BMW 520d vs Mercedes E 250 CDI: Comparison review

The 2013 facelift of both the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class have made them better cars. But, has it given any particular model an edge over the other? We have the diesel versions of both cars to find out.


BMW 5 Series & Merc E-Class


The BMW 530d is a great car. It has a lovely, powerful and refined engine, and performance that most might scare themselves with. It does crack the 0-100kmph run in 5.8 seconds, after all! And this is an executive luxury sedan; one that’s meant to take CEOs to work while they type away inexhaustibly on their laptops (or is it the iPad now?) and make endless phone calls. But, the 530d doesn’t sell too well. And that’s because it is more expensive and less efficient than the 520d, which, by the way, is the car you see here and is among the better selling 5 Series models in India.


Mercedes had a similar realisation and therefore, when it launched its heavily revised E-Class in 2013, it took the larger engine – the more powerful and more refined 3-litre V6 diesel off the menu. So, the E 350 CDI was no more. Instead, the only diesel engined E-Class that customers can buy today is the E 250 CDI. The latter isn’t as fast or as much fun, but it is still very competent indeed.


BMW 520d & Mercedes E 250 CDI faceoff


But, before we delve deeper into the engines, their performance and their fuel economy ratings, let’s first see what’s new about the facelifted BMW 520d and the Mercedes E 250 CDI.


BMW 5 Series & Merc E-Class revised in 2013


In alphabetic order then, the facelift for the BMW 520d is a minor one. It gets revised headlamps which give the car a younger appearance. These are full LED units so the head lamps now have better reach and spread. The trademark BMW kidney grille has been tweaked a bit and it gets new bumpers. These are shaped differently but it’s the additional chrome highlights that tell them apart, both front and back. The alloy wheels are new and now the 5 Series has new variant nomenclature. The 530d is only available in the M Sport trim while the 520d can be had in either the Modern trim we have here or in Luxury trim. The differences between the two trims are subtle and hover around things like different alloy wheel designs and different interior colour and material options.


BMW 5 Series & Merc E-Class new head lamps


The changes to the E-Class, at least on the outside, are a lot more intense than on the 5 Series. Mercedes has completely revised the head lamp design and along with the new grille that sports the three-pointed star bang in the middle, the new E now has a younger, better defined and sportier stance. Design lines have also been added to the rear door and haunches for a more current look and at the rear, the tail lamps, though still as large as before, now finally look more appealing. In fact, overall the E-Class has become a much bolder car to look at.


BMW 5 Series & Merc E-Class rear


In an uncharacteristic move, particularly for this segment, Mercedes has taken choice away from the buyer. The diesel E-Class can only be bought with one engine and in one trim. At launch there was the E 250 CDI Launch Edition (it’s the same car you see here) but that’s sold out. So, a new E-Class buyer can now only opt for the AvantGarde trim. As the name suggests, the AvantGarde is the fully loaded version. So, in a sense even though the buyer doesn’t have an option while purchasing the new E-Class diesel, he still gets all that he could ask for. And that’s not a bad ploy at all.


BMW 520d interior


In terms of equipment, the BMW 520d and the Mercedes E 250 CDI are equally well spec’d. Both get driver interactive systems (iDrive for BMW and COMAND for Mercedes) with detailed system settings, Bluetooth telephony, satnav, a detailed trip computer and high-end stereo systems with in-built memory and various input options. Both cars also sport multi-functional steering wheels, cruise control, electrically adjustable seats and steering with memory and sunroof. There’s digital climate control as well but the Mercedes gets a 3-zone system compared to a 2-zone on the BMW.


Mercedes E 250 CDI interior


As far as quality, finish and opulence in concerned, again, the two cars are a match for each other. The approach, however, differs. The BMW is more rounded and cushy while the Mercedes is more about lines and edges and a bit more utility. The visibility is better on the E-Class; the rear kneeroom is more; and the ingress and egress is better on the Mercedes as well. The E 250 CDI is also a much lighter car to steer, particularly in the city.


BMW 5 Series & Merc E-Class new grille


The BMW on the other hand has more comfortable seats – these are more accommodating, better bolstered and at the rear, ergonomically sounder with better positioned armrest and better thigh support. The 520d also has a larger, more usable boot. Its iDrive is more intuitive and the 5 Series also gets keyless start, which is missing on the E-Class. And then there’s regenerative braking which helps the 520d return better fuel economy than the Mercedes.


BMW 5 Series & Merc E-Class driving shot


The differences between the two cars become clearer still once you start driving. The BMW has a smaller, less power engine. This four-cylinder diesel displaces 1995cc and pumps out 184PS of max power. The torque rating at 380Nm isn’t bad either. This translates into a 0-100kmph acceleration time of 7.9 seconds and the BMW 520d can go up to a top speed of 234kmph. And en route, the engine sounds refined and eager, and never harsh or stressed.


BMW 520d 2-litre diesel makes 184PS


The Mercedes E 250 CDI has the bigger, more powerful engine in this test. It displaces 2143cc, and like the BMW is a four cylinder engine. The max power output for the Mercedes is a claimed 204PS, but it’s the torque that truly gives the E 250 CDI an advantage on the road. With 500Nm available from 1600rpm, the E-Class completes the 0-100kmph run in 7.5 seconds and goes up to record a higher top speed of 242kmph as well. This too is a refined engine but is let down a bit by the 7-speed auto is it mated too.


Merc E 250 CDI has 204PS on tap


The BMW gets an 8-speed automatic. Both the BMW and the Mercedes ‘boxes are torque convertor units and both can be used as clutchless manuals via steering mounted paddle shifters. But, the BMW 520d reacts faster to driver inputs be it up or down the gearbox. The E-Class’ ‘box is lazier and works best when left in full auto. It doesn’t work as well as the BMW’s for enthusiastic driving, but works equally well on the highways and in the cities for relaxed but fast commuting.


BMW 5 Series & Merc E-Class ride


The E-Class though has a clear advantage when it comes to ride and handling. The 5 Series ‘thuds’ more often over poor roads, it jiggles more and the ride is louder as well. The E’s ride isn’t exactly plush either but it is more absorbent and better calibrated to handle bumps and potholes, particularly when these appear in quick succession. It better isolates its occupants from the happenings underneath too.


Handling wise, there’s little to choose between the two around slow or fast, well-paved corners. They turn into bends well, the body roll isn’t too pronounced and the tendency to understeer isn’t all that obvious. Both cars feel equally stable at speeds too given the road surfaces are nicely paved and devoid of undulations. But, if the road surface is anything but perfect, the Mercedes does a better job of handling it. It doesn’t wallow or bounce around as much as the BMW; it feels more planted the faster you go; and when subjected to quick direction changes, it also feels lighter on its feet.


BMW 5 Series & Merc E-Class still


Now, both cars are equally well specced and well built on the inside, and carry the same upmarket aura. And things are so good and so close in this class that choosing one over the other is more a matter of personal choice than the outcome of positives or negatives of the two cars. But, yes, in terms of pricing, the Mercedes has an advantage. The E 250 CDI AvantGarde costs Rs 57.1 lakh while the BMW 520d Modern line comes up to Rs 60.5 lakh, both on the road in Mumbai.


So, to wrap it up, the reasons to choose the Mercedes over the BMW apart from the former's lower purchase price, are the E-Class’ better dynamics, its easier to drive nature, and its peppier engine. It’s also a tad more spacious at the back. The reasons to opt for the BMW, on the other hand, are its better ergonomics and operability; its cushier, more comfortable rear seats to be chauffeur driven in; its bigger, more usable boot; and its nicer gearbox. The BMW is also a bit more fuel efficient.

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