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CarWale Track Day 2016 BMW 320d vs Mercedes-Benz C250d

CarWale Track Day 2016 BMW 320d vs Mercedes-Benz C250d

2 months ago

The day is gloomy for what we have lined up. It’s been drizzling all day and the track surface is gleaming with a cocktail of water and rubber, and yet I can barely contain myself as we roll out of the pit lane at the MMRT or the Madras Motor Race Track for the first time.

It’s the inaugural CarWale Track Day and I’ve been tasked with driving two fairly powerful rear-wheel drive sedans, making notes and then driving them some more. Now when we talk track-friendly sedans, there is one name which eventually comes up and that’s the BMW 3 Series. For long, even something as mundane as the 320d has been the sport sedan benchmark that other brands have aimed at. Mercedes, for one, has aimed and gotten pretty accurate with the new C250d.

As for the venue for our test, we have invaded the 3.7km long MMRT (for three days!) where we will hand over the cars to the immensely humble, not to mention highly skilled pro racer Aditya Patel for some fast lap times

Having not wasted any time in getting to the track, I won’t waste any here either. Here’s what happened…

The Madras Motor Race Track is a great place to push the handling envelope of cars. It’s not a track that favours horsepower; instead a car with great chassis balance is what really shines around this bumpy 3.7 kilometre flowing circuit. Speaking of which, right after the short start finish straight is the fast and bumpy C1. One must then scrub off a lot of speed for the right-hander C2. The C7, as we found out, is the most difficult corner to master as it’s a long right-hander that is ever tightening and has a double apex. Getting a great exit out of C7 is important because it leads onto the second of the two really quick sections of the MMRT.

Mercedes-Benz C250d

  • Lap Time

    2m13.55s

  • Max Speed

    159.22kmph

  • C1 Exit Speed

    113.86kmph

  • Speed at C7 Apex

    85.74kmph

Like all great circuits, the MMRT makes for an apt automotive equaliser. Its blend of rhythmic sweeping corners (Read: C4 and C5) and bumpy technical portions would spit you out if you are not prepared to steer with the pedal as much as the wheel. As for choosing the ever so comfy C-Class to challenge the diesel Beemer, well it does have a rather strong diesel engine and it made for proper apples to apples comparison.

On the two long-ish straights before C4 and C8, the C250d pulls like a train riding the wave of torque that builds right from 1800rpm. However, it’s when you drop the anchor at speed that you realise the weight of the car. If you brake too hard you can shift the weight far too forward and lose traction at the rear. Aditya Patel explains, "It's the weight of the car. It needs little bit of care when driving hard. The steering is lacking in feel but the front-end is pointy and the brakes have good bite, too".

C2 is a flat 90-degree right-hand corner that’s shortly followed by a similarly angled off-camber left-hander. Here the Merc is surprisingly agile – stand on the strong brakes, flick down to fourth then third gear, right foot bucking the throttle to power out. At this point, the car is tipping on its nose with plenty of weight over the front axle, allowing the wheels to grip without too much understeer. The turn-in, as a result, is sharp and you will find very little signs of the nose washing out. In fact, the solid front-end meant I was pushing beyond my preconceived limits and yet taking the tight inside line on faster corners including C7 and over the slight kink that follows it. Good fun.

What really hurts the C250d's lap time though is the overly intrusive traction control. Despite all the electronic nannies switched off; the Mercedes system would use the brakes to prevent wheel spin in the damp and cut off power for added measure, especially on the fast C9 and C12. Interestingly, Aditya was quick to point out that the car would fare better in the dry with higher grip leading to less intervention from the traction control. He also found the rear-end to be skittish midway through some of the bumpy corners. "Its stable at turn-in but midway through the corner the back wants to come out and play".

Aditya speaks

"The handling is interesting because you've to be careful about the weight. Its tail steps out at an odd time, little bit too late. I’d like it to step out earlier. The seating position is quite nice and the steering feels good to hold. Traction control is very intrusive – definitely safe for the road, but on the track it gets in your way when you are going for quick lap times."

BMW 320d

  • Lap Time

    2m10.47s

  • Max Speed

    159.22kmph

  • C1 Exit Speed

    120.69kmph

  • Speed at C7 Apex

    95.36kmph

Despite their similar DNA, it's easy to capture the character differences between the 320d and the C250d within a few corners. Whereas in the C-Class you've a nice and clear view of the track and lots of polished wood and aluminium trimmings around you, the 320d seems more serious and better suited to the track with its low seat height and steering wheel with perfect diameter. Once out of the pit lane, I gave it a bootfull and was pleasantly surprised by how refined the 2-litre unit felt after the frankly noisy 2.2-litre motor in the Mercedes.

As quiet as it is, the less torquey 320d certainly doesn’t pull as strongly as the C250d. The former, however, makes up for it in agility and cornering speeds. Some of the words that Aditya Patel repeated a lot in his comments included playful, fun, quick, agile and "I like it!". That said, there was also mention of some unwanted understeer in the corners. “The front wants to push on tiny bit but overall the car behaves very well on the track. Tail doesn’t step out as much as I thought it would”. I couldn’t help but agree as I went out for my first hot lap – through the quicker corners (Read: C6, C7) there’s a fair amount of understeer to combat. Trying the slow-in, fast-out approach did help the 320d grip more and keep the racing line.

Unlike the C-Class, the grip levels followed all the way to the rear of the BMW, giving it solid poise, especially from mid-corner to exit. To put it in numbers, the 320d was nearly 7kmph and a full 10kmph faster through the C1 exit and C7 respectively, compared to the C250d. All in all, it's the chassis balance and brilliant traction management that give the 320d a clear edge on a circuit like MMRT. For a sport sedan, the BMW is bang on the money.

Aditya Speaks: "I haven’t driven one of these on the track before. First impressions though are good! It behaves very well on the track despite the lack of grunt. It's playful and in the wet, easy to break traction but the engine doesn't have much power to hold the slide. I really had to try to keep it sideways. Gearbox is quick despite being a torque converter. If only it had the power to keep the slides longer."

Conclusion

Some of you might have foreseen us putting the 320d ahead of the C250d in this test because let's be honest, this is an all-out track test at the end of the day. That said, the Mercedes did really well to overcome its traction issues and post a fairly quick lap time of 2m13.55s. A great car but not quite as great as the 320d on a racetrack which turned out to be over 3 seconds quicker. That's crushingly quick in anybody's book.

Photos by Kapil Angane

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