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If there’s a competition in the auto industry that’s worthy of going into the history books, it’s undoubtedly this one: BMW vs Mercedes. The two great auto manufacturers from Germany, which have enjoyed a healthy rivalry for many decades now, are considered a benchmark in premium quality.
Along with producing luxury vehicles, both brands are also known for their performance cars.
So, is BMW better than Mercedes?
BMW outperforms Mercedes when it comes to handling, performance, and affordability. When it comes to luxury, reliability, and longevity, Mercedes is better.
A luxury automaker needs to produce quality cars with excellent performance, welcoming interiors and manageable maintenance to ensure a good reputation.
As owners and regular drivers of BMW and Mercedes vehicles here at The Car Investor, we’re well placed to compare the two.
Let’s understand how these mighty names fare against each other.
Is BMW more reliable than Mercedes?
In terms of reliability and overall dependability, Mercedes performs better than BMW. Based on the tests and data from independent magazines and experts over the years, such as Consumer Reports and J.D Power, Mercedes ranks higher than BMW in almost all categories.
Despite this, neither brand has a particularly good record when it comes to reliability. In fact, both BMW and Mercedes have been the subject of various recalls over the years thanks to factory defects.
Both manufacturers use the latest manufacturing techniques and top-quality raw materials to build their cars, but this doesn’t always translate to reliability.
Although both are expensive to maintain and require meticulous care to stay fit, Mercedes has fewer manufacturing faults and breaks down less often, compared to BMW.
BMW M vehicles in particular are known to suffer from various mechanical and electrical faults.
According to Consumer Reports, Mercedes ranks 14th while BMW takes the 18th spot in reliability testing.
Despite this, if a BMW is cared for properly, scheduled maintenance is carried out on time, and preventive maintenance is carried out when needed, it can be a reliable car.
The same goes for Mercedes, and indeed most other luxury German car brands.
Many of the complaints received about both automakers can be put down to owners failing to understand the complex needs of their vehicle, or just pure neglect.
We’re not saying either car will outperform its Japanese competitors in terms of reliability (far from it), but if you take care of it and don’t abuse it, a BMW or Mercedes has the ability to provide many years of faithful service.
In our experience, both the BMW M5 and Mercedes C 63 AMG have been very reliable, and we’ve had no major issues with either car after several years of ownership.
The E60 M5 has a reputation for being particularly troublesome, but we’ve had no such problems with our car.
However, we have carried out costly preventive maintenance to avoid any potential problems down the line.
So, it seems that when it comes to reliability, Mercedes has a marginal advantage over BMW thanks to BMW’s slightly worse failure rate, particularly once they reach 5+ years of age.
But what about cost?
Which is Cheaper – Mercedes or BMW?
On average, a new BMW is marginally cheaper than an equivalent Mercedes. This is the case in almost every segment of the market.
Both Mercedes and BMW vehicles are more costly to purchase than their Japanese or American counterparts.
There is generally not much of a difference in price between the competing models, but BMWs cost a little less than Mercedes on average. For example:
- BMW 3 Series: $41,450
- Mercedes C Class: $43,550
Of course, each brand offers a wealth of optional extras and allows prospective buyers to build their perfect car. This can quickly add to the purchase price, and lead to a very different final figure between the two manufacturers.
We compared the build costs of a new BMW 3 Series and a new Mercedes C Class to see which optional extras were more expensive.
|Premium interior||$1,450||$1,620 – $2,590|
Overall, the optional extras on a similarly specced car ended up around $500 cheaper on the BMW.
BMW vs Mercedes – Maintenance Costs?
Both Mercedes and BMW are costly to maintain, mainly because they’re high-tech, luxury vehicles full of high-quality materials, and require specialist care and attention.
The cost of ownership can be further increased by the need to replace parts with genuine items, as opposed to cheaper aftermarket alternatives.
Moreover, dealerships use expensive equipment for diagnosis and repairs and also require highly skilled technicians, which adds to the overall cost. It also means that some independent garages are often not able to carry out work on these cars.
We found that BMWs are marginally cheaper to maintain than Mercedes, but both remain expensive compared to most other cars on the road.
BMWs also perform slightly better when it comes to fuel efficiency, too, which also helps keep running costs lower.
Here’s a breakdown of costs for some common maintenance items:
Our own BMW & Mercedes maintenance costs
We’ve been driving our BMW M5 and Mercedes C 63 AMG for a couple of years now, and have found that both cars are relatively expensive to maintain.
The main work carried out on the C 63 has been scheduled maintenance, which costs us $415 (£345) for ‘B’ service, and $710 (£595) for the more thorough ‘A’ service.
We’ve had to carry out some preventive maintenance on the BMW given its age and known problems with the E60, along with regular scheduled servicing.
Preventive maintenance carried out on the M5:
|Rod bearing & VANOS pipe replacement||$2,900 (£2,372)|
|Fuel injector replacement||$875 (£718)|
|Throttle actuator replacement (x2)||$1,100 (£900)|
It should be noted that the maintenance costs of these two cars are amplified by the fact that they’re both performance models, which means they require more frequent servicing and use higher-quality (thus more expensive) parts.
Regular BMW and Mercedes do not cost as much to maintain as their M and AMG equivalents, but are still expensive when compared to the average car.
Is a BMW interior better than Mercedes?
The interior of a Mercedes is typically more luxurious, and considered preferable to that of a BMW. Mercedes places more of an emphasis on internal comfort and refinement than its Bavarian counterpart.
This is most evident in the higher-end models, such as the S-Class, but even entry-level Mercedes use higher-quality interior materials.
However, this doesn’t mean that BMW interiors are poor – they’re still well-built and use high-quality materials. BMW focuses more on a clean interior layout and providing the best functionality.
BMWs are also usually sportier in design and feel, with a more driver-focused cabin layout.
Although it’s a subjective matter, most agree that Mercedes cars have better interiors than BMWs. But both companies are constantly upgrading their interiors with updated styling and layout, offering enhanced features and a refined overall experience.
Is BMW better quality than Mercedes?
The quality of parts used by Mercedes and BMW is very high, as befits their luxury status. It would be unfair to judge BMW as ‘better quality’ than Mercedes, as both brands use the highest-quality materials.
The manufacting process that BMW and Mercedes go through is there to ensure that quality is not compromised.
The Germans go the extra mile to ensure the premium quality of their products, and their cars are tested using the following technologies to rule out any discrepancy in manufacturing, paint, assembly, and finishing:
- Camera scanning
- Optical examinations
- Laser examinations
While the technology is very sophisticated, one of the most important aspects of quality control is the human element. Workers can pick up on some deficiencies that the machines simply can’t spot.
Historically, Mercedes have always been associated with producing the highest quality cars, and a prime example of that is the W123 that was sold between 1975 and 1986.
It’s widely considered to be one of the best built cars to have ever been produced, and many of them are still on the road today, well over 30 years later. Older BMWs are also known for their build quality, but not to the same extent as Mercedes.
More recent models from both brands are of a similarly high quality, but despite the stringent quality control process, no company is immune to issues and both companies have had their fair share of recalls.
If we had to pick one manufacturer over the other, Mercedes still edges it based on consumer reports and customer satisfaction.
Which lasts longer, BMW or Mercedes?
With the same level of maintenance and care, a Mercedes will last longer than a BMW thanks to its superior build quality.
However, if you don’t maintain either car properly, they will both suffer from similar issues and problems in the long-run.
Being a pioneer of automobile engineering, Mercedes has set some high standards in terms of quality and reliability over the decades. The W123 that we mentioned earlier is a perfect example of this; a legendary vehicle that solidified the image of Mercedes as a top choice in terms of reliability and durability.
BMWs can also last for decades and hundreds of thousands of miles if looked after properly. But in comparison to Mercedes, the BMW falls short in durability and long-term dependability.
This is largely because of certain inherent mechanical problems and faults that have become synonymous with the BMW brand. One example from our ownership is the rod bearing issue that’s plagued some BMW M cars for years.
Rod bearings are known to fail in M cars fitted with the S65, S85, and S54 engines due to an insufficient clearance between crankshaft journals and the rod bearings. If failure does occur, it’s usually catastrophic for the engine.
BMW has acknowledged this issue, but that doesn’t help the thousands of owners who own these cars. The only remedy is preventive maintenance – switching out the rod bearings for upgraded ones before they fail.
This is just one example of an issue that’s common among BMWs, and there are more where that came from.
We’re not saying that Mercedes are immune from similar issues, but it’s BMW that has the unwanted reputation to shake. So in terms of long-term dependability, we have to give it to Mercedes.
Is BMW more comfortable than Mercedes?
Mercedes provides a more comfortable ride, while BMW offers a sportier driving experience.
Every car has a specific feel and aura to it, some are better in handling while others are comfier to drive on long trips. BMW cars generally have a sportier feel and a stiffer ride for sharp handling.
BMWs are often referred to as drivers’ cars, and the company’s slogan ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine‘ has long reminded potential buyers of this.
They are known to be engaging, offer superb traction, and precise steering feedback. The M division cars in particular offer supercar performance with comfortable daily drivability, the best of both worlds.
On the other hand, Mercedes cars have a more elegant feel and provide a smoother and relaxing ride. This is especially apparent in their most luxurious models, including the S-Class, which offers some of the best luxury features and appointments in any car.
While the AMG division produces some of the most capable performance cars on the market, Mercedes as a whole has always been a pioneer of comfort and luxury.
For instance, it was the first automaker to introduce double-glazed windows for a quieter journey, massage seats for a relaxing ride, and multilink suspension for better stability.
In recent times, Mercedes introduced revolutionary technology, Magic Body Control. It uses camera-assisted radar to scan the road ahead, and adjusts the suspension and steering in response for the smoothest possible ride.
If there’s one quality that should be attributed to Mercedes, it’s comfort.
BMW vs Mercedes – Parts Availability
Both BMW and Mercedes have well-established dealership networks across the world, meaning the majority of parts can easily be sourced, wherever you’re located.
Mercedes parts in particular tend to be readily available from the nearest dealership, even for slightly older models.
For true classics, the company runs the ‘Classic Mercedes-Benz Parts‘ store, which stocks parts for models stretching back to 1954.
Although still impressive, BMW’s parts availability lags slightly behind that of Mercedes. Some parts still have to ship directly from Germany.
In our experience, the majority of parts we’ve needed for our M5 have been available from the local dealership when needed. The only exception was a replacement downshift paddle, which had to ship directly from BMW headquarters.
Although in most cases it’s recommended you use OEM spare parts, there are some reputable third-party suppliers for both Mercedes and BMW, which can reduce the overall cost of ownership and help you out if a certain OEM part isn’t available at your local dealership.
The only non-OEM part we’ve used so far has been in our BMW; we used ACL high-performance rod bearings to replace our standard BMW ones, as they are less likely to fail.
Is BMW better than Mercedes in terms of performance?
BMWs are often lauded for their performance, and the M Division cars in particular offer some of the best performance on the market. While Mercedes also offers high-performance models, BMW is seen as the more performance-focused brand.
The rivalry between BMW M and Mercedes AMG is legendary, with both companies producing some of the most capable performance cars in the world.
Both have had their fair share of naturally aspirated V-engines and turbocharged powerplants, but we’re now in the hybrid and all-electric era.
Our two cars are from the days when emissions regulations were more relaxed, so the Mercedes has a 6.2l V8 and the BMW has a 5l V10.
These engines are a world away from what would be allowed today, but they do produce some incredible performance figures and sound epic!
The competition between BMW and Mercedes in terms of performance is a close one, with each model having its own strengths.
In our view, we would take the BMW M over the equivalent Mercedes AMG in most cases. But this is purely personal choice, and both brands offer some incredible performance cars.
Is BMW better than Mercedes in terms of safety?
Both BMW and Mercedes are considered some of the safest cars on the road, and models from both manufacturers consistently score highly in independent safety tests. It’s not possible to say one brand is better than the other when it comes to safety.
When we looked into how safe BMWs are, one overwhelming theme emerged; almost every test or article we found mentioned the safety features of modern BMWs as being cutting edge and industry leading.
And the same applies to Mercedes. Both companies spend millions of euros each year on research and development to ensure their cars are as safe as possible, and both have innovated in the safety space over the decades.
So while it’s impossible to say one brand is better than the other when it comes to safety, it’s reassuring to know that both BMW and Mercedes are at the forefront of automotive safety.
Is BMW better than Mercedes in terms of design?
Design is another subjective and emotive topic. In our opinion, both BMW and Mercedes offer some of the best-designed cars on the market.
Both brands have a rich history of producing beautiful cars, and they continue to design stunning new models each year.
However, BMW design has come under fire in recent years for its front grille. Specifically, the size of the grille.
The BMW kidney grille has always been iconic, but BMW seems to have taken this design element to new extremes in recent years, with ever-larger grilles appearing on new models.
Some have criticized BMW for this design direction (ourselves included), but others see it as a bold and modern take on the classic BMW grille.
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that BMW has always pushed the boundaries when it comes to design.
It’s hard to pick a winner between BMW and Mercedes, and each model has its individual merits. Personally, we prefer older BMW styling but modern Mercedes styling. We’re just not onboard with those new BMW grilles yet!
Which is better overall, BMW or Mercedes?
Mercedes and BMW are two great car manufacturers that have been competing for over a century. Known for great quality, premium vehicles, and reliability, both companies produce some of the most popular luxury cars in the world.
To summarise our findings:
- Mercedes is more reliable than BMW
- A BMW is cheaper to buy than a Mercedes
- BMWs are marginally cheaper to maintain than Mercedes
- A Mercedes interior is more luxurious than a BMW interior
- Both brands use the highest quality materials
- A Mercedes will typically last longer than a BMW
- A Mercedes offers a comfortable ride, while a BMW offers a sportier ride
- BMW is seen as a more performance-focused brand
- The two brands are equally as safe as each other
- BMW has a great history of designing beautiful cars, but its recent designs are controversial
It’s extremely difficult to split the two brands, but each has its own benefits.
If we had to pick one, we’d go for the BMW in the majority of cases. Ultimately, however, it’s a purely personal choice, and each buyer will have different priorities.
Whichever one you choose, you can rest assured that you’re getting one of the highest quality cars on the market.
What do you think? Are BMWs better than Mercedes? Let us know in the comments below!