The luxury hatchback segment has pretty much been a debatable class taking into consideration the fact that a buyer intending to spend a sum of around Rs 30 lakh is more likely to opt for a larger sedan. Manufacturers like Fiat and Volkswagen have tried to get things going with the 500 and the Beetle but haven’t quite been able to achieve the results that they would have hoped for. Having said that, there has been a paradigm shift in thought especially with the customer becoming more brand conscious and aspiring to be associated with a name that we usually relate to more premium cars. With this realisation and fully aware of the potential that the segment holds, manufacturers have been trying to focus their energies into making a break in the segment. Mercedes-Benz was quick to make its debut with the A-Class and BMW too swiftly followed it with their 1 series. We pitch these two cars against each other to find out which one is the king of the ring.
Looks that Kill
In its new iteration, the A-Class has been given a heavy makeover, in line with Mercedes’ new design language and the result is sure to make you fall in love. It looks fresh, aspirational and most importantly, moving away from the ‘mature’ Merc disposition, is a lot more youthful. The long nose that leads into the diamond grille flanked by the LED headlights give the front end a highly aggressive stance. Although the silhouette of the A isn’t quite something that one would drool over, the combination of some sharp lines, along with subtle creases and the 17-inch 10-spoke alloys add a lot of drama to it. At the back, the small tail gate with the horizontal LED tail lights and the wide bumper ensures that the rear of the car is just as good looking as the front. Overall the A’s low stance and the tiny dimensions of give it a highly eager look that is sure to turn some heads, but the how does it stand against the 1 series?
After looking at the A-Class, the 1 series indeed seems quite pale. We mentioned in our review of the 1 series that the front end looks typically Bimmer with the long bonnet and the small-ish grille and indeed has quite a pleasing disposition, but then bring something as stunning as the A into the picture and the equation changes in entirety. The 1 series’ headlights try hard to make it look youthful but isn’t quite a compromise for overall design that looks rather dated. The rear too tell a similar story with nothing really outstanding going in its favour. That said, the sharp shoulder lines and those beautiful looking 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels give the profile a subtle but pleasing aura.
Overall, we believe that the A has much more street presence and has a larger visual appeal than its rival in question here.
Are you an inside man?
Step inside both the cars and choosing between them in terms of comfort, style and fit and finish will be like Sophie’s choice. Both cars have their positives and negatives; while the dashboard layout of the A is much more impressive and enthusiastic, the black interior with the matte metal finish of the air con vents aren’t quite as striking as the BMW’s black dash with the red accent and the glossy black finish over the glove compartment. Further, the cabin of the 1 feels much more roomy as opposed to the A-Class and this has a lot to do with the larger windows and the flatter sides of the challenger from Munich.
In fact even at the back, the 1 series has a lot more leg and knee room. Having said that, the rear-wheel drive setup and the extra large transmission tunnel is sure to cause a lot of discomfort for the third. But despite the fact that the A-Class has considerably lesser room at the rear, ingress egress is a lot easier on the Merc than its rival in discussion.
To us then, while other things like fit and finish and quality of plastics are equally matched in both these cars, the A-Class has the upper hand in visual appeal.
Looks aside, this is one aspect that can really change the course of the game. While the A-Class is powered by an inline four-cylinder 2.2-litre mill that produces 107PS between 3,200-4,400rpm and torque of 250Nm between 1,400-2,800rpm; the 1 series, despite the fact that it displaces lesser ccs than the A makes 143PS at 4,000rpm and an impressive 320Nm between 1,750-2,500rpm. What this means is that the 1’s peak torque starts from lower down the rev range which makes it a lot more hassle-free in those quick overtaking maneuvers on the highway. More importantly, despite bring of the front engine-rear wheel drive layout the BMW is more than 100kg lighter than its compatriot.
The difference in the power rating and weight comes into perspective when one looks at the acceleration figures of both cars. The Stuttgart steed takes around 10.6 seconds to hit that three digit marker from standstill while the mule from Munich is almost two seconds faster in achieving the same feat. This also has a lot to do with the 8-speed gearbox which is a lot more responsive to throttle inputs resulting in a much more engaging drive despite making use of a torque converter as opposed to the Merc’s 7-speed dual clutch type transmission which is relatively slower in its shifts. Both cars get manual override functions but only the A-Class boasts of paddle shifters.
The A 180 CDI returned 13.4kmpl around town and 16.1kmpl on the highway resulting in an overall mileage figure of 14.1kmpl. In our tests, the 1 series proved to be marginally more efficient than the A-Class returning 13.7kmpl in city driving conditions and 20.8kmpl on the highway, resulting in an overall efficiency of 15.4kmpl.
As far as the engine and the performance is concerned, the BMW without doubt scores more heavily in all aspects and proves to be much more enthusiastic and comfortable even at higher speeds than the A.
BMWs have been renowned for their superior driving experience and its youngest sibling is no different in this regard. The A-Class sure is a sure is competent handler and is capable of turning into corners with utmost ease. It also keeps its nerve if you are the kind who likes to push it around corners and make those swift changes in direction. The 225/45 R17 tyres do justice to the cornering capabilities of the Merc and not at any point in time do you feel that the shoes of the baby Merc are not grippy enough.
That said, the 1 is in a league of its own. Go hard on the throttle on the tightest of bends and it won’t take long for you to realise that it has been built with the driver in focus. It feels much more balanced and composed even on the limit. The steering wheel supports the handling potent of the 1 very well and communicates road grip from the tyres in exhaustive detail. A lot of this characteristic can be attributed to the 50:50 weight distribution that BMW has achieved thanks to the front engine-rear-wheel drive combination.
In the driving department, although the Merc tries hard to keep pace with the Bimmer, but somewhere down due to the relatively lackluster engine it fails to achieve what the 1 does with much comfort.
It’s a Win-Win situation
This sure is a tough one. Both cars score heavily in certain criterion; while the Merc gains an advantage in terms of styling, the BMW proves to be a lot more promising in terms of drive and performance, due to which it all boils down to the sole factor that plays an extremely important part in the decision making process. While the A-Class is only available in the top of the line variant at Rs 23.39 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), BMW offers the 1 series diesel in three variants starting Rs 23.03 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).
But if you compare the top-end trims, there is almost Rs 10 lakh difference between the two cars, with the BMW’s price on the higher side. So is the extra money worth it? Definitely so, if you are the kind for whom driving pleasure is of utmost importance and don’t really mind shelling out that extra sum for a lot more fun. But if you consider in more practical terms and take into account that spirited driving is not going to be part of your day to day routine and of course the pretty notable difference in price, then the A-Class makes is unquestionably a much better proposition.
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