Shootout – BMW 1-Series vs Mercedes A-Class
Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 28.24 lakhs (Mercedes A180 CDI), Rs. 28.56 lakhs (BMW 118d)
Both these cars are the entry points to the German brands.
Luxury hatchbacks have suddenly become the talk of the town. BMW and Mercedes-Benz have gone ahead and defied old Indian logic, that hatchbacks need to be cheap and a sedan/SUV is everything in our country. The A-Class makes an instant style statement while the 1-Series is all ready to bump up your adrenaline. These German automobile companies are out to prove that small can be big and in this case, terrific value too. So when we got the red hot BMW 1-Series for regular road test, we quickly put logic aside and instantly invited its nearest rival, the Mercedes A-Class for a head-on battle. On paper, these cars seem to be closely matched but out on the road, things are a bit more interesting. Does the Bavarian automobile hold its own against its Stuttgart rival?
Motor Quest: Mercedes-Benz first launched the A-Class in 1997 and the car is now in its third generation, while BMW first launched the 1-Series in 2004 and the vehicle is now in its second generation. It’s only in their current generation that these cars fight so closely with each other.
Styling – When you are paying upwards of Rs. 28 lakhs for a compact car, it better look eye catchy. Both the BMW 1-Series and Mercedes A-Class are very similar in dimensions. While the 1-Series is marginally longer (4324 mm vs 4292 mm), the A-Class is wider (1780 mm vs 1765 mm) and taller (1433 mm vs 1421 mm). But that doesn’t matter much since the difference in dimensions is barely noticeable on the roads. What matters though, is the design. The 1-Series simply can’t a hold a candle to the A-Class in the styling department. While the A-Class looks outright gorgeous, the 1-Series doesn’t come across as attractive by any stretch of the imagination. Most find the design of the 1-Series to be like other BMW cars which brings little uniqueness to the aesthetics. The long hood and conventional rear gives the 1-Series very odd proportions.
When road testing these cars, we parked both at a busy market to see which gathers more eye-pops. Almost everybody turns and looks at the A-Class while the 1-Series’ presence was not at all impounding. Every small design element in the A-Class shouts attractiveness, right from the 302-pin diamond grille (option costing Rs. 72,000/-) to the coupe like rear profile. Even the headlights and tail lights are much more attractive in the A-Class with the LEDs working wonders. The BMW 1-Series we had on test was the top spec Sport Plus which comes with 17-inch wheels. The base 118d which is priced similarly to the Mercedes A-Class comes with 10-spoke, 16-inch wheels which don’t give the 1-Series the sporty pretext you expect from a car positioned as a sports hatchback. The A-Class comes with 17-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels as standard and the rims look the part. So in the styling department, the A-Class simply annihilates the 1-Series.
Interiors – BMW’s strategy of extensively sharing design elements across cars might not work that well in the exteriors department but it certainly does work when it comes to the interiors. The 1-Series feels very 3-Series like inside, at least in the design aspect. The dashboard feels big and substantial and looks quite busy with the wide centre console. However the base 118d doesn’t get the piano black inserts found on the Sport variants and instead uses silver finish. BMW hasn’t offered iDrive, information display, front seat arm rest, sport seats, electric seat adjustment and USB/Bluetooth connectivity on the base trim which is a shocking omission at this price. The 1-Series’ cabin thus ends up looking not at all premium which is a big disappointment as you don’t really get what your money’s worth, or at least that’s what the A-Class makes the 1-Series feel like.
Step inside the A-Class and you are greeted by interiors which truly feel premium and unlike the base 118d. Mercedes-Benz offers the A-Class in base Style trim, which does have lesser equipment over the petrol A-Class’ Sport trim. However Mercedes understands that a certain level of equipment is a must and the company has obliged by offering the A-Class diesel with electrically adjustable seat with memory package and 4-way lumbar support for the driver, front seat arm rest, auto dimming interior mirror, USB, AUX, Bluetooth connectivity, bi-xenon headlamps with washer, cruise control, etc. The cabin is itself inspired from the company’s flagship, the SLS AMG and that makes you feel special. While the A-Class diesel doesn’t come with parking sensors, BMW offers Parking Distance Control (PDC) as standard on all trims. Both cars come with front, side and rear airbags but the A-Class also offers a knee airbag for the driver.
The A-Class has a slightly longer wheelbase (2699 mm vs 2690 mm) and is the more roomier car of the two. Both cars offer top-notch quality with very little to fault with the built. The 1-Series offers better visibility than the A-Class, no matter where you are sitting. However the A-Class’ front seats offer more comfort and that’s where most owners are going to spend their time as neither cars offer a good rear seat experience. Legroom at the rear is decent but the seats are too low and even though the A-Class has slightly more place to stretch, the small windows, big front seats and low headroom are bound to make the rear seat passenger claustrophobic. The 1-Series isn’t much better though with the big transmission tunnel limiting the rear bench strictly to two passengers. The boot of the 1-Series is marginally bigger too (360 litres vs 341 litres) but the difference is even bigger when you factor in the fact that the A-Class has the spare wheel placed abruptly in the boot, limiting usability. Overall, the A-Class marginally edges ahead of the 1-Series in the interior department, thanks to the generous equipment levels and attractive cabin.
Performance – Powering the diesel A-Class is a 2.2-litre engine which belts out 109 PS of power between 3200-4400 RPM and 250 Nm of torque between 1400-2800 RPM, while the 1-Series uses a 2.0-litre diesel engine which has far more poke with 143 HP of power at 4000 RPM and 320 Nm of torque between 1750-2500 RPM. Clearly the BMW is going to be faster on the road but the difference is more than it appears. The 1-Series is a rear-wheel drive vehicle while the A-Class is a front-wheel drive and that should mean the Bavarian vehicle would be heavier. Wrong. The 1-Series manages to be lighter than the Mercedes and the advantage is more than 120 kgs. Factor in the higher power output and lesser weight and there is no second thoughts about which is the quicker car here.
The A-Class diesel sprints from 0-100 km/hr in 10.6 seconds while the 1-Series takes 8.6 seconds. That is a whole TWO seconds faster in the dash to the ton. The BMW also has a higher top speed by a good 20 km/hr, so indeed the 1-Series is the better performer here. NVH levels on both cars is excellent with barely any noise audible inside the cabin, till you reach 3500 RPM. The 1-Series redlines at 4700 RPM while the A-Class redlines at 4500 RPM. The A-Class offers marginally better in city drivability thanks to turbolag being almost absent. Both cars come with start/stop system and various driving modes, the A-Class offers Economy, Manual and Sport modes while the 1-Series offers Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes. BMW’s modes are better of the two as you can feel quite a difference when you change amongst them.
What further makes a difference between the performance of these cars is the transmission. The A-Class uses a 7-speed unit which has a bit of a lag between gearshifts. The 1-Series’ 8-speed autobox is a complete gem and is very quick with cog swapping. However BMW doesn’t offer paddle shifts on the 1-Series (you do have the tiptronic function on the gear lever though) while in the A-Class you get steering mounted paddles (there is no gear lever as the gear selector is column mounted on the right stalk). Both cars are equally frugal and should return 12-13 km/l in the city and 16-17 km/l out on the highways. The 1-Series manages to remain as frugal even with rear-wheel drive and more power output thanks to its terrific gearbox and regenerative braking system (part of BMW EfficienctDynamics). When it comes to petrol models, the 1-Series (136 BHP, 220 Nm) is again faster than the A-Class (122 HP, 200 Nm) but not by as big a margin. Clearly the 1-Series is the uncontested winner in the performance department.
Driving Dynamics – Mercedes cars are more oriented towards comfort, the A-Class is an exception to that. Both the 1-Series are A-Class are stiffly sprung vehicles and ride quality isn’t great but it isn’t bad either. The A-Class feels slightly better over bad roads and tyre noise isn’t too loud either. The 1-Series rides quite well too but tyre noise is quite audible post 100 km/hr. The run-flat tyres aren’t a convenient option for our roads either. High speed stability is better in the Merc and that’s largely down to it being the heavier car. The A-Class simply stays glued even when you encounter a rough patch at high speeds, where the 1-Series tends to bounce a bit. Braking performance from both these compact cars is excellent although the A-Class has slightly better pedal bite.
If there is one thing BMW is unbeatable at, it’s driving dynamics. The 1-Series is positioned as a driver’s machine and it doesn’t disappoint one bit. Handling is sharp and utterly precise, you aim for a corner and you conquer it with razor guided confidence. The 50:50 weight distribution does show and the eager chassis is a complete joy. The steering offers terrific feedback and the rear-wheel drive setup means you can have some fun around corners. The driving mode also alters steering weight and there is little to fault with the 1-Series when it comes to outright driving experience. That said, the A-Class isn’t that far behind when it comes to lightening up a quick smile across your face. Sure it doesn’t have the same level of feel around the steering but the car chucks into corners with impressive eagerness and handling is sharp and surefooted with little body roll. Both cars come with a slew of electronic nannies to keep things clean and safe. Overall, the 1-Series wins in the driving department.
Verdict – This battle between these compact cars seems quite close knitted. However there has to be only one winner. The BMW 1-Series is not only faster but sharper too which is bound to keep the driver smiling at every instance behind the wheel. However the base trim doesn’t feel any premium due to the narrow equipment list. To really get the premium luxury car experience, you need to shell out Rs. 32.25 lakhs for the Sport Line trim or Rs. 37.16 lakh (that’s 320d money) for the Sport Plus variant. This is significantly more than the A-Class and the additional amount you pay doesn’t seem well worth it. The irony of course is the way these cars are priced. While Mercedes-Benz uses the CBU route for the A-Class, BMW uses the CKD route for the 1-Series and in spite of this, the 1-Series is the costlier car here and that too by a significant amount. The A-Class might not be as sharp as the 1-Series but in regular day to day spirited driving, the difference isn’t a world apart. Factoring in everything, the Mercedes A-Class’ desirability level and bang on pricing with generous equipment makes it emerge as the winner of this test, but only just.
The BMW 1-Series is the more fun car to drive but the Mercedes A-Class is the more desirable package offering better value for money. The baby Benz manages to appeal to both the heart and the head.