The locally assembled (CKD) Volvo S60 T8 has arrived and now it is at level playing field with the Mercedes-Benz C300 and BMW 330i. These are the CKD compact executive sedans that you’re probably looking at if you’re in the market for one, and we’re here to help you find which is perfect for you.
Let's get the prices out of the way first. The Volvo S60 T8 is priced between the two at RM 295,888, the Mercedes-Benz C300 is the priciest here at RM 304,888, and the BMW 330i is the least expensive at RM 293,800.
Volvo S60 T8 R-Design
We’ve yet to get our hands on the Volvo S60 T8 but based on our experience with the Volvo S90, XC90 and XC60, all of which are based on the SPA platform, the S60’s driving experience should fall within the parameter.
We expect a firmer setup from the R-Design suspension, though not quite as firm as in the BMW 330i, and maintains a decent level of waft-iness. It would be a stretch to say that it drives as well as the 3 Series, but the S60 should give it a run for its money. Particularly when you consider the S60 T8 has 149 PS/240 Nm advantage in power figures.
The Volvo S60 T8 is by far the most powerful here from its hybrid powertrain, with a total output of 407 PS and 640 Nm of torque. The engine propels the front wheels while an electric motor handles the rear, making it AWD compared to its RWD rivals. 0-100 km/h takes just 4.4 seconds and to put it into perspective, the Mercedes-AMG C43 takes 4.7 seconds to complete the century sprint.
Sitting inside the S60, the minimalist design with Swedish touches feel arguably the most special among the three. Materials are as good as you’d expect from a premium segment. All the touch points are high quality and soft but you’ll find hard plastics when you reach for the bottom part of the interior. The seats are most comfortable here, no contest. It hugs and supports your body in all the right places.
Kneeroom in the rear is generous, although there is a large bump from the centre tunnel due to the batteries. Fitting three abreast will not be very comfortable for the middle passenger. There are air vents on the B-pillar which we find more effective than the centre console vents.
When it comes to safety, the S60 T8 leads the pack as expected. It gets the full suite of Intellisafe features from City Safety to Pilot Assist to Run-off Road Protection. It is by far the most comprehensive ADAS here.
Mercedes-Benz C300 AMG Line
It’s the oldest car here but it has aged well, still looking as classy as ever. Which could very well be its most attractive selling point, apart from the badge.
Delve into the Mercedes-Benz C300 a little deeper, beyond the surface, and its inadequacies start to appear. The suspension for example, lacks the sophistication expected from a car of this calibre. Even on the C300’s Airmatic suspension, sharp edges on the road are still intrusive and it just doesn’t iron out imperfections as well as you’d expect. But when compared to the BMW 330i M Sport, this setup is far more tolerable on a daily basis.
The steering, while light and easy to operate around town, feels disconnected from the front wheels and doesn’t load up as you apply more steering input. So the suspension isn’t particularly comfortable, and yet when you show it some corners, its steering and the way the chassis react do not inspire confidence. It can go around corners well, but it’s not something one would describe as enjoyable.
The cabin isn’t very quiet on the move. Wind noise starts to become apparent as you approach triple-digit speeds and tyre noise is always apparent. Of course, these criticisms stem from the high expectation for a RM 300k car. It might’ve been overlooked if it didn’t wear a three-pointed star badge and go up against the BMW 3 Series.
Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that makes 258 PS and 370 Nm of torque, which goes to the rear wheels through a 9-speed automatic transmission. 0-100 km/h takes 5.9 seconds and tops out at 250 km/h.
The interior is where it compensates for its shortcomings. It’s still rather pleasing to the eyes and the facelift kept it up to date with the digital instrument cluster and a larger infotainment screen. Then there’s the 64-colour ambient lighting, adding to the wow factor of the interior. In terms of space, it has slightly less kneeroom than the Volvo S60 but headroom is similar, which is perfectly adequate for adults.
On the safety front, it has Pre-Safe, Active Brake Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and Blind Spot Assist. For a while the Mercedes-Benz C300 was ahead of the BMW 330i when it comes to safety features, but that is no longer the case as we shall explore next.
BMW 330i M Sport
You might think that the BMW 3 Series is the most engaging to drive and handles the best out of the three, and you’d be right. It is sharper to drive than its predecessor, the F30 3 Series, and is definitely sharper than the rest here.
The steering is immediate and direct, the chassis just flows along with your steering input. If you haven’t driven one, request for a test drive. You don’t even have to go fast to appreciate its handling, just wiggle about the steering left and right at speeds of say, 60-70 km/h. You’ll feel how the steering, suspension and body are in sync with one another.
However, there is one rather significant drawback to its handling prowess. The suspension is stiff, to the point where some might find it unacceptable for daily driving. It doesn’t crash about on broken surfaces; in fact, it actually does a surprising job–considering how stiff it is–at rounding off some of the edges. But it’s not a setup everyone would appreciate, especially if comfort is priority.
Propelling the BMW 330i is the ubiquitous turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, making 258 PS and 400 Nm of torque which is translated to the rear wheels by an 8-speed automatic transmission. It completes the century sprint in 5.8 seconds and maxes out at 250 km/h. It feels stronger than the C300’s engine, courtesy of the extra torque.
The interior is familiar BMW design. It’s an improvement from the previous F30 generation 3 Series, both in looks and materials. Although some might still consider it to be dull, in which case either the Mercedes-Benz C300 or Volvo S60 would fare better. Space in the rear is similar to the C300, maybe a touch more kneeroom in the 330i but we would have to test it back to back to verify.
BMW Malaysia gave the 3 Series an update recently that saw the addition of Driving Assistant, which comprises LDW, LCW, AEB, and RCTA. It is now level with the Mercedes-Benz C300 in terms of equipment.
If you want the biggest bang for your buck, the Volvo S60 with its generous specifications and equipment is the one for you. The T8 hybrid powertrain is stonkingly quick and it’s also the safest car here.
The Mercedes-Benz C300 still looks attractive even after all these years and who could deny the prestige of a three-pointed star. Despite the disappointing driving dynamics, its design inside out is a major selling point and it goes rather quickly when you pin down the throttle.
As for the BMW 330i, it’s the driver’s choice like it has been for generations. It handles the best in this company, by a considerable margin. The flipside is the stiff suspension which may not be suitable for everyone. But if you’re a driving enthusiast and you want to maximise driving pleasure, this is it.