2009 Audi A4 vs. 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350 Comparison Test

2009 Audi A4 vs. 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350 Comparison Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (5)
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2009 Audi A4 Sedan

(3.2L V6 AWD 6-speed Automatic)

  • Comparison Test
  • Second Opinion
  • Top 8 Features
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation
  • 2009 Audi A4 Specs and Performance
  • 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Specs and Performance

"I wanna take my clothes off!"

We're en route to our photo shoot of the 2009 Audi A4 and 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sport and this loon is standing by the traffic signal, flapping his arms. We tune him out. How many times have we heard that refrain in one week?

He won't be ignored that easily. Grinning, he tries again, motioning toward our two, shiny German sedans idling at the light, each an eye-popping shade of crimson. "I see you drivin' sports car, ain't hittin' the throttle!" he exclaims.

Blank stares. He gives it one last effort. "It's getting hot in here?"

Ah, now his proclamation of impending nakedness clicks. He's butchering an old Nelly song. And based on his furious nodding, apparently proud of it, too.

What this loon doesn't realize is that his assessment of these cars is not far from the mark.

Reshuffling the Deck
With the overhauled 2009 Audi A4, the temperature is rising in the compact quasi-luxury sedan class. We recently tested the all-new A4 for the first time and came away impressed. Increases in length, wheelbase and interior space make it a close match to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Although the Mercedes-Benz C350 trailed the BMW 335i in our last comparison test, the C-Class in its current guise represents an exclamation point of goodness in this market segment. Besting the C350 requires a car with enough talents to achieve critical mass.

And so it came to be that we tested a 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350 equipped with the Multimedia and Premium II Packages, TeleAid and slick-looking 18-inch AMG wheels with summer tires, a pricey $45,275 package that nevertheless fairly represents the fullest expression of C-Class goodness.

The 2009 Audi A4 with which we were provided by the manufacturer for this test turned out to be a German-specification car, which apparently means very little since U.S.-spec cars will differ only in the deletion of the front parking sensors and power-folding mirrors found on our test car, plus minor rejiggering of the options groups. Our A4 was equipped with 18-inch wheels and all-season tires.

Pricing of the new A4 has not yet been released, though Audi representatives have told us not to expect significant changes from today's A4. Based on this assurance — plus consultations with the magic bones and some scrutinizing of groundhog shadows — we estimate that this 2009 A4 3.2 Quattro test car will sticker very close to $45,000.

Both the Audi and the Benz come only with automatic transmissions in the trim levels we tested.

2nd Place: 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350 Sport
Cars of the three-pointed star built many moons ago are known for their hewn-from-steel character. It's been said that those days are gone, and that the modern Benz isn't built like it used to be.

We'd like to respectfully disagree. The automaker has fortified the current-generation C-Class with some of that Old World substance. From behind the wheel, the C350 feels reassuringly solid, from the thunk of the doors as they shut close to the chunky action of the shift lever on the center console. Yet this feel of mechanical gravitas doesn't come at the price of sheer weight, as the 3,621-pound Benz is 250 pounds lighter than the Audi A4.

This works to the Benz's advantage in straight-line acceleration, where the baby Benz just plain thrashes the A4. The 60-mph mark comes up in 6.3 seconds (6.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), fully 0.6 second quicker than the A4. Similarly, the Benz sails through the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds at 96.5 mph, a half-second quicker than the Audi.

It's mostly down to the weight difference, because the C350's 3.5-liter V6 puts out 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, just shading the Audi's 3.2-liter V6 by 3 hp and 15 lb-ft.

Another key factor in the C350's eager performance and refined disposition is its seven-speed automatic, which neatly covers a wider spread of gearing than the Audi's six-speed and also changes cogs with eel-in-Crisco slickness. Shifts are nearly imperceptible, and when you floor the throttle, the car gathers velocity as seamlessly as if it were powered by an electric motor.

It might be that Mercedes has gone a little too far with the sense of substance in its character, however, because this car always feels a little inert compared to the A4. At casual speeds, the C350's tautly damped wheel action hints at a dynamic treat that doesn't fully materialize once you pick up the pace.

When the roads go all noodly, the Benz is Julie Andrews — it demonstrates impeccably good manners but just doesn't quicken your pulse. So it was no surprise when the C350 posted 65.8 mph in the slalom, trailing the A4's performance by more than 4 mph. The Benz's suspension damping is firm and well-controlled, while ultimate grip of 0.84g on our skid pad is just a tad less than the Audi's result.

Functionally, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350 doesn't miss a beat, particularly in the utility of its intuitive multimedia interface, which is the polar opposite of the clunky interface found in previous-generation Benzes. At the same time, the interior of the C-Class is slightly design-y yet cold and unfriendly, as if Sister Mary Margaret were lecturing you about ergonomics.

None of the C's shortcomings are terminal. On the contrary, we reckon the inclusion of the European-market sport package and some of the Euro interior features would do a lot to wake up the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350.

1st Place: 2009 Audi A4 3.2 Quattro
Let's get this part out of the way — despite the additional traction provided by its all-wheel-drive system, the 3,870-pound Audi A4 is just too portly to keep pace with the C350 in the stoplight grand prix. Acceleration to 60 mph consumes 6.9 seconds (6.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), and the A4 clicks the quarter-mile in 15 seconds flat at 94.7 mph. Audi's 3.2-liter direct-injected V6 is smooth and emits a pleasantly distinctive warble, but it will take more than its 265 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque to out-drag the leaner C350.

Aside from that, the new 2009 Audi A4 is a serious contender. Like the automotive equivalent of actor Jack Black, the A4 executes its dynamic moves with a grace that is at odds with what the scales suggest should be possible. Much of this can be attributed to the talents of its structurally rigid new chassis rather than what's under the hood.

Thanks to multiple personalities, the A4 also gains an edge in our scoring system. Audi Drive Select is similar in concept to BMW's M Drive in that it provides different calibrations — called Dynamic and Comfort modes — for throttle response, damper action, shift speed and both steering ratio and level of assist. (Fans of Mr. Potato Head will appreciate the ability of Individual mode to mix and match all these parameters.)

Click Dynamic mode and the whole car instantly snaps to attention, providing the A4 with a selection of direct, quick responses that the C350 can't deliver. There's a lot of body control in this mode, plus the new A4's improved weight distribution keeps the outside front tire from being abused as much as before.

On the road, the Audi's tires give up long before the chassis loses its poise, so driving at the limit of adhesion is ridiculously easy. Oversteer remains off the menu, though this new A4's handling balance is more neutral than ever before, so you can toss it into the corners — a dynamic that contributes to its solid 70 mph in the slalom.

Braking also proves more effective in the A4 than in the Benz. The subtleties of pedal effort and modulation are similar between the two cars, yet the A4 simply stops better, requiring just 107 feet to stop from 60 mph. This result is 11 feet shorter than the Benz's best effort.

Nitpicks? The A4's steering offers precision that the languid steering ratio in the C350 can't match, but the weighting and feel of the Audi's variable-ratio rack is more artificial than we'd prefer. And downshifts from the six-speed transmission are occasionally on the lurchy side.

The A4's interior has a much richer appearance than the C350's functionally sound but visually ascetic surroundings. And the Audi offers way more equipment, which is crucial in our scoring. In addition to the aforementioned multimode dampers and all-wheel drive, the A4 offers a back-up camera and parking proximity sensors, shift paddles on the steering wheel, adaptive cruise control and a lane departure warning system. None of these features are offered on the Benz.

Before you get all red-faced and fire up your text editor to inform us that we're basing the 2009 Audi A4's value for money based on a bogus price tag, consider the Audi's lead in our scoring over the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350. The gap to 2nd place is large enough to absorb several thousand dollars more than our $45,000 guesstimate...er, divination from the stars.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath says:
I'm in the Mercedes C350 tailing the new 2009 Audi A4 during the opening leg of a side-by-side drive when suddenly the Audi darts across two empty lanes of traffic. Road debris? Animal in the road? I wasn't sure, but I was far enough back to look and leisurely avoid the incident, whatever it was.

It was a puddle.

A malfunctioning sprinkler had let loose upon the oil-soaked California pavement with hours of mild drizzle. The cars needed to be photographed later that day, and the Audi's pilot was being courteous to the guys (us) who'd have to clean up the spatter. I wasn't thinking that far into the future. I saw a puddle and turned 16 again.

By the time I hit the puddle, the traction control was off and the transmission was cycled back around to Sport. I wasn't going more than 15 mph but the speedometer read triple that as I dried the sticky tires in the most expedient fashion I know. No smoke, no screeching, just the frantic hiss of wet rubber on concrete.

"Can't do that with your all-wheel drive, can ya?" I radioed ahead to the driver of the spot-free A4.

"No, I can't," he shot back. "But I've got shift paddles, and personalized suspension/gear settings, and..."

I didn't hear the rest. I was off looking for more puddles. Because when you call something a sport sedan, I don't care how many suspension settings there are, or how much less of the engine is dangling obscenely over the front axle line. I just want it to be fun. No explanations, no lengthy engineering lessons, just fun. And the 2008 Mercedes Benz C350 is just that.


2009 Audi A4 3.2 Quattro 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350
18-inch wheels O O
Adaptive cruise controll O N/A
All-wheel drive S N/A
Back-up camera O N/A
Driver-selectable transmission settings O S
Lane departure warning O N/A
Multimode dampers O N/A
Shift Paddles O N/A

S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

18-inch wheels: A stand-alone option on the C350; part of the A4's Prestige trim level.

Adaptive cruise control: With adaptive cruise, there's no longer a need for constant adjustments when cruising in light freeway traffic. Audi offers it on the A4, and it is unavailable on the C350.

All-wheel drive: A traction and driving aid that is available on the 3.2 Quattro but not the C350.

Back-up camera: A boon to reversing in tight spots and for ensuring nothing (or nobody) is hiding directly behind your car.

Driver-selectable transmission settings: Change the transmission's calibration at the touch of a button. It's standard on the Benz, while part of the optional Drive Select system for Audi.

Lane departure warning: When a car is in your blind spot, this system alerts you to its presence. A handy safety item.

Multimode dampers: The Audi A4 allows the driver to select from two distinct levels of suspension control.

Shift paddles: These keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times.

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
Item Weight 2009 Audi A4 3.2 Quattro 2008 Mercedes-Benz C350
Personal Rating 2.5% 100.0 50.0
Recommended Rating 2.5% 83.3 66.7
Evaluation Score 20% 77.4 76.7
Feature Content 25% 70.8 20.8
Performance 25% 91.4 87.7
Price 25% 100.0 99.4
Total Score 100.0% 85.6 70.2
Final Ranking 1 2
$45,000 (est) $45,275

Personal Rating (2.5%): Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating (2.5%): After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.

20-Point Evaluation (20%): Each participating editor ranked each vehicle based on a comprehensive 20-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Feature Content (25%): For this category, the editors picked the top 8 features that would distinguish one vehicle from the other. Standard, optional (and included), and optional (but not included) equipment were taken into consideration.

Performance Testing (25%): Flat-out acceleration, braking and handling tests were performed in a controlled environment by the same driver on the same day.

Price (25%): The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the less expensive vehicle in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the less expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the remaining vehicle receiving a lesser score based on how much it costs.

Model year2009
Style3.2 quattro
Base MSRP$39,175 (est)
Options on test vehiclePrestige Package (includes 18-inch 5-spoke wheels, all-season tires, park distance warning system, keyless ignition, premium audio system, lane departure warning system), Navigation Package With Camera, Audi Drive Select, Adaptive Cruise Control.
As-tested MSRP$45,000 (est)
Drive typeall wheel drive
Engine typeLongitudinally mounted 90-degree V6 with gasoline direct injection and 2-stage resonant intake manifold
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3197 / 195
Block/head materialaluminum / aluminum
ValvetrainDOHC with variable valve timing
Compression ratio (x:1)12.5:1
Redline (rpm)6800
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)265 @ 6500
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)234 from 3000-5000 rpm
Transmission type6-speed automatic with steering wheel paddles
Transmission and axle ratios (x:1)I--4.171; II--2.340; III--1.521; IV--1.143; V--0.867; VI--0.691; FD--3.517
Suspension, frontIndependent, Multi-Link, Coil Springs, and Tubular Stabilizer Bar
Suspension, rearIndependent, Multi-Link, Coil Springs, and Stabilizer Bar
Steering typeRack-and-pinion with speed-sensitive hydraulic power assist
Steering ratio (x:1)16.3:1; variable
Tire brandMichelin
Tire modelPilot Sport
Tire typeAll season
Tire size, front245/40 ZR18 93Y
Tire size, rear245/40 ZR18 93Y
Wheel size18" x 8" front and rear
Wheel materialAluminum
Brakes, front12.6-by-1.2-inch ventilated disc and floating caliper
Brakes, rear11.3-by-0.48-inch solid disc
Track Test Results
0-45 mph (sec.)4.7
0-60 mph (sec.)6.9
0-75 mph (sec.)10.2
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)15.0 @ 94.7
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)6.6
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)28
60-0 mph (ft.)107
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)70
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.86
Sound level @ idle (dB)43.5
@ Full throttle (dB)72.8
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)64
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsWill not brake-torque. Hates pedal overlap. Engine is brilliantly smooth and shifts are consistent at 7,000 rpm. But is this on the pace of the rest of the class?
Braking ratingExcellent
Braking commentsImpressive pedal feel. Consistent response and minimal idle stroke make for a confident combination on every stop. Short stopping distance as well.
Handling ratingVery Good
Handling commentsSkid pad: Terminal understeer the the limit despite high grip. Little body roll. Very good body control on uneven surfaces. Slalom: Very stiff -- and as a result, very responsive in Dynamic mode. Ultimately a very sharp, communicative sedan.
Testing Conditions
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (°F)81.7
Wind (mph, direction)10.8 mph
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)Not available
Edmunds observed (mpg)19.5
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)Not available
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)Not available
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)3,870
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)55.5 / 44.5
Length (in.)185.2
Width (in.)71.9
Height (in.)56.2
Wheelbase (in.)110.6
Track, front (in.)61.6
Track, rear (in.)61.6
Turning circle (ft.)37.4
Legroom, front (in.)Not available
Legroom, rear (in.)Not available
Legroom, 3rd row (in.)Not available
Headroom, front (in.)40
Headroom, rear (in.)37.5
Headroom, 3rd row (in.)Not available
Shoulder room, front (in.)55.5
Shoulder room, rear (in.)54.3
Shoulder room, 3rd row (in.)Not available
Seating capacity5
Cargo volume (cu-ft)16.9
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)34
Bumper-to-bumper4 years / 50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years / 50,000 miles
Corrosion12 years / unlimited miles
Roadside assistance4 years / 50,000 miles
Free scheduled maintenance4 years / 50,000 miles
Front airbagsStandard
Side airbagsStandard
Head airbagsStandard
Knee airbagsNot Available
Antilock brakesStandard 4-wheel ABS
Electronic brake enhancementsElectronic Brake force Distribution (EDB)
Traction controlStandard
Stability controlStandard
Rollover protectionNot available
Tire-pressure monitoring systemStandard
Emergency assistance systemLane departure warning
NHTSA crash test, driverNot Available
NHTSA crash test, passengerNot Available
NHTSA crash test, side frontNot Available
NHTSA crash test, side rearNot Available
NHTSA rollover resistanceNot Available
Model year2008
StyleC350 Sport 4dr Sedan (3.5L 6cyl 7A)
Base MSRP$37,775
Options on test vehiclePremium II Package (bi-xenon headlamps with washers and cornering lamps, split-folding rear seat, power rear sunshade); Multimedia Package (7-inch power retractable screen, COMAND navigation system, six-disc CD changer, Harman Kardon premium sound, voice control, music register, PCMCIA slot); AMG 18-Inch Five-Twin-Spoke wheels; TeleAid
As-tested MSRP$45,275
Drive typeRear-wheel drive
Engine type90-degree V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3,498cc (213 cu-in)
Block/head materialAluminum / Aluminum
ValvetrainChain-driven double overhead camshaft, variable valve timing
Compression ratio (x:1)10.7
Redline (rpm)6,700
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)268 @ 6,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)258 @ 2,400
Transmission type7-speed automatic
Transmission and axle ratios (x:1)I: 4.38; II: 2.86; III: 1.92; IV: 1.37; V: 1.00; VI: 0.82; VII: 0.73; FD: 2.82
Suspension, frontIndependent, MacPherson struts with split lower control arms, coil springs and stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearIndependent, Multi-Link, Coil Springs, and Stabilizer Bar
Steering typeRack-and-pinion; speed-sensitive hydraulic power assist
Steering ratio (x:1)13.5
Tire brandContinental
Tire modelContiSport Contact3
Tire typeSummer
Tire size, front225/40ZR18 92Y
Tire size, rear255/35ZR18 94Y
Wheel size18-by-8-inch front -- 18-by-8.5-inch rear
Wheel materialAluminum alloy
Brakes, frontSingle-piston floating caliper; 13.4-by-1.26-inch ventilated disc
Brakes, rearSingle-piston floating caliper; 11.8-by-0.86-inch ventilated disc
Track Test Results
0-45 mph (sec.)4.1
0-60 mph (sec.)6.3
0-75 mph (sec.)9.1
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)14.5 @ 96.5
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)6
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)31
60-0 mph (ft.)118
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)65.8
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.84
Sound level @ idle (dB)42.5
@ Full throttle (dB)74.4
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)68.4
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsUneventful acceleration in this C350. Best run achieved without brake-torque, set transmission to Sport and wood the pedal. Traction control is irrelevant.
Braking ratingAverage
Braking commentsErratic stopping distances are a bit unnerving, but performance does seem to improve with heat.
Handling ratingGood
Handling commentsSkid pad: Mild understeer at limit followed by slow, lift-induced rotation which is caught by stability control. Slalom: Non-defeat stability control has very good integration. Electronics don¿t punish enthusiastic driving with over-aggressive brake application. Rather, countersteer is greeted with a mild trimming of speed from the appropriate wheel. Works elegantly and brilliantly.
Testing Conditions
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (°F)72.5
Wind (mph, direction)3.7 mph
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)17 city/25 highway
Edmunds observed (mpg)16.1
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)17.4
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3,505
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)3,621
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)52.9/47.1
Length (in.)182.3
Width (in.)69.7
Height (in.)56.3
Wheelbase (in.)108.7
Track, front (in.)60.4
Track, rear (in.)59.6
Turning circle (ft.)35.6
Legroom, front (in.)41.7
Legroom, rear (in.)33.4
Legroom, 3rd row (in.)Not available
Headroom, front (in.)37.1
Headroom, rear (in.)36.9
Headroom, 3rd row (in.)Not available
Shoulder room, front (in.)54.7
Shoulder room, rear (in.)55.1
Shoulder room, 3rd row (in.)Not available
Seating capacity5
Cargo volume (cu-ft)12.4
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)12.4
Bumper-to-bumper4 years / 50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years / 50,000 miles
Corrosion4 years / 50,000 miles
Roadside assistanceUnlimited
Free scheduled maintenanceUnlimited/ 3,000 miles
Front airbagsStandard
Side airbagsStandard dual front
Head airbagsStandard front and rear
Knee airbagsNot Available
Antilock brakes4-wheel ABS
Electronic brake enhancementsBrake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution
Traction controlStandard
Stability controlStandard
Rollover protectionStandard
Tire-pressure monitoring systemTire-pressure monitoring
Emergency assistance systemNot Available
NHTSA crash test, driver4 stars
NHTSA crash test, passenger4 stars
NHTSA crash test, side front5 stars
NHTSA crash test, side rear5 stars
NHTSA rollover resistance4 stars
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