Which of the German Big Three you should buy in each class
While the world is going crossover SUV crazy, sedans are still a German staple, and Audi fields a sedan Audi model in each of four size classes. Together with BMW and Mercedes-Benz, these are the three major premium German automakers, and someone considering a sedan from any of the three is likely to cross-shop and consider vehicles from the others too. The German triumvirate has SUVs in each size class as well, but their sedans still sell well in the USA, where sedan models still accounted for over 1.1 million US sales in 2020.
Of course, being more expensive premium nameplates, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes don’t feature among America’s top-selling sedans, which were, in 2020:
- Toyota Camry in 6th overall position with 294,348 units sold
- Honda Civic in 8th overall position with 261,225 units sold
- Toyota Corolla in 11th overall position with 237,178 units sold
- Honda Accord in 17th overall position with 199,458 units sold
- Nissan Altima in 22nd overall position with 137,988 units sold
The Best Of Each
The German Big Three compete in these four size classes, so let’s see which is best in each:
- Small luxury sedans: This class is inhabited by the Audi A3 sedan, BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, and Mercedes-Benz A-Class/CLA twins. A brand-new A3 sedan is due late in 2021 but the old one still puts up a good fight with strong engine choices, perky handling, and an expensive-feeling cabin, despite its age. But it’s cramped in the back seat and too light on driver-assistance features. BMW’s newer 2 Series Gran Coupe is a dynamic handler with excellent performance but its styling isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, it’s short on rear-seat space, and generally not a class act. The Mercedes A-Class Sedan base model is a conservative take on its swoopy CLA twin but the latter boasts better suspension, prettier styling, and more cargo space – but at an average MSRP of over ten percent above the A-Class. Both offer sharp handling, lots of standard features, and Mercedes’ class-leading MBUX infotainment system. You even have a choice of body styles. Mercedes takes it – but the imminent new A3 might upset the pecking order.
- Compact luxury sedans: Here, the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class do battle. The current Audi A4 is getting old and despite its recent facelift, standard Quattro AWD, and excellent handling, it’s showing its age and no longer leads the class. The Mercedes C-Class is also getting on in life and a replacement is due in less than a year, but it’s aged better than the Audi and is still an elegant, well-equipped car with its small trunk being its only real weakness. However, there is no disputing that, in comparison, the latest BMW 3 Series is a class act and provides a superb blend of comfort, handling, space, performance, and fuel economy, all in one package. It has virtually no weak spots and easily takes class honors.
- Mid-size luxury sedans: This is the hunting ground of the Audi A6/A7 twins, the BMW 5 Series, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The BMW is no longer new and its classy, roomy interior with plenty of technology and excellent drivetrains no longer propel it to the top of the class because it’s a bit staid and uninvolving otherwise. Audi offers their A6 sedan, not-quite-a-sedan A7 liftback, and expensive e-tron GT electric sedan in this class. The A6, A7, and superb new e-tron GT fare better than the BMW with a more complete package of performance, tech, and quality – and a choice of body styles, even if the expensive e-tron is quite small inside. The Mercedes E-Class does almost nothing wrong with its svelte styling, superb refinement, excellent tech, and downsized-S-Class ambiance – so it wins.
- Large luxury sedans: In the rarified full-size luxury class, the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class duke it out. The 7 Series have fallen out of contention by being surprisingly dull-handling and not special enough inside, despite excellent powertrains. The expensive but fantastic-looking 8 Series Gran Coupe alternative does not convince at the price either and is less practical than the 7. The Audi A8 handles sharply and is extremely comfortable, with great tech and quality levels. It might have taken it, were it not for the superb new Mercedes-Benz S-Class that, though expensive, bring top tech to the class, nimble handling aided by four-wheel steering, and a generally excellent showing. And the EQS all-electric sedan due soon seems to have what it takes to bring S-Class excellence to electric grand sedans.
Conclusion – It Might Pay To Wait
If you’re shopping in the mid- or full-size class, Mercedes’ E and S generally rule the roost. However, in the small class, we suggest you wait to see how the new Audi A3 shapes up before making up your mind. It might unseat the Mercedes twins as the best in class. In the compact class, the BMW 3 Series might be excellent, but the next C-Class promises much and might set the cat among the pigeons, once it arrives. Either way, the Germans are good enough that you’ll be happy even just following your preference. There isn’t a single bad car here.