Fleet News

Audi A4 2.0 FSI vs BMW 318i vs Mercedes-Benz C180k

Audi

Review

In a leasing panel survey we compiled earlier this year, our experts proved that choosing a low- spec compact premium car over a high-spec upper-medium model was the best way to go from a running costs point of view.

And a BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi-badged car will do wonders for the drivers' self esteem as well, even if it has no rear electric windows fitted as standard. So every one is a winner then? Possibly yes, but which is the best of the best, the Top Gun of the cheap end of the compact premium market?

The Mercedes-Benz C180 Kompressor, with the new Twin Pulse engine which offers increased performance and lower emissions than the engine it replaces, performs the best when it comes to residual values, retaining 40% of its original value after three- years/60,000-miles according to CAP, or the equivalent of 18.92 pence per mile. The BMW 318i and the Audi A4 2.0 FSI are evenly matched and unsurprisingly, not far behind the Mercedes-Benz.

The Audi has the largest percentage loss, losing 63% of its value over the same period, but in cash terms, due to its lower front end price it loses 18.80ppm compared to the more expensive BMW, which loses 19.86ppm, although this works out at a lower percentage of its original price, at 38%.

Unsurprisingly the A4, with its much-trumpeted new FSI engine, wins the fuel running costs section with a pence per mile figure of 9.61ppm. On the combined cycle, official figures rate it at 39.8mpg. The BMW comes second with 9.74ppm, while the C-class finishes a close third on 9.86ppm.

As for servicing, maintenance and repair the Audi is streets ahead of the other two. Our figures suggest that over three-years/60,000-miles, the Audi will cost a miserly £1,698, which is exceptional, while the other two cars return more typical figures: £2,598 for the BMW and £2,100 for the Mercedes-Benz. All three cars have very strong reliability records though, so costs can, to a certain extent, be pretty accurately forecast.

As for wholelife costs, the BMW comes last by virtue of its heavier cash depreciation and highest maintenance costs. Unusually – because often the strongest residual value performer wins the wholelife costs analysis – the Mercedes-Benz, the winner in that section, comes in second.

The Audi beats it because of its better fuel economy and excellent SMR costs. It ends up being £500 cheaper over three- years/60,000-miles than the C-class, and more than £1,500 cheaper than the 3-series.

So that's the story from the running costs point of view. Any fleet operator should find all three are good runners. But what about the driver?

Working on the theory that all drivers will be charged in the 40% tax band, the Audi, with its super-clean FSI engine, will be the cheapest. It will cost the driver £1,397 in 2003/2004 as its falls into the 18% tax band. The Mercedes-Benz and BMW are only a band higher at 19%, which means £1,506 for the C180K and £1,532 for the 318i. Not much in it then, and £9 per month between best and worst, so no clear winner here.

Audi A4 2.0 FSI

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THE A4 is the first high-volume VW Group car to use the FSI direct injection petrol engine and it returns some class leading figures. Allied to neat styling and high quality, this is a tough nut to crack.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,400
CO2 emissions (g/km): 170
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £140
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 39.8
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,150/37%
Depreciation (18.80 pence per mile x 60,000): £11,280
Maintenance (2.83 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,698
Fuel (9.61 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,766
Wholelife cost (31.24 pence per mile x 60,000): £18,744
Typical contract hire rate: £388.88 per month

BMW 318i

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THE 3-series is the default option in the compact premium sector. 318i is one of the biggest-selling models and blends sharp rear-wheel drive handling with a sporty and clean Valvetronic engine.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £20,160
CO2 emissions (g/km): 175
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 19%
Graduated VED rate: £140
Insurance group: 13
Combined mpg: 39.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,700/38%
Depreciation (19.86 pence per mile x 60,000): £11,916
Maintenance (4.33 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,598
Fuel (9.74 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,844
Wholelife cost (33.93 pence per mile x 60,000): £20,538
Typical contract hire rate: £423.05 per month

Mercedes-Benz C180K Classic

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THE C-class is a much-improved car with better engines and improved build quality too. It's a handsome car as well, although those wanting a more sporty drive should look elsewhere.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,815
CO2 emissions (g/km): 175
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 19%
Graduated VED rate: £140
Insurance group 12
Combined mpg: 38.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £8,025/40%
Depreciation (18.92 pence per mile x 60,000): £11,352
Maintenance (3.50 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,100
Fuel (9.86 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,916
Wholelife cost (32.28 pence per mile x 60,000): £19,368
Typical contract hire rate: £425.66 per month

Audi A4 2.0 FSI

WHEN is the Volkswagen Group going to learn?

It produces some fine cars across its many brands, but all suffer from the same shortcoming – they are devoid of driver feedback. Everything from the Volkswagen Polo to the Audi A6, and most Skoda and SEAT models in between, are affected.

The Audi A4 is no exception – there is a lack of feedback from the steering wheel, pedals and gearbox. This may not bother some people, but to others the numb feeling is incredibly annoying. It spoils what otherwise is a fantastic package. In FSI guise the A4 is not only the most powerful car here but it is also the most frugal and the cleanest on emissions. The Audi also leads the way on quality, with the best cabin in terms of build. Solid plastics mingle with metal inserts and complement the logical and neatly executed fascia design.

Everything has a nice, firm feel to it and you just know that an Audi will still feel as solid after three years and 60,000 miles.

However, one area where the A4 interior does fall down is its front seats – they lack support for the drivers's back and the squab is also too short and offers no support for under the driver's knees.

While it may be the most powerful car on test here, it certainly doesn't feel as quick as the BMW to drive – possibly because acceleration is always baulked by a sticky second gear which proved reluctant to engage on several occasions. The A4's handling is solid if uninspiring and fails to hold a candle to the BMW in this test.

At a glance

Plus

  • Low emission FSI engine
  • Lowest monthly rental rate
  • High quality interior Minus
  • Vague steering and gearbox feel
  • Low equipment level
  • Poor seats

    BMW 318i

    NO matter how much you try to hate BMW as a brand because of the aggressive and arrogant image its drivers portray, you can't help but be impressed by its products.

    The 318i is pretty close to the bottom of the 3-series range but the driving experience it offers is superb and leagues ahead of its Audi and Mercedes-Benz rivals. It may not be particularly quick, but the chassis set-up is so right that it makes driving quickly a joy.

    The rear-wheel drive set-up helps, as does the slick gearbox which feels reassuringly mechanical and a million miles away from the Audi's vague, clunky shift. Our test model was fitted with optional alloy wheels and the ride was on firm side but that is no bad thing when you've got a chassis this good to exploit.

    Even the seating position is right, as is the dashboard and centre console which seems to curve in around you – providing a snug cabin for the driver. One gripe is the pedals which are fine for some drivers but two Fleet News staffers thought they were far too close together.

    It all adds up to the 318i living up to BMW's advertising slogan of being the 'ultimate driving machine', even at this relatively modest level.

    Also in the BMW's favour is its 143bhp Valvetronic engine which brings emissions down and fuel economy up to levels that would of been unheard of in this sector even just a couple of years ago. It may not have the measure of the Audi in frugality and carbon dioxide emissions, but as a driving machine the 318i is beyond compare in this company. If decisions were made on that alone, the BMW would win easily.

    At a glance

    Plus

  • Ride and handling
  • Sporty engine
  • Styling

    Minus

  • High front-end price
  • Too many on the road
  • Worst on wholelife costs

    Mercedes-Benz C180K Classic

    THERE'S nothing like driving along and seeing the famous three-pointed star at the end of the bonnet. In a nation obsessed by class and social standing, having a Mercedes-Benz on your drive shows you've made it.

    And for a fraction under £20,000 on-the-road, your drivers can now get behind the wheel of a C-class – even if it is only a relatively lowly C180K in entry-level Classic trim.

    But recent revisions to the line-up mean that the C180 Kompressor is a more cost-effective choice for fleets than ever before.

    Thanks to its Twin Pulse technology, the C180K now offers 143bhp, 38.7mpg on the combined cycle and carbon dioxide emissions of 175g/km – low enough to fit into the 19% band for benefit-in-kind tax for 2003/04.

    Strangely enough, the C180K's power output of 143bhp matches that of its arch rival, BMW's 318i. Unfortunately, the Mercedes-Benz cannot match its Bavarian cousin in terms of driving enjoyment.

    While the 318i is happy being pushed along and rewards the driver for his or her commitment, the C180K lets you know that it doesn't appreciate being rushed. Show it a winding B-road and after a few miles you will be searching for a more straight and direct path. The C180K has obviously been designed to be more at home on main roads where the driver can rack up the miles in comfort.

    One strange feature is the foot-operated parking brake – fine in an automatic model but very complicated if you are driving a manual version. As a driving tool, the C180K has its limitations, but as an indication of your social standing, the three-pointed star makes a compelling case for itself.

    At a glance

    Plus

  • Brand image
  • Best on 'cash lost' depreciation
  • Consumate cruiser

    Minus

  • High monthly rental cost
  • Foot-operated parking brake clumsy to use with manual gearbox model

    Verdict

    BY virtue of being the cleanest car here, the most fuel efficient and the best on running costs, as well as having the best interior in terms of design and quality, first place goes to the Audi. It is the newest car of our trio and has the right image to appeal to thrusting executives. The C-class just edges out the 3-series for second place – although the 318i is better to drive the C180K has lower running costs.

  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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