Audi S1 VS Mercedes-Benz A-Class
- Sensational engine
- Quattro drivetrain
- Great chassis
- The interior is a bit dull
- Stiff ride
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
Spoilt. That's what we are. If you're in the market for a hot hatch, you can have your pick of German-built and French ones from as little as $27,000. There isn't a dud among them now that the VW Polo GTI has had a bit of an update and you can pick and choose your style. Audi's S1 is aiming to be king of the kids with its stiffly-priced S1.
Set the finances aside and consider for a moment what's on offer. As it turns out, a lot.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Meet the world’s most aerodynamically efficient passenger car. Mercedes-Benz says the drag co-efficient for this new sedan version of its fourth-generation A-Class is the lowest ever measured for a passenger vehicle.
Which is quite a claim, but you only have to look at it to see how much work has gone into marrying good looks with slippery aero performance.
|Engine Type||1.3L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Cars this small shouldn't be this fast and useable at the same time, but the Audi S1 is. It isn't without its problems - the ride is harder even than the Fiesta ST which might weary some prospective buyers.
It's also a bit difficult to justify the price - in its basic form it's missing a few creature comforts that you'd expect in a $50,000 car - reversing camera, high-res screen, that sort of thing.
However, in the hot hatch world, those things don't matter. It has the bragging rights, the tech and the outright blinding speed to take on the bonkers Focus ST and equally zany Megane RS. And even the Audi S3.
Mercedes-Benz knows its way around a sedan, and this A-Class is a well-equipped, comfortable and efficient city-sized four-door.
But more than that, to my eyes anyway, it’s a perfect example of restrained form matching aero function with beautiful results.
Would your preference be an A-Class with a hatch or a boot? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The A1 is so small it starts to strain Audi's design language. When you cram on the S-style bumpers and raccoon-eyed trim on the hatchback, it's starts to look a bit busy.
It isn't quite a shrink-wrapped A3 - Ingolstadt's designers know better than that - but it's full of Audi design cues, such as the strong, light-catching character lines, distinctive LED daytime running lights and fondness for big wheels.
Inside is along the themes of the A3, with what are becoming Audi's trademark; round eyeball air-con vents, the manual fold-down screen familiar to Q3 owners (but smaller) and a good clear dash. The handbrake jars slightly as it feels cheap to hold and wobbles a bit.
The S Sport seats are big and comfortable, and the top half of the backs are capped in plastic, which was colour-coded on our car. The rear passengers will certainly get an eyeful of whatever terrifying hue you've chosen, so choose wisely.
Despite the five doors, the back seats are occasionals, like the Mini the A1 is gunning for, and the boot is very small, but okay for shopping for couples or singles.
A global carmaker can’t hold its head up in public without a formal design strategy, and Mercedes-Benz uses ‘Sensual Purity’ as a guiding principle in developing the look and feel of its current models. It may sound airy-fairy, but I for one reckon it’s accurate in describing the A-Class sedan.
The overall form is flowing and minimalist, the major exception being a hard character line running down the side of the car from the trailing edge of the angular LED headlights and along the top of the doors to link with the tail-lights.
A rear-biased glasshouse emphasises the length of the bonnet, at the same time delivering a broad, muscular stance with short overhangs front and rear.
Ultra-fine panel gaps, careful sealing around the headlights and curved strakes either side of the bonnet keep the look clean and simple, not to mention super-slippery.
The interior has been styled to within an inch of its life, the dash dominated by the slick twin 10.25-inch widescreen ‘MBUX’ display covering instruments, ventilation, media and vehicle settings.
Five signature, turbine-style air vents (three in the centre, and one at each edge) lift the dash’s visual interest, and the quality of fit and finish is top-shelf.
At a bit over 4.5m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and close to 1.5m tall the A-Class sedan is 130mm longer and 6.0mm higher than the hatch version.
The A-Class sedan driver is presented with the same sleek widescreen display as found in the hatch, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and headroom, although stretching up a to a straight-back position led to a scalp to headlining interface.
In the A 200 a centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console. Always a plus.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
One snag is the size of the rear door aperture. Okay for taller people on the way in, but a limb-unfolding gymnastic exercise on exit.
But of course the reason we’re all here is the boot, and the sedan’s extra length translates to an additional 60 litres of luggage space for a total cargo volume of 430 litres (VDA).
Extra space is one thing, but usability is another. The benefit of a hatch is a large opening that allows bulky stuff to find a home, and Merc has pushed the sedan’s boot aperture to just under a metre across and there’s half a metre between the base of the rear window and the lower edge of the boot lid.
That’s made a big difference and access is good, with the rear seats folding 40/20/40 to add extra flexibility and volume. There are also tie-down hooks at each corner of the floor (a luggage net is included) and a netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (with 12-volt outlet).
At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz wasn’t quoting towing specifications, and don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the tyres are run-flats.
Price and features
Starting at $49,900, Audi S1 is by far the priciest of the small-hatch based hotties, at least until Mini's madcap JCW arrives. This price is just almost double that of VW stablemate's forthcoming 2015 Polo GTI.
Standard on the manual-and-five-door-only S1 is a ten speaker stereo, climate control, ambient lighting, remote central locking, cruise control, satnav, headlight washers, auto headlights with xenon low beams, partial leather seats, leather-bound steering wheel, auto wipers and rear parking sensors.
Our Misano Red ($990 option) came with two extra packs. The Quattro Exterior Package ($3990) adds bi-xenon headlights with red trim, red brake calipers, spoiler, quattro logos on rear doors (ahem!) and five-spoke 18-inch alloys that are part matt black, part polished.
The Quattro Interior Package ($2490) adds S Sport front seats with Nappa leather and red backrest capping with quattro logo (ugh), more nappa around the cabin with contrast stitching, flat bottom steering wheel and red rings on the air vents.
There's an S Performance Package that brings the best of these two packs together for $4990, saving about $1500 and the embarrassment of the quattro logos.
Our test car also had aluminium air vents ($220), black contrasting boot lid ($300) and black roof ($720).
The grand total is a sobering $58,610. There's a couple more options that'll easily pop you over $60,000.
Audi's MMI is dash-mounted in the A1 as there's no room on the narrow centre console. As ever, it works well and doesn't take much getting used to. The satnav is a bit grainy on the smaller screen but is otherwise a competent unit.
Sound is from a ten-speaker stereo and you can stream across Bluetooth or plug in a memory card. The sound was good but the system did take a while to find the phone whenever we came back to the car.
The A-Class sedan is launching with two variants, the A 200 at $49,400, before on-road costs, and an entry-level A 180, arriving in August 2019 at $44,900.
We’ll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, but above and beyond that standard equipment for the A 180 runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, ‘Artico’ faux leather upholstery, the ‘MBUX’ widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens), auto LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, climate-control, sat nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ‘Active Parking Assist’ (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), tinted glass, plus nine-speaker, 225W audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The A200 steps up to 18-inch alloy rims, and adds a dual exhaust system, four-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat (with lumbar support), a folding rear armrest (with twin cupholders), adaptive high-beam assist, and a wireless device charging bay.
Engine & trans
This is where the action is. The S1's tiny body packs a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder producing 170kW and 370Nm of torque. The S1 will streak to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds thank to the traction aid of quattro all-wheel drive.
Despite a pretty solid hammering during its week with us, including more time than we'd have liked in Sydney traffic, the stop-start function helped deliver a pretty reasonable 10.2L/100km, however that's a long way over claimed 7.1L/100km.
All Audi S1s come with a six-speed manual, so dual-clutch haters can save the whining. The only downside from not having a self-shifter is the ECU can't deliver the boy racer farts, parps and crackles of the other S cars.
Both models are powered by the same 1.3-litre (M282) direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the hatch, the A180 tuned to deliver 100kW (at 5500rpm) and 200Nm (at 1460rpm), with the A 200 bumping that up to 120kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (at 1620rpm).
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.7L/100km for both models, with a CO2 emissions figure of 130g/km.
Over roughly 250km of open highway driving on the launch program the A 200’s on-board computer coughed up a figure of 6.3L/100km. So, the real-world highway cycle figure is higher than the claimed combined number. Which is a miss, but not a massive one, and fuel-efficiency is still pretty impressive.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 43 litres of it (plus a 5.0-litre reserve) to fill the tank.
If you're buying the S1 as a comfortable urban runabout with a cool badge, you're half right. While the seating for front passengers is certainly supportive, the hard suspension tune will ensure you're well aware of road surface imperfections.
Thankfully, what it missed out on in the ride department it makes up for in every other way - the S1 is a rocket. The 2.0-litre turbo jammed under the bonnet has almost no lag and is paired with a slick six-speed manual that is terrific fun to manhandle through the gears.
The way the S1 picks up speed when it's on boost is addictive and licence-endangering. A flattened accelerator in second or third will obliterate just about anything this side of $100,000 and you'll be having more fun in this than big brother S3 because the chassis is more adjustable and there's a bit more life.
You can hear the turbo sing to accompany the bassy exhaust growl. Hit the massive brakes hard and the car remains stable even over rutted roads. Turning the wheel brings almost-instant turn-in, mashing the throttle again a fun little wriggle. It's superb.
You'll have to be a bit patient with the throttle to get the wriggle, though - give it too much too early and it will want to push wide, the quattro system shuffling power around to try and quell understeer while the electronic diff fiddles with the braking system to do the same thing. It gets there in the end, but you're better off meting out the power with your right foot for maximum rewards.
It's tremendous fun point-to-point on a twisty road - despite being a bit heavy for its size (1415kg), it's as chuckable as the next best thing, the Fiesta ST.
Three things stand out on first meeting with the A-Class sedan – ride comfort, steering feel, and road noise, or rather the lack of it.
The ‘biggest’ compliment you can pay a small car is that it rides like a bigger one, and behind the A 200’s wheel you’d swear the wheelbase was appreciably longer than the 2.7 metres it actually measures.
Over long undulations, even higher frequency bumps and ruts, the A-Class remains stable and composed thanks to a thoroughly sorted (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension, with beautifully progressive damping a particular highlight.
Electromechanically-assisted steering points accurately and delivers good road feel without any undue vibration. And despite the A-Class launch drive loop covering typically coarse-chip bitumen roads through rural Victoria, overall noise levels remained impressively low.
Acceleration is brisk rather than properly sharp, but in the A 200 there’s more than enough oomph to keep things on the boil for easy highway cruising and overtaking.
With maximum torque available from just above 1600rpm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission keeping revs in the sweet spot, the A 200 breezes through the cut and thrust of city traffic, too.
Auto shifts are smooth and quick, with manual changes via the wheel-mounted paddles adding even more direct access to your ratio of choice. And the bonus is no sign of the slow-speed shuntiness sometimes exhibited by dual-clutch autos, especially in twisting, three-point parking manoeuvres.
Special call-out for the cruise control which responds to adjustments quickly (including 10km/h jumps up or down with a firm press of the thumb) and rapidly retards downhill speeds.
Several unbroken hours in the front seat couldn’t generate a twinge of discomfort, the brakes are strong, and over-shoulder visibility is marginally better than in the hatch (not that it’s a weakness in the latter).
Add the sleek and intuitive multimedia system, high-quality audio, plus excellent ergonomics and you have a neatly resolved compact sedan that’s easy to use in the city and suburbs, keeping solid road-tripping ability up its sleeve as well.
Think automotive safety and Mercedes-Benz will be one of the first names to pop into your mind, and the A 180 offers in impressive suite of active features including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), ‘Active Brake Assist’ (Merc-speak for AEB), ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Cross-wind Assist’, ‘Lane Keep Assist’, a tyre pressure warning system, the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and ‘Traffic Sign Assist’. The A 200 adds ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist’.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you’ll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver’s knee bag), and the ‘Active Bonnet’ automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
That lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an ‘Up-front’ or ‘Pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three A-Class services set at a total of $2050, compared to $2550 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.