The battle at the compact end of the premium segment is about to intensify, as the two key players of the segment – the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class – are heading for a generational change.
It’s going to be a bit strange. The next-generation models of the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class will see a sort of role-reversal between the two. The A-Class will shed its ‘kind and nice’ image for a brash and masculine look, so as to take on the 1 Series – which, in Europe at least, is the more sportier of the two. Europe, of course, has always been main battlefield for these two cars, but even in India they’ve locked horns in the past and achieved limited cumulative success – the A-Class more so than the 1 Series. In fact, the 1 Series is no longer sold in India – so it’ll be interesting to see if the next generation makes it here.
Nevertheless, both these models are preparing to renew their battle by reinventing themselves completely. The A-Class will be the first one to roll out sometime in 2018, while the 1 Series will follow suit early in 2019.
Although, there’s still some time left before we get our first glimpse of either of the upcoming cars, you can already tell that it’s going to be an epic duel. You see, from what we know already, the two hatchbacks will end up having remarkably similar traits to each other. The A-Class will take a conceptual breakthrough in the way it looks – it’s going to sport a meaner design we hear. On the other hand, BMW will mark a complete revolution – most of which will come from under the skin. The next-gen 1 Series will be propelled by the front wheels, and not the rear. Now, as surprising – or, perhaps, shocking – as this is to BMW purists, it wasn’t really a secret. Was it? Ever since the BMW Group’s UKL architecture was brought into the scene, starting with the 2 Series Active Tourer, and then in the X1 later on, it was a known fact that the 1 Series will also face a similar fate. BMW, however, insists that the dynamics of the new 1 Series will be well in line with the brand’s “sheer driving pleasure” philosophy. You won’t miss the rear wheel drive, they claim. Although, it’s quite surprising to hear such things from the same folks who not too long ago used to promote the rear traction of the 1 Series as its main USP. Anyhow, BMW is expected to have the measure of its rivals in the handling department.
Besides handling, the main focus of the new 1 Series will be practicality and comfort. And, the front-wheel drive layout will certainly come into play here since there’ll be more space for passengers at the rear, as well as more room in the luggage compartment. The A-Class, on the contrary, is reportedly going to offer a more aggressive and sportier drive. You could say that the two rivals are approaching a convergence point, where there will be an overlap of their personalities.
Which one will win over the other? Well, at this point, it’s going to be all about the aesthetics. The BMW will still have the signature lines of Karim Habib, the former design head who’s now joined Infiniti. Still, the design of the new 1 Series was frozen before his departure – so it’ll remain mostly unchanged. You may see a few touches by the group’s chief designer, Adrian van Hooydonk, on the new 1 Series though – perhaps it’ll have similar lines and angles to the recently showcased X2 Concept. Its rival from Stuttgart won’t retain the current car’s stubby looks – instead, Merc’s lead designer, Gorden Wagener, has worked on simplifying the surfaces of the new model, and will give it a single and seamless profile.
Next up, there are the engines. But, here too, the differences will be few. Today, if you want a six-cylinder under the hood, the A-Class doesn’t offer it, while the BMW does in the M140i. However, once the BMW hatch moves to the UKL front-wheel drive architecture, it can no longer accommodate a six-cylinder engine – as that platform is only compatible with four-pot motors. Given the limitation, the range topping M140i is expected to get a four-cylinder supercharged powertrain in the new generation model.
Hybrids in Sight
The xDrive all-wheel drive traction should make it in the new 1 Series, albeit with a bit of a twist – perhaps with the help of an electric motor in an unusual hybrid plug-in variant. Mercedes might answer this with an A45 AMG based version – delivering close to 400 horses as compared with the current model’s 380. The extra ponies are expected to come from an electric motor. Rumour has it that the rest of the range may come with three-cylinder turbo petrol and diesel hybrid engines. In fact, even the 1 Series will have three-cylinder engines that will be borrowed from the Mini range.
Even on the inside, the designers have followed a minimalist philosophy for the cabin. Expect the two cars to have a more essential and linear dashboard design. The interior will be less cluttered, and will have digital controls over buttons and knobs. Both cars are also expected to have the latest connectivity and state-of-the-art assistance systems. Meanwhile, the autonomous driving modes for the time being will be reserved for the top-end models.
The upcoming 1 Series will get design inputs from Adrian van Hooydonk, who has held the position of design director at the BMW Group since 2009.
All variants of the upcoming A-Class will have seamless surfaces and very few character lines. And that’s exactly how the brand’s global design director, Gorden Wagener, explains Mercedes’ new “sensual purity” design.
A SURPRISE THREE-BOX A-CLASS?
Prior to 2012, the A-Class looked more like a mini-van than the swanky hatchback it is now. So, what was this reason for this transition? Truth be told, it was more to do with the technical side of things rather than marketing or aesthetics. First, the new architecture allowed the firm to spawn new derivatives from a single model. As a result, a saloon-coupe was born in the shape of the CLA, followed by its Shooting Brake / estate version. Next to come out was the GLA crossover. However, with the next-generation A-Class, Mercedes plans to expand the range even further – the GLA, CLA and CLA Shooting Brake will be joined by a new and rather unusual three-box sedan that you see here. Mercedes gave us the first glimpse of its new sedan in April this year at the Shanghai auto show. Dubbed the “Concept A,” the show car outlined the brand’s new design language for its small cars. Why it was unveiled in China isn’t too hard to understand. Despite the increase in demand for SUVs and crossovers, everyone knows that sedans continue to be hugely popular among the Chinese. And not just China, three-box compact luxury sedans also work well in North America, and some reports predict that even Europe will soon warm up to this segment of cars. As long as it’s compact and sporty, the upcoming A-Class sedan is expected to do well. As for BMW, the firm has already got a 1 Series sedan in China, so it’s almost a given that the next-gen model will also have a three-box version.
© Riproduzione riservata
Also read: Land Rover Discovery 4 : First Impressions