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The BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class deliver two different and individually appealing recipes on the premium compact hatchback formula.

11 Mar 2020


If you are looking for your first foray into the world of German automotive luxury, two cars immediately spring to mind - the BMW 1 Series and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

Both brands know this. These two cars have been designed specifically to draw such customers. Sharply designed, reasonably equipped and priced keenly, these two cars are made to offer the first taste of both brand's respective luxury experience. As such, they've become some of the most popular 'affordable' premium cars in the market.

So, which one's better? 

Eye of the beholder

The A-Class features sleek lines and a prominent three-pointed star at the front
Side by side, there's no denying that the A-Class is the prettier car. It's aesthetically congruous with its sleek sheet metal and clean lines. And of course, the prominent three-pointed star at the front is all important. It tells onlookers, "Hey I'm driving a Mercedes!"

The 1 Series is much harder to love visually. It still looks much better in person than in photos, but you really need to give it time to grow on you. From the rear, it looks pretty okay. The front definitely still needs some getting used to.

Chock this up as an easy win for the Merc. 

Beneath the skin

With shiny chrome trimmings and fancy lights, the A-Class delivers immediate visual impact
The cabins in both cars are undoubtedly high-tech and premium. You get generous equipment and connectivity options. Both cars even allow you to talk to the car and control a multitude of functions this way.

The A-Class is again most immediately impressive. You have the twin 10.25-inch screens, shiny buttons, fancy 64-colour ambient lighting, and a generous use of shiny chrome materials.

That said, spend some time with the Merc and issues arise. The AMG Line comes with sports seats, and they are honestly pretty terrible. They are stiff and upright, yet doesn't provide much in the way of lateral support. It reminds this writer of sitting on one of those old straight back wooden chairs in his grandparent's house.

The cabin in the BMW is notably more restrained, but impresses with its ease of operation
The infotainment system is also a little finicky - while it may look flashy and cool, scrolling through all the various submenus and subsections on the screens is more work than it should be.

The BMW emphasises restraint and subtlety. The cabin features darker tones and simpler surfaces, and focuses more on delivering intuitive functionality. The infotainment system is generally simpler to navigate and easier to use. Also, the car feels more well-put together than the Merc.

The 1 Series also has a nifty function called the Comfort Access System. Basically, the car detects the car key when you are approaching the vehicle and unlocks the car. When you walk away from the car, the car automatically engages the locks. So, you don't even need to take the key out of your bag.

The car unlocks simply when it detects you walking up to it (with the key on you, of course)
There are issues, though. The lack of a pause button in the 1 Series' native media interface is a tad annoying. Radio listeners won't have any issues, but this writer's podcast-heavy diet made the lack of a pause button a prominent shortcoming. You'll have to rely on using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Between the two, the Bimmer definitely delivers a better overall experience, especially for long-term use.

Comfort control

On the road, both cars are comfortable and easy to drive. Our A-Class came equipped with the adaptive suspension, and that has improved the ride quality notably. The Bimmer, too, is comfortable and refined to drive, though the suspension is slightly on the firm side.

The Merc allows you to choose between two suspension settings
The 1 Series has the better powertrain - a smooth, quiet and gutsy 1.5-litre engine paired to a sharp seven-speed gearbox. It's got slightly lesser power than the Merc, but it makes up for it in terms of power delivery and refinement. The 1 Series is also the better driver's car - more responsive to your driving inputs, and provides more feedback from the steering wheel.

The Merc may have one more cylinder, but the 1.4-litre engine feels strained, making a less-than-pleasant noise when pushed hard. Thankfully, at light loads the car is easy to drive, and the light steering makes navigating carparks a breeze.

Buyers in this segment probably don't care too much about the specifics of how these two cars drive, but the 1 Series edges this one slightly. 

Picking one

The BMW is objectively the better car, but the Merc is more desirable and outwardly impressive
Just comparing the two cars solely on their mechanical merits, we reckon the BMW is the better car - better build quality, slightly better drive, generally easier to use and live with. It's also a fair bit cheaper - the 118i M Sport is $12,000 cheaper than this A200 AMG Line.

But, especially in our Singapore market where badge and image really matters, the Merc has the 'wow factor' going for it. It's the more immediately impressive car, the sort that will make your relatives go 'wow' when you turn up in it during Chinese New Year. The BMW is the car that will likely be more pleasing to own and drive over time, but the Merc is designed to impress. And, you can't really put a price on that, can you? (Well, you can. $12,000...)

We'd choose the Bimmer, but we suspect many buyers will have the Merc instead.
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Car Information

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Promotion
There's a promotion for BMW 1 Series Hatchback

Price

: $142,888

Engine Type

:

3-cylinder in-line TwinPower Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1499cc

Horsepower

:

103kW (138 bhp) / 6500 rpm

Torque

:

220 Nm / 4200 rpm

Transmission

:

7-speed (A) Steptronic DCT

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

8.5sec

Top Speed

:

213km/h

Fuel consumption

:

16.9 km/L

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Mercedes-Benz A-Class Hatchback A200 AMG Line (A)
Rate it

Price

: $157,888

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1332cc

Horsepower

:

120kW (161 bhp) / 5500 rpm

Torque

:

250 Nm / 1620 rpm

Transmission

:

7G-DCT (A)

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

8sec

Top Speed

:

225km/h

Fuel consumption

:

17.9 km/L

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