The BMW 1 Series vs Mercedes-Benz A-Class: which is better?
The BMW 1 Series vs Mercedes-Benz A-Class: which is better?

BMW 1 Series vs Mercedes-Benz A-Class: Which is better?

In this comparison review, we are going to take a closer look at two of the hottest premium compacts on sale in Ireland right now – the BMW 1 Series and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class! In 2018, Mercedes-Benz launched a new generation of the A-Class, while in 2019 it was the turn of BMW, with a new 1 Series hitting dealer showrooms.

Both cars mark an entry into the ranges of their respective brands. Premium compact hatchbacks are an opportunity for aspirational buyers to get on the ladder of their favourite premium brand. Get them hooked and it’s likely they will stay a fan forever, migrating to larger models as their lifestyle and earning power changes.

While the A-Class is now available as a hatchback and as a saloon, here we will examine it in hatchback form as the direct rival to the BMW 1 Series hatchback.

The new BMW 1 Series is on sale in Ireland in 2021 priced from €32,891
The new BMW 1 Series is on sale in Ireland in 2021 priced from €32,891

Nice to look at?

Both the new BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class are attractive cars in the metal, with high class kerb appeal. BMW styling has turned into something quite controversial in recent years and the 1 Series hasn’t been immune from criticism for its larger than life grille. But it is a significant improvement over the car it replaces, and brings it more in line with larger BMWs like the popular 3 Series and 5 Series. In fact at Changing Lanes we are a big fan of that rear styling. The appearance changes depending on trim level, with the M Sport models really looking the best. They sit lower on the road with a more aggressive body kit and 18” alloys, as well as satin aluminium struts in the kidney grille.

Over in the Mercedes-Benz camp the A-Class avoids controversy with a handsome compact exterior. A slimmer and lighter appearance adds even more desirability to the latest generation of the A-Class. Like the BMW, different trim levels give the car a different look. But the AMG Line models have sporty flair that really suits the new generation Benz compact, with a sportier styling kit and 18” alloy wheels.

The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is on sale in Ireland in 2021 priced from €31,080
The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is on sale in Ireland in 2021 priced from €31,080

So which car has the best interior?

While exterior looks are a personal preference, inside is where the battle is really fought these days for the hearts and minds of buyers. Even in the premium compact class, the race to include as much digital technology and connectivity is on. Big time. It’s a race both our featured brands here do very well, but with their own unique style.

When the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class arrived in 2018, the brand was debuting the all new MBUX infotainment system that has since been rolled out to other models in the Mercedes range. The twin screen layout was new and exciting, with the system responding to novel voice commands of ‘Hey Mercedes’. It has aged very well. In fact the whole A-Class interior is still a joy to behold in 2021 as one of the best premium compact interiors of its generation! Material quality is excellent and the design is super stylish. One just feels expensive inside the new A-Class. It’s a very satisfying place to sit. The widescreen digital effect comes from two high-resolution displays, 7 inch as standard or optionally extra large at 10.25 inch.

The interior of the 2021 BMW 1 Series
The interior of the 2021 BMW 1 Series

Over in the BMW 1 Series, there has also been a significant revamp of the interior. With a strong influence from the larger 3 Series, the cabin is of fantastic quality. There are impossibly glam back lit trim elements among the driver-oriented cockpit, with all of BMW’s latest digital technology at your fingertips. It’s in its best iteration with the BMW Live Cockpit Professional incorporating a digital instrument panel and 10.25” Control Display. Another neat feature is the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, which allows you to alter the car’s settings, ventilation or find a list of local restaurants for example using a simple summons of ‘Hey BMW’. I wonder where they got that idea from…

How practical are they?

Much has been made of the 1 Series migration to a more space efficient front wheel drive layout. While many may lament the loss of BMW rear wheel drive from the 1 Series range, practicality does matter at this side of the market and the new platform reaps dividends in the new 1. Now adults will be able to sit more comfortably in the rear with much more competitive legroom than ever before. There is also more boot space. The boot capacity has been improved by 20 litres to 380 litres, now with a wider opening. An electrically operated tailgate is optionally available for the BMW 1 Series for the first time.

The new A-Class has a longer wheelbase than the previous generation of the car to improve interior space. There’s also more shoulder, elbow and headroom. The BMW and the Merc have a largish transmission tunnel and relatively narrow middle seat meaning both are more comfortable for two people. The A-Class boot has a capacity of 370 litres in the hatchback, while rear seats fold 40:20:40 as standard. It’s 60:40 split as standard on the 1 Series. It’s hard to split these two on interior space. Take one for a test drive and see if you can get comfortable!

The interior of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class
The interior of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Engine options

In Ireland, the new BMW 1 Series is sold with petrol and diesel engines at the time of writing. They include the 118i petrol (136 hp), 116d diesel (116 hp), 118d diesel (150 hp) or 120d diesel (190 hp). Manual and automatic transmissions are available. There’s also the high performance 128ti with 265 hp and the M135i xdrive with 306 hp. At Changing Lanes we had the opportunity to test the new 118i, powered by a new three cylinder turbo petrol engine for the 1 Series. Power is a modest 136 hp but it’s actually a sweet entry into the range.

The latest A-Class range includes two new four-cylinder petrol engines (1.3-litre A200 with 163 hp and 2.0-litre A250 with 224 hp) and a new four cylinder diesel (1.5-litre A180d with 116 hp). Manual and automatic transmissions are available. An entry level A160 with 109 hp is available too. You can also buy high performance versions of the A-Class: A35 (306 hp), A45 (387 hp) and A45 S (421 hp). At Changing Lanes we had the opportunity to test the A200 model powered by a 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine pushing out 163 hp. A nicely refined engine with a pleasant thump of power.

An A250e plug-in hybrid is to join the A-Class range in Ireland in 2021.

Why not try these for a test drive?

BMW 118i M Sport Auto. Priced from €40,202 (January 2021)

Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line. Priced from €42,888 (January 2021)

The new BMW 1 Series is available with petrol and diesel engines
The new BMW 1 Series is available with petrol and diesel engines

Driving them

Buyers should expect high end refinement and driving dynamics from such esteemed company.

Let’s start with the new BMW 1 Series. The new 1 Series is up to 30 kg lighter than the car it replaces but more rigid. Is it enough to make up for the loss of rear wheel drive from the classic BMW compact? There’s some help from ARB technology taken from the electric i3 and it is used in the new 1 Series for the first time in a combustion engined BMW. On the road this means that the 1 Series exhibits excellent stability and balance in cornering. There’s an impressively tight turn in but the car lacks the outright sparkle and playfulness of the 3 Series for example. The steering just doesn’t translate the same sensations to your fingertips. Overall refinement is excellent and this car covers the tarmac well, despite the M Sport treatment giving a tad firmer ride. Long distance motorway cruising is very pleasant behind the wheel of the 1 Series. The 118i also does a fine job here for a three cylinder petrol engine. The engine feels lively enough and smooths out well at speed, with decent enough fuel economy. Gear changes through the new 7-speed automatic are well judged.

The new generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class is also front wheel drive, however it doesn’t have the same reputation as BMW for sporty handling. Yet the new A-Class turns out to be a delight to drive, especially with one of the lively petrols like the A200. In fact the steering is so sharp and the body control so good that it’s a very fine line between this and the new 1 Series.

Both cars come with their own version of driving modes as standard equipment.

Mercedes-Benz will add a plug-in hybrid to the A-Class range in 2021
Mercedes-Benz will add a plug-in hybrid to the A-Class range in 2021

Pricing and Equipment

The BMW 1 Series is available from €32,891 and comes in three trim levels: SE, Sport and M Sport. The entry level SE model has 16″ alloys, air conditioning, multifunction steering wheel, front collision warning, lane depature warning, Drive Performance Control, cruise control and 8.8″ control display with touch function and iDrive controller.

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is available from €31,080 and comes in Style, Progressive and AMG Line trim. Standard equipment includes 16″ alloys, air conditioning, cruise control, digital instrument cluster and media display with touchscreen and MBUX infotainment, Dynamic Select, heated front seats, multifunction steering wheel, Active Lane Keeping Assist, part leather/cloth seats, and reversing camera.

So which are you buying?

Another tough call. Both the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class are a cut above your average hatchback with premium design, refinement and driving dynamics. And you will pay dearly for it too with the most desirable M Sport and AMG Line models asking for serious money.

The new BMW 1 Series has come on leaps and bounds for this new generation of the car. While we might shed a tear for the loss of the rear wheel drive, at least now the 1 Series can properly compete as a versatile hatchback. Inside the interior is such good quality, it’s properly matured and feels like a bigger car. There is just one petrol engine at the entry to the range, but it does punch above its 136 hp. There are also a number of diesels to choose from.

The BMW 1 Series more competitive than ever
The BMW 1 Series more competitive than ever but is it enough?

Over at Mercedes, the new generation A-Class has spawned a number of derivatives like the CLA and GLB from its compact underpinnings. Each time we drive another derivative it’s a reminder of what a wonderful car the new A-Class is. The interior is fantastic modern contemporary and hasn’t aged at all. Mercedes’ new petrol engines are also winners, particularly the A200.

It’s for these combined reasons that this reviewer would be heading in the direction of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class in the premium compact space. Perhaps the 1 Series has lost the edge in the driving dynamics that would lead to a decisive YES, like the one we give the 3 Series in the class above. Did we have a bad time in the 1 Series? No not at all and we could really appreciate that beautiful tight turn in. The classic sensations just weren’t there. But that cabin is wonderful. Front grille? Not sure.

The gap has indeed narrowed to the A-Class as the new generation of the car feels pure and agile, and the A200’s 163 hp petrol engine is really fun in the A-Class. Then there’s the cabin and the looks, so quietly sophisticated. Altogether it makes the Mercedes-Benz A-Class a winning package.

The new A-Class excels for its style, design and quality
The new A-Class excels for its style, design and quality

Want to find out more? Read our detailed review of each model compared here:

BMW 1 Series

Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Looking for something a bit bigger? Check out our twin test of the BMW 3 Series vs Audi A4!

Caroline Kidd