The BMW 118i M Sport and Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line battle it out to prove their worth
BMW 118i M Sport and Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG hatchbacks go head to head The BMW 118i M Sport (left) has high-gloss black exterior trims and 18-inch M wheels, while the Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG (right) sports a single-louvred diamond grille and 18-inch AMG wheels. PHOTOS: KONG YONGYAO

While the BMW 1-series and Mercedes-Benz A-class still cost more than their mass-market peers, they have lowered the barrier of entry for those aspiring to own their first premium car.

The Mercedes A200 charms with its sleek and elegant looks. Four generations on, it bears little resemblance to its tall-hatch first iteration.

Its single-louvred diamond grille and 18-inch AMG wheels add just the right dose of sportiness.

The BMW 118i shares many common design traits with its larger siblings, including an upsized, one-piece kidney grille and hexagonal daytime-running LEDs.

Instead of aluminium, the M Sport version gets high-gloss black exterior trims and 18-inch M wheels.

While it appears bolder and more aggressive, it has too many busy styling elements that are in contrast to the A-Class' clean aesthetics. Its proportions are also slightly ungainly.

Inside, both cars could not be more different from each other.

The BMW reveals a tamer side underneath its boy-racer facade. There is an interesting collage of grains and textures. The centre console layout is reminiscent of the 8-series.

However, modern as it appears, it is just a tad too safe, especially in comparison with its brasher exterior.

The cabin design of the Mercedes strikes the perfect balance between vodka-bar chic and rambunctious discotheque.

The piece de resistance is two 10.25-inch screens that read as one continuous panel, which heightens the visual impact.

At night, the cockpit comes aglow with ambient lighting, evoking premium vibes. Illuminated turbine-style air vents add a delicious distraction.

Distinct as the two cars may be, both their material and palettes, build quality, tactility and cabin atmosphere feel adequately luxurious, notwithstanding bits of cheaper plastics that have been discreetly sneaked into less conspicuous areas.

Space-wise, both cabins are comparable and decently roomy by five-door hatchback standards. Loading up a couple of 1.2m-long, flat-packed furniture cartons into both boots with the rear seats folded is a breeze. The 118i's concealed storage under the boot floor is a plus.

The A-class is offered in A200 specifications instead of A180.

Although not an apple-to-apple comparison, BMW fields a strong opponent.

With more cylinders, horsepower and torque, the Mercedes may have bigger muscles, but it is the 118i that is more athletic.

On the go, the Baby Beemer blurs the Baby Benz's aesthetic advantage. Being front-wheel-drive has not affected the precision and gratifying driving experience synonymous with BMW.

Emerging from a tight corner, the playful shimmy of the rear has been replaced by a chirp of the front paws.

Turn-in is sharp and proportionate to input. Its M Sport springs afford exemplary body control. However, the absence of paddle shifters is a bit of a letdown.

The A200 needs to be handled more conservatively because it is more easily unsettled.

Delivery can be erratic and prone to surging. There is a slight hint of hesitation in the gear shifts. Typical of many Mercs, the steering could do with a weightier feel. While it possesses acceptable agility and composure, you do need to rein in the gusto.

Both are well-endowed with tech goodies, such as a Siri-like system that uses voice commands to operate settings or access information.

Both have jumped on the digital bandwagon, but the Merc presents information with better visual clarity and a more user-friendly interface.

At $12,000 more than the BMW, the three-pointed star needs to be even more persuasive beyond its stellar insignia.

But it will save you fuel money over its thirstier rival. Over a three-day test-drive, the A200 averaged 8.4 litres/100km while the 118i achieved 9.5 litres/100km.

These figures are noticeably higher than their declared values possibly because the cars were driven mostly in city conditions and predominantly in Sport mode.

The A200 impresses with its beautiful styling and premium feel.

The 118i scores on driving dynamics and more than compensates for its paper disadvantage - one less cylinder, lower output, weaker performance, no paddles - against its fellow German.

Overall, the BMW is better value for money.