Singapore is cleanly rendered, small, and high-tech. If the compact premium hatchback were a nation, we’d be it.
A strong argument could be made that this class of car, with its manageable footprint and practical form, lies most perfectly at the confluence of the Singaporean small family’s needs.
That’s most families – to the grave detriment of our aging nation’s fertility rate. And how about that swanky German logo for your Instagram eh?
The BMW-Mercedes-Audi triumvirate have been duking it out in eternal battle.
We don’t know when the new Audi A3 will arrive. In the meantime, the Mercedes-Benz A200 and BMW 118i are the freshest contenders in the struggle for the Merlion’s wallet.
The Mercedes-Benz A200 cuts the more graceful figure. Beside the gawkily large grilles and pugnacious styling appendages on the BMW, the A200’s face is a picture of dainty sophistication.
But it is not without a purposeful glint in its eye.
AMG Line wheels and a tastefully restrained body kit round off an elegant appearance with just the right amount of aggression. Kind of like Scarlett Johansson.
Inside, the flamboyance quotient is reversed. The BMW 118i’s new dash aesthetic is applied very handsomely indeed in a buttoned-down construction of artfully put-together geometric motifs.
Mercedes has gone for an airier feel. With much, much flashier presentation.
At night, the Mercedes-Benz A200’s disco-tastic interior lighting bleeding out from almost every visible surface generates the greater impression of chic vodka-bar modernity.
With the full colour spectrum to choose from and the option to mix them all up at once, you can strobe yourself to giggling heights of silliness in the A200.
Tactile quality is about on par, with a similar proportion of squidgy materials mixed in with coarser, cheaper plastics where you’re less likely to touch them.
Whether you prefer the BMW 118i’s formal dinner jacket or are enchanted by the Mercedes-Benz A200’s vibrantly colourful, glowing batik shirt is a matter of taste.
While both cars come armed with dual 10.25-inch screens, the Mercedes-Benz A200 wins the cyber war.
Infotainment functionality and aesthetic quality are comparable, but where the A200’s instrument cluster brings clarity the 118i delivers only chaos.
In front of the BMW 118i’s steering wheel is a cacophony of information that serves to obfuscate the most important ones: speed and revs.
Hexagonal meters run opposite to each other and only with the very edges of their virtual needles.
The digital speed readout is a necessity, and the lack of a head-up display is quite keenly felt because of this.
BMW’s historical analogue gauges had always been a paragon of clarity, hence this step backwards in visual ergonomics is very disappointing indeed.
Mercedes doesn’t make the mistake of abandoning representations of complete, round dials, and its system is all the better for it.
With start buttons thumbed, it is prudent to mention this is not an apples-to-apples comparison.
The Mercedes comes in A200 spec instead of the more comparable A180, but the 118i counters with an M Sport package.
The BMW 118i has the chassis advantage here. Its rear suspension is an independent multi-link setup. The Mercedes-Benz A200 utilises a torsion beam.
So, the Mercedes-Benz A200 has the bigger muscles but the BMW 118i is wearing more athletic shoes.
On the go, you’ll discover that the BMW 118i’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” mantra is not marketing fluff.
Coming out of a tight junction with your right foot planted gratuitously, what greets you is no longer the playful shimmy of the rear but a chirp of the front paws.
Sacrilege! The BMW 1 Series is no longer rear-wheel-drive!
That paradigm shift in layout to the template every other small hatchback is using was done for a myriad of reasons. These include allowing for a shorter bonnet and more interior room.
But don’t worry, for the precision and satisfaction of a BMW driving experience are still present and correct.
The BMW 118i’s front wheels claw into the ground with sticky authority, with all four contact patches seeming to share the load of friction equally.
Turn-in, while sharp, remains linear, meaty, and proportionate to input, with body control on these M Sport springs quite exemplary.
A similar yank of the Mercedes-Benz A200’s light and elastic steering wheel yields an eagerness to bound into turns that can feel comparatively slightly contrived.
This means that the deeply cambered and variable elevated bend where Serangoon Gardens Way meets Walmer Drive can be approached with greater gusto in the BMW 118i than in the Mercedes-Benz A200.
Once there, its mid-corner behaviour is also more satisfyingly viscous.
Yes, the Mercedes-Benz A200 is no great slouch, being in possession of acceptable agility and composure.
Yet its front end seems more easily unsettled. Feedback to your hands and bum come a little less certain in texture.
WILL IT BE “THE 1” OR AN “A GRADE”?
The difference is akin to a delightfully al dente pasta against a just marginally overcooked one.
Like a firm, handsome handshake at a job interview, this is enough to overcome the curriculum vitae disadvantage the BMW 118i suffers in outright speed.
Even if the Mercedes-Benz A200’s slightly boomy and lumpy 1.3-litre engine delivers the harder shoves to the back.
With that deficit, mind, the BMW 118i really could use some paddle shifters to help it maximise its limited if pleasurably consistent torque output.
Me? I’d have the BMW 118i for its crisper moves. Then I asked my wife for her opinion and she declared the Mercedes-Benz A200 and its Supertree-beating light show a coup de grace.
BMW 118i M Sport 1.5 (A)
ENGINE 1499cc, 12-valves, inline-3, turbocharged
MAX POWER 140hp at 4600-6500rpm
MAX TORQUE 220Nm at 1480-4200rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 109hp per tonne
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 8.5 seconds
TOP SPEED 211km/h
CONSUMPTION 16.9km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 135g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $163,888 (no VES rebate/surcharge)
AGENT Performance Motors
Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line 1.3 (A)
ENGINE 1332cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 163hp at 5500rpm
MAX TORQUE 250Nm at 1620-4000rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 118.5hp per tonne
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 8 seconds
TOP SPEED 225km/h
CONSUMPTION 17.9km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 128g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $159,888 (no VES rebate/surcharge)
AGENT Cycle & Carriage Industries
Click here for our BMW M135i xDrive review
Click here for our review of the Mercedes-Benz A200 Progressive