The BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class have been among Canada’s top-selling luxury vehicles in recent years – with the Mercedes taking the recent sales lead amongst the “big three” German luxury sedans. Each of these luxury sedans is a great pick for technology, comfort, design, performance, and safety. None is the right, or wrong, choice when it comes to finding the best luxury sedan for you and yours – it all depends on what you’re after.
If you’ll soon be hitting the used marketplace in search of a new-to-you A4, 3 Series or C-Class, be sure to check out our useful tips and advice below. And remember: buying a used copy of either of these machines through a dealer Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program, with available extended warranty, is a great idea for maximum peace of mind when budgets allow.
2012 and newer BMW 3 Series
Why You Want One
As one of the world’s bestselling luxury cars, the BMW 3 Series is loved for selection, comfort, and performance – as well as that oh-so-distinctive look as it comes down the road. Look for a plethora of high-end features on offer, including premium audio systems, performance lighting provisions, navigation, smartphone integration, climate-controlled seats, and plenty more. Though diesel and hybrid power were available, the vast majority of used models will come with a four- or six-cylinder gasoline engine. The 328i packs a turbo four-cylinder, and the 335i gets a turbocharged straight-six with big power and torque. Though we’ll focus on mainstream gasoline-powered 3 Series sedan models for this story, many of the tips below can be applied to the less common wagon, coupe, and GT variants as well. Note that the xDrive in the model’s description or name indicates the presence of BMW’s all-wheel drive (AWD) system.
Bring the VIN number of the model you’re considering to a BMW dealer, and they’ll quickly be able to check if there’s any outstanding recall work or software updates, which should be performed for maximum peace of mind, safety, and trouble-free operation.
If you’re considering a model with the 2.0-litre turbo engine (328i), have the cooling system checked for fluid level, condition, and any signs of water pump leakage. The thermostat should also be checked. Further, earlier versions of this engine have had multiple reported issues of damage or failure due to timing chain problems, and therefore, make a good case for extended warranty coverage. If considering a model with the turbocharged straight-six (335i), have the fuel-delivery system inspected, with attention paid to the injectors and high-pressure fuel pump (HPFP), both of which have caused issues for some owners.
Elsewhere, confirm that the iDrive command interface works in all functions and modes, and run the climate control system through its full range of operations, confirming it works as expected.
Finally, approach a used 3 Series assuming it’s overdue for all mileage-specified maintenance work until you or a BMW technician confirm otherwise. Service intervals for fluid changes, tune-ups, and the like are listed in the owner’s manual.
2008 to 2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Why You Want One
The last complete generation of the top-selling Mercedes-Benz C-Class entered the market for model-year 2008 with new styling, power and tech. The entry-level Mercedes sedan in North America, standard models initially offered a range of V6 engines with no less than 201 horsepower and up to 300-plus hp, depending on the model. Look for automatic transmissions and available all-wheel drive, as designated by the 4Matic badge. Rear-wheel drive was standard.
Later in this generation, a two-door coupe variant was offered, as was a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder base engine. Feature content included premium audio, climate-controlled leather seats, xenon lights, navigation, Bluetooth, and plenty more.
Owners rave about the cabin, up-level stereo and easy-to-use technology, though some wish for more rear-seat headroom. A used C-Class looks to be a fairly solid way to park the coveted three-pointed star in your driveway – but a few checks should be considered mandatory before purchase.
Thanks to numerous owner complaints surrounding shorter-than-expected life from tires and brakes, shoppers are advised to approach any used C-Class assuming it needs attention to these parts, until they (or a technician) confirm otherwise. Note that noisy or squeaky brakes may be a sign of worn-out brake pads, though some servicing of the braking system may help reduce noise levels.
Park the C-Class with the engine running, and turn the wheel fully from one side to the other, several times. A knocking or clunking sound from deep in the front of the vehicle could indicate a worn-out bushing in the steering system, which needs to be addressed.
Be on the lookout for signs of hard shifting, or any sensation of slamming, clunking, or popping during gear shifts, particularly on units with the newer seven-speed transmission. If you detect any unwelcome sensations, a software update is the likely fix, but have a technician confirm this before agreeing to purchase.
Engine problems across the C-Class model range are reported with insufficient frequency to warrant much concern, though an electronic diagnostic scan by a Mercedes technician is highly advised to reveal potential, hidden engine problems. Finally, shoppers are advised to confirm proper operation of the stereo system, climate control system, door locks, all windows, and the sunroof.
2009 to 2016 Audi A4
Why You Want One
Whether you’re after the A4 sedan or wagon (Avant), last-generation copies of this popular luxury pick will tend to be equipped with a 2.0-litre turbo engine, automatic transmission, and quattro all-wheel drive. Feature content included all luxury sedan must-haves, including navigation, premium stereo system, adaptive xenon headlights, climate-controlled seats, automatic climate control, and plenty more. Look for Audi’s slick Multi Media Interface (MMI), and an available 265-horsepower V6 engine on some models.
Though most used copies of the A4 will be AWD, note that some units were available with front-wheel drive, so be sure to check. If the model you’re considering wears a “quattro” badge, you’re in business. Most owners rave about the A4’s premium-feeling cabin, all-season confidence, potent lighting system, and nimble handling.
Confirm that the engine fires up quickly via the engine start button using all available keyfobs, noting that slow starting, or a failure of the engine to fire up, could be the result of a dead or dying keyfob or vehicle battery. Because of several reports of niggling electronic issues caused by weak vehicle batteries, the A4 is a great candidate for hook-up to a trickle-charger or battery tender when it won’t be driven for more than a few days.
A pre-purchase inspection at an Audi dealer should be carried out, with a technician inspecting the engine and performing a diagnostic system scan for signs of issues with fuel injector failure, fuel pump problems, and bad ignition coil packs – each of which may or may not cause a “check engine” light to be illuminated, or a trouble code to be stored in the engine’s computer brain. Difficulty starting the engine, or poor, lumpy performance, are warning signs of these issues.
Check the oil level and condition of the A4 you’re considering, noting that earlier models with the 2.0T engine alarmed some owners with excessive oil consumption – possibly caused by a bad batch of piston rings, which were covered by a recall. If the unit you’re buying has some factory warranty remaining, be sure to advise your dealer service department of any noted oil consumption before the warranty runs out, and confirm that it’s documented.
Other checks should include a look for coolant leaks, possibly from the water pump. If any are detected, the vehicle’s water pump may need replacing. Further, note that a vibration in the steering wheel at low speeds, unwanted vibrations at higher speeds, or difficulty in keeping the A4 tracking straight ahead at highway speeds, could be the result of one or more issues with the steering system. Have any concerns with the A4’s steering-system feel inspected by an Audi technician before you agree to purchase.
A final note: assume that the A4 you’re considering is overdue for fresh spark plugs, especially if it’s a higher-mileage unit, and even more so if a diagnostic scan reveals a trouble code for an engine misfire (which may or may not trip a “check engine” light). As a direct-injection engine, the A4 powerplant can suffer from excessive valve gunk buildup over time. On-time or ahead-of-time spark plug changes, and religious use of high-quality fuel, can help keep these potentially harmful deposits at bay.