The term “luxury” means different things to different buyers. As auto reviewer Henry Payne writes in the Detroit News, some luxury goods are highly detailed and ornate (a Rolex watch), while others offer the elegance of simplicity (an Apple watch). The Mercedes C-Class and the Tesla Model 3 represent these two contrasting luxury aesthetics. Their stylings are “as dramatically different as their gas-powered turbo-4 and electric powertrains,” writes Payne. The $63,000 Mercedes-Benz C300 is an “old-money classic,” and the $57,500 Tesla Model 3 is a “new-money rebel” (note that “money” is one thing they definitely have in common).
Some obvious design difference can be seen on the exteriors of the two vehicles - the Mercedes features flowing lines and a diamond-studded grill with a huge three-pointed star, whereas the Tesla has no grill at all, and no badging other than a T logo on the front.
Inside, the different design philosophies are even more obvious. The Mercedes has “a handsome, weighty doorknocker of a key,” while the Tesla gets by with a wallet-size card.
“The cabin of the Mercedes is like something out of Neuschwanstein Castle,” writes Payne. “Lush console wood, chromed oval vents, tanned leather. The steering wheel has more buttons than a Wurlitzer organ. The doors are laid out with so much silverware - seat controls, Burmester speakers - that it could be an ambassador’s dinner table. All that’s missing is a chandelier.”
The Model 3’s interior is famously minimalist. A strip of wood and a 15-inch touchscreen on the dash, two buttons on the steering wheel. That’s it. As Payne describes the contrast between these two luxury vehicles, “It’s as if Rubens and Mondrian painted a car in the same year.”
However, like Model 3, the C300 is a high-tech, driver-oriented car. The many steering wheel buttons allow you to access all the most important controls without removing your hands from the wheel. A heads-up display and voice-activated commands make the driving experience smooth. However, Payne finds that the Mercedes’s voice commands “can be hit-or-miss,” whereas the Tesla is “state of the art. Voice commands are as good as your phone. The big screen seems a distraction until you realize that almost everything is automatic - headlights, wipers, even music requests: “Play the Rolling Stones.”
Both cars are “desperate to drive themselves,” with sophisticated Level 2 autonomy features. Payne finds that both systems work well, but that Tesla’s system will prove superior over time, thanks to over-the-air updates.
When it comes to handling, the Model 3 again comes out ahead. Henry’s friend Rick, an experienced luxury-car connoisseur, “was instantly enamored with the 3’s performance. It’s a tiger. The steering is rooted to the ground, the 307 pound-feet of torque as instant as a lightning bolt. The Tesla is just so much fun to drive.” By contrast, Payne says that handling has never been Mercedes’s forte. “The steering is numb [and] the turbo-4 engine...seems coarse after the Tesla’s liquid torque.”
Despite the fact that Payne seems to have found that the Tesla edged out the Mercedes in almost every category, he gave both vehicles a 4-star rating. This is the norm among veteran auto critics, most of whom just aren’t ready to take the electric plunge. He considers the comparatively limited range and longer refueling time of an EV to be serious drawbacks.
Another problem with the Tesla that’s specific to Michigan drivers: Because Michigan bans Tesla dealers, any repairs to the Model 3 must be done by mobile service units, a process that Payne speculates could take up to a month (as always with cars, your results may vary).
The keen-eyed Payne noticed one ironic detail about what he calls two “very different masters.” The Mercedes C300 and the Tesla Model 3 have the same transmission stalk. “Just like Rubens and Mondrian used the same sable paint brush.”