New BMW 1 Series vs Mercedes A-Class

BMW has made a radical change for the new 1 Series, now sending power to its front wheels to help fix its major flaw: practicality. And yet we’re told this doesn’t make it any less sporty to driv...

BMW 1 Series interior

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, build quality

A sound driving position and simple controls are always the ideal, but which of these cars does those better? The short answer is the 118d, but the devil is in the detail. For example, whatever your size, you should find enough range of adjustment in both driving positions, but the 118d’s seat drops a little lower and its steering wheel extends a fraction farther out. 

Both cars have a comfortably cushioned driver’s seat, but the 118d’s offers more side support in corners. And even though neither gets adjustable lumbar support as standard, it’s just an extra £150 on the 118d but part of the £3595 Premium Plus pack on the A200d. As we’ll explain shortly, that pack does bring an awful lot of other treasures, but the freedom to choose options à la carte, as BMW allows you to do, is better. 

The A200d comes equipped with a 7.0in digital instrument display, while the 118d makes do with analogue dials. Each of our test cars came carrying an upgrade; the A200d’s Premium Plus Pack includes a bigger (10.3in) instrument display and an equivalent increase in size for the infotainment screen, while the 118d’s digital dials are part of the £1500 Tech Pack II, which also adds a fancy head-up display. 

Mercedes A-Class interior

These cars’ slim and chamfered windscreen pillars are relatively easy to see past, making the view forwards as clear as you would hope. The view out of the back isn’t great, but in mitigation you get a rear-view camera on the A200d and front and rear parking sensors on the 118d. Speaking of visibility, both cars also get bright LED headlights that light the way clearly at night.

Now, one of the reasons for choosing a BMW or Mercedes over, say, a Ford or Vauxhall is the expectation of ‘business class’ travel. And there’s no doubt that splashing more of your cash on one of our pair here gets you an upgrade, but of differing sorts. The A200d is more about glitz and glamour; you get what many will consider a spectacular design, with a rich mix of materials, and the ambient interior lighting (also part of the Premium Plus Pack) is like a well-choreographed light show to keep the party going after dark.

Yet some of the plastics lower down inside the A200d feel less appealing, and the build quality is questionable; the heater control panel deflects when you use it, for example, and the outer air vent surrounds wobble. The 118d, on the other hand, is like an Anglepoise lamp: its design is less flamboyant and full of sharply intersecting angles, but it shouts engineering integrity very loudly indeed.

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