can handle similar problems without problems and help with fine-tuned ESP interventions around the corner, if the driver exaggerates.

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Limits of trademark

The 520 and its four-cylinder diesel engine with 190 hp sounds a little lumpy during the cold start, but consumes 0.3 l / 100 km more, but that’s it again with the differences: The eight-speed automatic by ZF also shows outstanding gear changes, all very soft (leaves it to the speedometer to inform about switch points). Speaking of soft: The adaptive suspension in the BMW is more sensitive to asphalt damage, all without allowing too much lateral inclination. Even if it soakes up short cross sections somewhat more concise than the gentle rolling Mercedes, the driving feeling of the quiet 5er is similarly sovereign and superior.

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Earlier, engineers had to decide whether to opt for a car more sporty or more comfortable. Thanks to the many adaptive systems, today both can be achieved at the same time. Therefore, the E-Class would be a great BMW and the 5 is a worthy Mercedes, with which a further question is imposing: If the permanent rivals turn from opposite directions to the optimum convergence point, then only design and infotainment determine the brand character?

At the same time, the BMW keeps a little distance with the price structure: as a Luxury line, it rolls with a significantly better standard equipment as standard at a similar basic price (including LED headlights, online navigation and leather upholstery). 

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1. BMW 520d
480 points. The 5 has worked on its weaknesses, offers more space, a quieter drive and comfortable suspension, all while being always the more agile car.

2. Mercedes E 220 d
470 points. The E-Class combines well-known strengths such as driving comfort and safety with new dynamics. In view of the high prices, the standard equipment is inadequate.

Technical Data
BMW 520d Mercedes E 220 d
Base price 51.750 € 51.563 €
Lenght x Width x Height 4936 x 1868 x 1479 mm 4923 x 1852 x 1468 mm
Trunk volume 520 L 540 L
Engine 1995 cm³ / 4-Cylinder 1950 cm³ / 4-Cylinder
Power 140 kW / 190 PS (400 Nm) 143 kW / 194 PS (400 Nm)
Max. speed 235 km/h 240 km/h
Acceleration 0-100 km/h 7,5 s 7,3 s
Mixed consumption 4,1 L/100 km 3,9 L/100 km
Test consumption 7,1 L/100 km 6,8 L/100 km


One Comment

  • I have tested both the 5 series and the E class. As much as I like both of them, I have to say they are different cars. At the Motor Show in Geneva I tested them again in terms of interior comfort and in my view the Mercedes is better, without any doubt and that’s why I intend to buy an E-Class again.
    However I see a problem coming which are Euro 6c fine dust regulations: While the BMW 5 series already complies with that standard, Mercedes doesn’t. So when you buy a Mercedes now, you get Euro 6. With the fine dust particle discussion in the EU, you never know, how long you will be able to drive into the inner cities. What do you think about this?