Badges of honour...

Bag a prestige car at a value price with Mercedes’ A-Class and BMW’s 1-Series

Small motors with premium badges bring glamour to the masses. Now, there are more to choose from than ever, with Audi, Alfa and Volvo all serving up tempting hatchbacks.

But few offer the prestige and heritage of BMW and Mercedes. Dripping with status and pricey when new, a 1-Series or A-Class represents great value used, with plenty of kit, excellent economy and a fine ride. The 120d set a new benchmark for fun when it arrived in 2004. Unique in this sector for being rear-wheel drive, it outhandles any rival. The 1-Series corners as though on rails and the crisp steering only adds to the fun.

A 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 163bhp is enough to see it from 0-62mph in a hot hatch-rivalling 7.9 seconds, but it still returns a healthy 49.6mpg. However, while it’s easy on the wallet and makes you grin, the 120d has its drawbacks – not least of which is the tricky rear access due to wheelarch intrusion.

Passenger space in the back is fine once you’re in, though, but boot space is limited at 330 litres. Then there’s the BMW’s firm ride – it jiggles over every lump and bump, even in softer-riding SE trim. No such problems afflict the A200 CDI. It tackles rippled roads with ease, and although it’s nowhere near as engaging to drive as the BMW, it does offer impressive practicality. The raised seating position gives kids a great view out from the back, and you’ll be able to get three abreast where you won’t in the 120d.

The A200 CDI cost £19,995 when new, with an extra £195 for the Avantgarde SE’s better-looking cabin trim and exterior details such as the oval exhaust tailpipe. As with the BMW – which was originally £20,800 – it comes with climate control, CD stereo, six airbags, ESP and 16-inch alloy wheels.

It’s not all rosy for the A-Class, though. The Merc has been known to suffer from broken wiper arms, rattly suspension on town-based cars and worn gearboxes. The BMW has proven a tougher performer, but the run-flat tyres that do away with the need for a spare wheel are not to all tastes. An exhilarating small car it may be, yet the BMW is more expensive to insure, less economical and has higher CO2 emissions in the pre-EfficientDynamics models.

The A200 CDI is cheaper to buy, more practical and comes with Mercedes’ 30-year breakdown cover as standard – so it’s the more viable used option of the pair.

Extra Info

BMW 120d SE (2004-2007) Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 163bhp Insurance group: 14 Economy: 49.6mpg CO2: 152g/km Prices: From £10,000 Why? Great to drive and gives hot hatches a run for their money. Refined and distinctive, but rear seats are difficult to access. More polluting than Mercedes, too.

Mer. A200 CDI Avant SE (2005-2008) Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 140bhp Insurance group: 9 Economy: 52.3mpg CO2: 141g/km Prices: From £8,000 Why? Lots of space and very practical. Affordable used prices coupled to low costs. Not a thrilling drive, but the Mercedes’ three-pointed badge is a big draw.

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