Canada Decides: BMW 328xi, Lexus IS250 AWD, Audi A4 2.0T, or Merc C300 4MATIC



Author/Photo Credit: Mark Atkinson

Faced with increasingly tough economic times and plunging marketing budgets, auto manufacturers are becoming even more focused on where they spend their ad dollars. It used to be a given that the world’s largest motorshows would attract the world’s largest automakers. That’s just not the case anymore, as shown by significant car manufacturer absences in Detroit, Tokyo and London, among others.

BMW has long been a believer in the idea of getting customers behind the wheel. That’s why it decided to organize a series of events across Canada to get the word out about the updated 3 Series and how it’s still king amongst its closest competitors. Rather than spending money on a separate event for journalists, select members of the media were invited out during the various days.hpim2679

In terms of the program itself, every client is required to sit and listen to a half-hour product info segment on the 3 Series that focuses heavily on the 2009 model changes. Highlights include the upgraded iDrive (which they can thank Audi for!), tweaked exterior design, and BMW’s BlueEfficiency program, including the twin-turbo engine found in the 335d.

We were then introduced to the driving instructors who would be guiding us through the session, which included NASCAR Canada star Robin Buck, ex-Indy Pace Car driver and Canada’s Worst Driver judge Kelly Williams, ex-Atlantic hopeful Lee Bentham, and more. 

The course they have laid out for clients to drive provides some relatively low-speed activities to help judge each vehicle’s attributes. They simulated an emergency two-lane change, emergency braking manoeuvre and everyone’s favourite, the constant-radius highway on-ramp.

The cars? Filling the spot for BMW is its mid-priced 328xi, which is probably the most popular model sold in Canada. Its natural competitors are present as well in the form of the Audi A4 2.0T Quattro, Lexus IS250 AWD and Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC. All just over 200 hp, all-wheel drive, all automatics. Leaving very little to chance for ‘clients’ to get out of control. 

So how did they fare? Having already driven all of these models extensively, I already have a favourite. To keep things fair, I brought along a neutral judge: my dad. Well, as neutral as I could find on short notice. He’s actually in the perfect position for this as he’s selling his much-loved all-black E39 540i, and is looking at potentially downsizing to a 3 Series. 

His verdict? Liked the BMW, was intrigued by the Benz, indifferent in the Audi, and didn’t even want to drive the Lexus. That’s about what my verdict is as well, although I rate the Benz higher than he did. The BMW is obviously the sportiest of the bunch, but the C300 is quite the looker too. And despite the tweaks, I still think the Bimmer comes in third behind the Benz and Audi in that department.

So is he any closer to buying a 3-something because of this? If he could fit into them any better, then probably. Because of his age, he’s looking for something a little higher off the ground, but don’t worry! I’ve already pushed him away from the X3. That would just ruin me…

For those who are interested, there are still dates for the June 5-7 slots open in Toronto. Unfortunately, the events in Vancouver and Montreal are closed. You can find more information and sign up here:

If you get the chance to go, let me know what you think!