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Used test: BMW 1 Series vs Mercedes A-Class interiors

Buy either of these desirable family cars at three years old and you'll save more than £10,000, but which is the better option?...

BMW 1 Series interior


Driving position, visibility, build quality, practicality

A sound driving position and simple controls are always the ideal, but which of these cars does those better? The short answer is the BMW 1 Series 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 1 Series' seat drops a little lower and its steering wheel extends a fraction further out.

The Mercedes A-Class comes equipped with a 7.0in digital instrument display, while the 1 Series makes do with analogue dials. Each of our test cars came carrying an upgrade added as an option when ordered new. The Premium Plus Pack for the A Class included a bigger (10.3in) instrument display and an equivalent increase in size for the infotainment screen. The 1 Series’ digital dials were part of the optional Tech Pack II, which also added a fancy head-up display. Our research suggests that these options were added to about half of all A-Class and 1 Series models. 

Infotainment-wise, the 1 Series' iDrive system comes with a brilliantly easy to use rotary controller, as well as a touchscreen and a natural speech voice control setup. The larger (10.3in) touchscreen on our test car was an option from new.  

Mercedes A-Class interior

In the A-Class, the standard 7.0in touchscreen could likewise be enlarged to a 10.3in screen by specifying one of the upgrade packs. Aside from the touchscreen, there’s a trackpad controller that’s fiddlier to operate than BMW’s iDrive dial, but the system is otherwise responsive and easy to use. 

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 you do get a rear-view camera on the A-Class, and front and rear parking sensors on the 1 Series. Speaking of visibility, both cars also get bright LED headlights that light the way clearly at night.

Inside, the A-Class 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 (part of that Premium Plus Pack) is like a well-choreographed light show to keep the party going after dark.

BMW 1 Series rear seats

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 1 Series, 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.

Both cars were fitted with optional panoramic sunroofs that reduce head room, but the A-Class ends up with the least in the front. Still, as long as you're not way over 6ft tall, you’ll be fine in both. You’ll have lots of leg room too, but the 1 Series has an extra couple of centimetres of that as well.

They’re not lacking storage space, either. Each has a place for cups in the centre console, for bottles in the decent-sized door bins, and for anything you want hidden in the large glovebox or the cubby under the front armrest.

Mercedes A-Class rear seats

Strangely, for premium family cars, neither offers rear passengers the luxury of a folding centre armrest. The rear space in the 1 Series is miles better than it was in the previous rear-wheel-drive model, bringing it on par with the A-Class.

There are roomier family hatchbacks out there, but these two provide enough rear head and leg room for two tall people, with the A-Class having a fraction more of the former and the 1 Series a smidge more of the latter. Seating three adults abreast is quite a squeeze, although the smaller hump running down the centre of the A-Class’s floor makes life better for the person in the middle. 

It’s easier to split the two on luggage space. The boot of the Mercedes A-Class is longer, allowing us to cram in six carry-on suitcases. The BMW 1 Series boot manages just five. On the plus side, it has a lower loading lip than the A-Class and lots more storage under the floor, which can be clipped open so you’re not propping it up with an elbow while loading and unloading.

The A-Class back seats split 40/20/40 to fold down, while in the 1 Series they split in a less flexible 60/40 arrangement.