Good morning, and welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! Today is all about sympathy for the Germans as we look at two very nice sedans that may or may not nickel-and-dime you to death. But first, let’s finish up yesterday’s Korean compacts:
Yep. I mean, not really, but yeah, kinda. If it were me, I’d take the Kia’s steelies and bolt them onto the Hyundai, because it’s a marginally better car but I hate its aftermarket wheels.
One of today’s vehicles comes to us from the number-three used car dealer in the greater Wilmington, NC area, our very own Stephen Walter Gossin. SWG has a good track record of re-homing rescued cars, but once in a while he has trouble moving one. We here at Shitbox Showdown can’t stand to see a good car languish, so we’re happy to give it some exposure. But this is by its nature a competition, so I must find a worthy opponent for it. As we all know from the old Sergio Leone westerns, the good guys wear white, and their adversaries are in black. So we’ll start with the challenger, and take a look at both cars: the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly.
2008 BMW 528i – $7,800
Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 6, six-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Vancouver, WA
Odometer reading: 103,000 miles
Runs/drives? Just fine
BMW’s 5 series is the iconic executive sedan. Whenever you think of a mid-level movie studio exec, or a corporate lawyer who just made junior partner, chances are you picture them driving a midsize BMW. And stereotypes and bad driving jokes aside, it is a hell of a nice sedan. The E60 generation saw some major and controversial styling changes under the direction of design chief Chris Bangle, but the bones remained the same: a tight, communicative chassis that also delivers a nice ride, a silky-smooth inline six, and just a touch more class and seriousness than the small BMWs.
Inside, the changes kept coming, and between the hated iDrive system that ushered in the era of the “infotainment system” (my least-favorite portmanteau) and the sharp-edged hoods over the dash that somehow manage to look Ford Focus-like, many traditionalists (myself included) consider this car the era in which we stopped caring about BMW. But BMW-like or not, it’s still a very nice car, and even though the toys are hard to access and control, they’re all there.
This 5er appears to be in excellent shape, with only 103,000 miles under its belt. The seller says it was a second car that was rarely driven, and now it’s time for it to go. The thing about BMWs, though, is that it’s in good shape and runs well now, but what about 5000 miles from now? What warning light is going to appear on the dash? It might be the “low oil” light, which BMW saw fit to install in place of a dipstick, which flies in the face of everything a DIY mechanic like me holds near and dear. This car marked a turning point in more than just styling; this is when BMW became a lot less owner-serviceable. Which means, if you want a used one, you need to be willing to fight the system, or have the means to pay someone else to do it.
2008 Mercedes-Benz C300 – $7,500
Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter dual overhead cam V6, five-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Leland, NC
Odometer reading: 154,000 miles
Modern electronic frippery and complex solutions to simple problems don’t seem to faze our buddy S.W. Gossin, who took on this C-Class as a project, even though I thought he had sworn off the three-pointed star. Every time he thinks he’s out, apparently, they pull him back in. I’ve heard the saga of this car for a while now, and while it mostly involved issues with proprietary electronics from what I understand, and it’s all fixed now, this lovely white Benz has overstayed its welcome.
There’s no doubt that the W204 C-Class is a hell of a nice car, and an engineering masterpiece. Mercedes-Benz has always been a touch more conservative than their Bavarian rivals, and this car is a little more approachable than the BMWs of Bangle and beyond, just a bit more “normal” in its function. It does have an infotainment screen, but it pops up out of the dash and is controlled by a bank of normal buttons instead of a weird turny-clickwheel doohickey, and can be hidden away when you don’t need it. Under the hood is a 24 valve V6 which – I’m pretty sure – has a good old fashioned dipstick to check the oil level.
S.W. and his girlfriend bought this car together, and I believe it was meant to be for her to drive, but the fiasco with the ignition switch has soured her on it, and while it runs and drives perfectly now, they’re both over it. It happens; I’ve had cars that I fought with until everything was finally right, but by then I was just so tired of them I couldn’t enjoy them. But everything they fixed is one less thing the next owner has to worry about.
The jokes about German cars are getting a bit tired, but the fact remains that they are extremely complicated, often fussy machines that require increasingly complicated and proprietary means to service and repair. But they are also excellent cars to drive, very safe, and still have a reputation for solid build quality, reliability, and durability, as long as you meet them on their own terms. Think you have what it takes to tackle one of these beauties? Which one?
(Image credits: BMW – Craigslist seller; Mercedes – S.W. Gossin via Facebook)
SWG, do you have a STAR diagnostic system (clone) and if so, which version and your feedback?
Is the pricing so different from the US to Canada? Asking because I bought a 2008 350 CLK (same M272 with flaps and all, different version) with 208K (a bit less) for less. Granted seating is only for 4 and doesn’t have a real roof.
Did I miss the conversation where we wonder why a BMW 528 has a 3.0L engine? Does BMW marketing not know the naming convention?
BMW engines have only coincidentally matched the badge on the back since the US-spec e21 320i received a 1.8l motor in ~1980.
e30 325e and e28 528e – both 2.7l
e28 533i – 3.2l, e28 535i – 3.4l
e23 745i – 3.2l + turbo
In fact in the ’80s the only one that matched was the e30 325i, which was actually 2.5l, more or less.
The bigger the number, the faster the car – THAT is the naming convention.
That said, I hate Bangled 5vrs and 7s, so I would take the Baby Benz out of this matchup. But I am bi-German, given I currently own a 2011 328i wagon and 128i convertible, and a 2014 E350 wagon. I prefer smaller BMWs and larger Mercedes as a general rule.
Benz, cause well manicured nails VS artificial claws
I voted for the BMW, but mostly because I don’t like white cars. There’s something about a white C class that just says “base model lease” and I’m not sure why. I think the Benz is a good looking car (far better than the BMW, in my opinion) and personally I love a lighter color interior. But, the BMW will likely be an engaging drive even under all that Bangle styling. At least you don’t have to look at it while you drive, although that interior didn’t age particularly well.
I picked the Mercedes.
I’m more familiar with BMW, so I guess I just want to the feel the sting of a different whip?
It’s still a used German car.
I would rather buy from SWG, but I would rather work on the E60 since I’m used to the same engine and codes in my E90 (330i).
Come on down to Crazy Steve’s Used Cars and we’ll get you rollin’ right, son!
I voted the BMW because I’d take a 5 over a C, any day. But let me be clear, that choice did not include the fact that the Benz was a project car for Mr. Gossin, and I’d rather buy a car from him that some rando. Most buyers would have no clue if Mr. Gossin is worth a shit with a wrench or not, we know better.
Thanks, my man! The collective skills in the readership of this site are off the charts.
I try and learn new kills and obtain new knowledge with each rescue.
Although this one did cost us dearly, many Mercedes things were learned.
honestly I’m kind of tempted by the Mercedes.. I have a deep rooted prejudice against BMW drivers ever since a drunk one nearly killed me, so can’t ever see myself in a BMW. The Mercedes is a handsome bit of luxury and comes from a trustworthy seller 😉
I do not understand the hate for the E60 in this article. I think the styling has aged well, but that’s pretty subjective, so I understand if the author doesn’t like it.
What is properly irksome is the total lack of understanding of the E60’s serviceability and driving dynamics. I certainly did not stop caring about what BMW put out when the E60 was launched; that didn’t happen until the F cars started coming out. Compared to the E39, the E60 is lighter and some things are actually easier to service – rear struts in sedan models come to mind. In the E39, you have to take apart the whole back seat to access the top strut mount. In the E60, it takes two seconds to remove some trunk panels and they’re right there.
I have an E60 with the N62, and I would never argue that it’s problem-free or easy to service, but it’s the big V8. The N52 in this 528 is robust and easy to service, electric water pump aside. The engine bay is laid out logically and there’s plenty of room. I do all of my own service on my E60, and I’m just some guy with a garage and some tools, not an expert mechanic.
The E60 in this article has some nice options too; in particular, the amazing 18-way comfort seats, which are the best I’ve ever experienced. It may have the physics-defying dynamic drive option as well, which has hydraulically controlled swaybars. I suspect that the author either hasn’t ever driven an E60 or has only been in very poorly maintained ones because dynamically, they are amazing. The steering is excellent, old-school hydraulic BMW steering with perfect weighting and a ton of road feel. Especially with dynamic drive, E60s drive a lot smaller than they are.
Finally, iDrive takes like two seconds to get used to; after that, it’s very usable. I will never understand the hate it still receives. I get that when it first came out, it was radical and polarizing, but now, it’s a pretty intuitive system that is easy to get used to, and the control wheel is really cool with a ton of haptic feedback.
The E60 in this article is an LCI model with lots of nice options, in good condition, with 50k less miles than the Mercedes. The seats are better, the build quality is better, and the E60 is *way* more fun to drive. I don’t mind the W204, but this is a pre-facelift version in appliance white with a beige interior and much higher mileage than the E60 for only a few hundred less.
Mrs. droid rocks a C300 – a very nice car.
Thomas H nailed it- rear subframe fabricated from painted (NOT galvanized then painted) steel – it rusted out (near Boston). expen$ive to replace, but we did cuz way less than a new car and she really loves it.
Also had driver’s seat replaced under warrantee cuz “leather” melted.
i love BMW (motorcycles)… but MB gets the nod here.
The bimmer is the better driving car (better engine, trans, chassis) and has lower miles.
On a personal note, I truly despise light colored interiors, so basically I don’t see a single point for the Benz.
SWG aside, the Bimmer is the better car.
Benz for me. Between the SWG factor, the (likely) lower degree of DT’s favorite compound riddling the undersides, and the lighter interior being more agreeable to this Florida Man, that’s enough to best the dipstick-less I6. Besides, the multiple tree-shaped air fresheners (is that one watermelon print?) don’t bode well for the environment inside that Bimmer.
Rescuing this car was an expensive lesson.
One that I’ll probably not learn from and find myself experiencing again shortly.
Thanks for the kind sentiment! Cheers.