Used Car Test: Audi A5 Sportback v BMW 3 Series v Mercedes C-Class v Volkswagen Passat CC

With a new Audi A5 Sportback on the market, how does the outgoing model stack up against its fiercest competitiors?

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The new A5 Sportback from Audi is a step up from its predecessor, but not that huge a step. You can get the last generation model for well under £10,000 now. Surely that’s a great buy - but what about some alternatives? Both BMW and Mercedes have sporty saloons to pitch against it, while the VW Passat CC is also a saloon-coupe and looks more like the A5 or the Mercedes CLS with its raking rear roofline. 

Here’s the sort of model that might suit a used buyer, and there's quite a rnage of prices: 

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• Audi A5 Sportback (2009-2016): Cool styling; hatchback practicality; comes with leather as standard

Prices: £6,500 to £38,000

Tested: 2009 2.0 TDI SE

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• BMW 3 Series (2006-2012): Prestigious badge; superbly made cabin; quick, alert and always a treat to drive

Prices: £2,000 to £21,000

Tested: 2009 318d M Sport 

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(What Car?)

• Mercedes-Benz C-Class (2007-2014): Stylish and classy; spacious and practical; excellent performance, ride and handling 

Prices: £3000 to £21,000

Tested: 2009 C220 CDI Blue Efficiency Sport

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(What Car?)

• Volkswagen Passat CC (2007-2012): Great looks and cabin; strong performance; good luggage space; the most for your money

Prices: £3,500 to £35,000

Tested: 2009 CC 2.0 TDI 170 GT

 

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Audi A5 Sportback v BMW 3 Series v Mercedes C-Class v Volkswagen Passat CC

The A5 and the CC both share the swoopiest lines, and they also share the same engine, the VW Group’s 2.0-litre diesel. That engine makes 168bhp, as does the 2.1-litre diesel in the Mercedes, but the BMW tags in last with just 141bhp from its 2.0-litre unit. 

However, because it’s lighter, the BMW is as nimble off the line as the others, even if it fades slightly at higher-speed accelerations. All four are feisty enough to deal with virtually any traffic situation, from country-lane overtake to a fast get-away from a busy junction. The VW just edges it here, although the Mercedes feels more relaxed as you can just ride the great swell of torque rather than changing down for a lot of the time. 

The Mercedes also feels quite sporty in the suspension department, and delivers high levels of composure and grip. The VW Passat CC has Adaptive Chassis Control so you can play with the button to switch from Comfort to Sport. We’d leave it in a lower setting, when it is indeed comfortable and has enough control to stop things getting wallowy. 

You’d assume the Audi A5 Sportback would be the sharpest tool in this particular box but it isn’t. It’s controlled and grips well, but the steering is vague and the ride quality isn’t great, with a floating sensation on some roads and a thumpy ride on others. 

Which leaves the least powerful of the four, the BMW 3 Series, as the absolutely undisputed champion in terms of handling, ride, steering and whatever else comes under the heading. 

It’s just great, a proper driver’s car. It’s also the quietest on the go, much like the C-Class, with the VW coming in third not because it’s noisy, it’s not, but because some rough roads make quite a bit of noise inside. Oddly, it’s the Audi that trails in last on the noise front. 

All the cars are comfortable inside, but both the Audi and, to a lesser extent, the Mercedes suffer from offset pedals that make you feel as if you’re sitting wrong. However, there is plenty of room in the front for all of them, but the Audi and VW only offer two seats in the back instead of the three in the other pair. Three would be a stretch for a long journey, but at least you can squeeze a third person in. 

The luggage situation is best taken care of by VW, with the Passat having a huge boot, although it’s not as easy to access as the Sportback on the Audi. The other two are a bit cramped for space in the boot, and neither offered split folding rear seats at this era either, something which was standard on the VW and Audi. 

In the cars we tested, there wasn’t a lot in the prices. The Volkswagen came out the cheapest, but it doesn’t have the badge desirability of the others. How much that counts is a personal choice, but the BMW looks excellent value given how good it is and given that it’s cheaper than the Mercedes, which is actually the most expensive car here. 

The BMW 3 Series would also be the cheapest for fuel and tax although servicing, as with the Mercedes, will bump up your annual costs. 

Despite their premium appearance, not one of these cars does particularly well in reliability surveys. The C-Class and the CC score highest, with the other two failing to reach those heights. And with the same engine in the VW Passat and the Audi Sportback, make sure you’re fully up to speed with any diesel ‘fixes’. 

This test proves a clear win for the BMW 3 Series. It’s the best driver’s car here by a margin, and has a wide range of abilities and qualities, from handling to cabin. The fact that it’s very good value in this company seals the deal. 

The VW Passat CC isn’t that far behind, even if it falls back as a driver’s car. It’s got a great ride, is well equipped and is a handsome and slightly less common car on the road. 

Surprisingly, the VW beat the Mercedes C-Class, although not by much. The Merc is expensive, although you’ll get much of that back when you sell it. You get quite a bit for your money in this compact exec form, but it still comes in third. 

Ahead of Audi’s A5 Sportback. It’s a very handsome car, and a good idea, it’s just that we don’t think those ideas have been brought to fruition as well as they could have. It falls short in too many areas, from cost to driver comfort. 

So, overall, we rank the BMW 3-Series first, followed by the Passat CC and Mercedes, with the Audi A5 coming an honourbale fourth out of the four. In any case, you will enjoy picking your own winner.

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