Mercedes-Benz A-Class VS BMW I3
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
- Lots of fun
- Stunning design
- Gorgeous interior
- Compact internals
- High price
- Range limits appeal
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|
I'm not entirely sure the world needed this car. It's the new 2018 BMW i3s, a new sportier version of the regular BMW i3.
Why am I not sure if the world needed it?
Well, I would have thought i3 buyers were eco-greenies? People who are more into lower emissions than lower 0-100km/h times?
But, what do you know - the new i3s has both of those bases covered. It's more efficient, offers more range - but also happens to be quicker and more fun to drive.
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.
If you want an electric hatchback that looks like it's from the future, then you should totally look at the BMW i3. There are no real competitors at the moment, and if the Tesla Model 3 production puzzle doesn't sort itself out soon, the i3 could have this part of the market to itself for a while.
This isn't a car for everyone, and it might not be a car for everyday, either. But as a second or third car, it is very convincing. It is unashamedly aimed at city buyers, people who need a car to get around without using fossil fuels... well, if you buy the pure electric model, that is.
The world may not have 'needed' the i3s – but buyers are definitely better off for having the option of the new sportier version of the compact electrified hatchback. This car means they can be eco-friendly and still enjoy the drive.
Does the BMW i3s appeal to you? Let us know in the comments section below.
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.
It's amazing to look at. I'm probably not the only person in the country, or the world, who doesn't think 'wow that's what cars of the future look like' when they see a BMW i3.
That's despite the fact the first-generation BMW i3 is now more than three years into its life, and the rest of the automotive world hasn't shifted quite as far as the i3 pushed things.
From the pillar-less body, carbon-fibre tub, fishbowl rear windows and rearward-opening back doors, this is still a design icon.
And the newly added i3s model has a bit more going on for it than the regular i3, with distinctive blackened wheelarches to help hide the wider tyres (now 20mm wider) on the 20-inch wheels. The entire i3 range finally has full LED headlights - so it should, as a tech-lead car (previously the LEDs were low-beam, and the high-beams were halogen).
If you think this i3 looks a little sleeker than the previous one, that's because there's also been a revamp to the bumpers and daytime running lights, plus you can get it in a range of new colours. And sure, the new rims mightn't have fatty tyres like you get on the back of an X5, but the rims fill the wheelarches nicely.
The i3s model has a black-top finish, and it looks the part - as much as a semi-sporty electric hatchback can. Forget the sporty bit, though, and it still looks more high-tech than anything else on the market aside from maybe its (actually sporty) sibling, the i8.
The inside? Well, it's next-level amazing in terms of its design... but the space on offer could be better.
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.
It isn't a family car, and nor should it be considered one. This is more likely to be a second, third or even fourth car - the one that is used to get around town rather than hit the open road for a long-distance trip.
As a car for couples, or an occasional family shopping cart, the i3 has some really positive attributes. And, undeniably, my favourite part of all is the cabin finish and design. It's like sitting in an expensive furniture shop.
It's all very European and chic, and it seems even fancier when you learn that the so-called 'Lodge' interior trim that is fitted as standard uses "natural leather tanned using an olive leaf extract" and that the cabin also has "wool-based textiles" and recycled plastic on the doors and dashboard.
Seriously, if this is where BMW design is heading, I'm all in.
The cabin also benefits from a new 10.25-inch media screen with the brand's latest multimedia system, 'iDrive6', which is a big improvement on the old system. It's easy to use, the screen is clear, and you can get Apple CarPlay - but, cheekily, BMW asks you to pay an optional fee for it. On the plus side, this version is wireless, so no messy cables - a bit like a furniture showroom, really, you never see any exposed wires there!
Storage is really well sorted as well, with a big cubby on the dashboard, a bunch of storage holds and cupholders between the front seats, and big door pockets as well. In the back there is a fold-down armrest with cupholders, and there are door pockets on the rear doors, too.
Let's talk about those doors - suicide, rear-hinged, whatever you want to call them: they're not conventional, and while they might seem fiddly (you have to open the front door to open the rear one, and that can be annoying) the space is surprising in there.
An adult of about my size (183cm tall) can easily climb in the back with less awkwardness than in say, a three-door hatchback. If you have younger kids, loading them in and out could be a bit more difficult than in a small conventional five-door hatch - but there are ISOFIX anchors and top-tether points for kids. Also, it's worth remembering this is a four-seater, not a five-seater.
Coming back to what I said earlier - this isn't the car you buy if you want to move a family and all their stuff. The boot is still quite small at 260 litres, meaning you might have to limit the luggage you take with you. But for a couple heading (not too far) away for a weekend, it could be perfectly suitable.
The interior has three different styles - or "Interior Worlds" - it can come in, too: 'Lodge' (the standard); 'Loft' (a greyer look, at no cost); and 'Suite', a more premium version with brown leather and oak trim ($2000).
Price and features
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.
I don't envy BMW's product team when it comes to laying out the groundwork for the pricing and specs for its 'i' product range. Electric cars are expensive, but buyers are taking a risk... so finding the middle ground can be hard.
I mean, a city-sized, efficient hatchback is an easy thing to come by, and there are some seriously good-value offerings out there. Think the Kia Picanto, which you can get for less than $15,000.
And at the other end of the scale there's the i3s, about five times the price of the Picanto. The battery version (called 94Ah in BMW speak) is listed at $69,900 plus on-roads, while the version with a petrol engine (94Ah with Range Extender) is $75,900.
You can still get a regular version of the i3 if this sportier S model isn't for you – and it's $1200 cheaper in both guises. But if you're asking me, that $1200 is well worth spending to get the S model.
It's easy to justify that extra splurge because - there is no question about it - this is an expensive car. But it's a technological powerhouse, and that famed rondel has plenty of badge cred.
It isn't like the i3s is packed with equipment when you delve into the options list. Obviously Apple CarPlay at $623 is a bit rude, but other things like heated seats ($730) a sunroof ($2920) and tyre pressure monitoring ($370) are items that could arguably be fitted to a high-spec car.
The comfort package is something I think should really be included as standard - it bundles keyless access (unlocking for the doors), seat heating and a 12-speaker harman/kardon sound system. It costs $2000. It should be on the i3s, right?
Still, the standard kit list includes some good (but not ground-breaking) safety inclusions, a new 10.25-inch media screen with sat nav, a four-speaker stereo with DAB+ digital radio, auxiliary jack, USB and Bluetooth, plus BMW's 'ConnectedDrive' online services system, single-zone climate control, LED headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, and auto wipers and lights. All of that is identical to the regular i3.
The i3s - specifically - adds 20-inch light alloys (19s on the regular one), sports suspension (lowered by 10mm), a revised traction control system and a sportier exterior design with flared wheel arches to help tuck those wider wheels in.
As for colour choices, there are two no-cost options, 'Fluid Black' and 'Capparis White', and four metallic versions at a cost of $1090, 'Imperial Blue', 'Melbourne Red' and 'Protonic Blue' (all with 'Frozen Grey' highlights), and 'Mineral Grey' with 'BMW i Blue' highlights.
Engine & trans
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).
The i3 and i3s 94Ah models are separated by way of different power outputs from their electric drivetrains.
The regular i3 has 125kW/250Nm available from its electric motor, while the i3s pushes that to 135kW/270Nm.
There's no engine in the regular model - but there is in the range-extender version: a two-cylinder (647cc) unit mounted mid-rear.
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.
Running costs could be very low in the BMW i3s, particularly if you have your own solar set-up. Even if you don't, the cost of recharging the battery (33kWh x $0.22c) is very cheap: $7.26 for 200km of driving. By my maths (with fuel being about $1.35/L) a petrol or diesel car would have to be getting 2.7L/100km to be close to that.
And to speak in geeky electro-talk for a second, the i3s's power consumption is rated at 14.3kWh per 100km.
Bit more geek-talk coming up: charging can be done by way of a Type 2 CCS plug. You can recharge using a regular powerpoint (single-phase, 7.4kW), a three-phase charger (which you can get as a wall-box from BMW, 11kW) or a 50kW fast charger (if you can find one).
The range-extender model has 330km of claimed range thanks to its nine-litre fuel tank and two-cylinder petrol engine. Claimed consumption for that drivetrain is 0.6L/100km for the i3 and 0.7L/100km for the i3s.
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.
Enjoyable. That's the word that sprung to my mind. Not sporty. Not crazy fast. Not unpleasant. It is really, really enjoyable.
We didn't spend time in the range-extender version - instead, our short drive was limited to the plain EV model.
Either way, though, you get that whooshy feeling of instant torque from a standstill because it's an electric car (the range extender model will just kick its two-cylinder engine into life to help charge the batteries up and keep you moving on electric power alone).
Apart from a slight whirring from the electric motor when you push the throttle, there's not a lot of noise to speak of - a bit of wind noise from the side mirrors (it was a gale-force windy day in Melbourne at the launch), and a little bit of tyre roar from those new shoes.
Speaking of the tyres, they're now 20mm wider to enhance the stability and handling of the i3. Not only does that add extra width to the car's footprint, the i3s has lowered sports suspension with new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.
The existing model looked like it was rolling on bicycle wheels, but the new rubber definitely has an impact on the levels of grip available and stability in corners. The previous version (and the regular regular i3 below this one) were/are fitted with slimmer tyres that can make it feel a little skittish at times, but these new broader contact patches help out a lot.
Being rear-wheel drive, and because it doesn't have gears to get in the way of driving like in a conventional car, the i3s is a pretty sporty experience. There's even a Sport mode to help justify some lead-footedness, which is pretty exciting if you like to drive... and I do.
You put your foot down, and it throws you back in your seat - not quite to the degree a Tesla does, but it's definitely rapid enough. BMW claims the i3s can now sprint to highway pace in just 6.9 seconds - which is four tenths faster than the regular i3.
And with its aggressive regenerative braking system you pull up pretty swiftly too. It can take some getting used to, because it slows you up faster than you might think.
Just like any sporty car, though, you can only have fun in it for so long before you start to think to yourself 'wow, I'd better go easy or I'll run out of juice'... it's just that in the case of the i3s, you run out quicker because its 'tank' isn't that big, and you're refill isn't as easy as heading to the servo and topping up in a matter of minutes.
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.
The BMW i3 was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2014 when it was tested. It remains a five-star car with this update.
The i3 includes six airbags (dual front, front side, curtain), an integrated roll-over sensor with a battery shut-off function, a reversing camera, parking sensors all around, forward collision warning and pedestrian detection, auto emergency braking (AEB), active cruise control, and lane-keeping assist.
The i3 base model gets semi-automated parking assist, but the i3s misses out on that. And, oddly, no i3 model comes with lane-keeping assist or lane departure warning, and nor can you have one with blind-spot monitoring or lane-keeping assist.
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.
BMW uses a so-called 'condition based servicing' program, whereby the car alerts the driver as to when maintenance may be required. And with fewer moving parts than a conventional car, costs should theoretically be lower.
The car itself is covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while the battery has a 'certificate' for eight years/100,000km.