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Mercedes-Benz A-Class A200 CDI AMG Sport 5dr vs. Seat Leon 2.0 TDI FR 5dr

Mercedes-Benz A-Class A200 CDI AMG Sport 5dr

Mercedes-Benz A-Class A200 CDI AMG Sport 5dr

Price: £25,110

Mercedes caused quite a stir when they launched the new A-Class - the ugly, small family MPV looks of the old car were ditched in favour of a more mainstream family hatchback appearance. Alongside the latest generation VW Golf and BMW 1-Series, it looks the part, with more style than either combined.

But looks aren't everything. To be a good family hatchback in this premium space, the A-Class needs to merge an excellent drive with practicality, quality across the board, and low running costs.

So what has it been able to achieve?

Practicality? No - it has a smaller boot at 340-litres than a Golf, A3, or Leon, which all have 380-litre boots.

Running costs? No - the A200 CDI will return just 62.8 mpg versus the 68.9 mpg of the Seat Leon 2.0 TDI FR 5dr.

Tax? No - with a CO2 rating of 121 g /km, the A-Class costs £105 in annual tax versus the £20 annual tax of the Leon, thanks to its CO2 rating of 106 g/km.

Power? No - the A-Class A200 CDI produces just 134 bhp and 199 lb /ft versus the 148 bhp and 236 lb /ft of the Leon.

So the A-Class is not as practical, economical, cheap to run, or as powerful as an equivalent Leon. So why on earth does it cost more?

Seeking as answer to this question, I started with what I could see - quality. Inside, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is very sporty indeed. It has sports seats that hug you, a gorgeous steering wheel, race-inspired dials, and a carbon fibre effect on the front dash. The quality of the interior is great, that is, until you start to touch the door cards, centre console, glove box, or underneath the foot wells, where hard plastics have been used to save money during production.

All of this adds up to create an interior which, in my opinion, is only as good as a Leon FR's.

So what about equipment?

Both the Mercedes-Benz A-Class A200 CDI AMG Sport 5dr and Seat Leon 2.0 TDI FR 5dr have climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, and automatic wipers. But optional equipment on the A-Class, such as satellite navigation, power folding mirrors, and front and rear parking sensors all come as standard on the Leon FR. Seat are even offering full LED lights at the moment for free.

So does the A-Class have anything going for it?

Looks, and that's it. It looks much nicer than the Leon and it also has a more appealing badge. But I have never come across two cars in the same segment which share the same quality, where one is much better than the other at everything yet the worse machine costs so much more. The A-Class just doesn't make sense. 

Seat Leon 2.0 TDI FR 5dr

Seat Leon 2.0 TDI FR 5dr

Price: £21,565

The Seat Leon and Mercedes-Benz A-Class might not look like competitors (the Audi A3, the pinnacle of MQB platform hatchbacks, is the A-Class competitor) but the Leon is the only VAG hatchback that has similar interior quality to the Mercedes. Wait, what? That's right - even though Mercedes have done some design wonders with the A-Class interior, the Volkswagen Golf's is significantly better. The A3's is light-years better. That leaves just the Leon.

From the driving seat, the Leon is a nice place to be. FR trim has become somewhat diluted in recent years, but the formula remains the same - you get sporty seats (cloth, alcantara, or full leather), a chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel, and a splattering of FR badges around the cabin. You also get some very neat doorsill lighting and lots of soft touch materials.

Because the Leon gets third place parts, it lacks the polish of a Golf or A3 inside. But it's on-par with the A-Class, which like the Leon, is let down by cheap plastics for the glove box, centre console, and lower interior areas. This is fine for the Leon, because you expect it, but in a Mercedes? Not so great.

On the move, the Leon is better to drive than the A-Class. The 2.0-litre TDI engine in this Leon has 148 bhp and 236 lb /ft of torque, which is enough for it to get from 0 - 62 mph in 8.4 seconds. That's a full 0.9 seconds faster than the A-Class. Hand over £990, and you get the same 2.0-litre TDI engine as in the Golf GTD, along with the same performance brakes and multi-link rear suspension. With 184 bhp and 280 lb /ft, that version of the FR rips the A200 CDI apart on the road with a 0 - 62 time of 7.5 seconds.

The A-Class does ride better though. Even on lowered AMG Sport suspension, the FR suspension feels firm compared to it and it also feels a little more unsettled over bumpy roads. This is a trade off, though, because the Leon is quieter at speed than the A-Class and offers better steering.

So what about practicality? Well, the Leon triumphs again. It has a 380-litre boot versus the A-Class's 340-litres.

Overall

With a near £4,000 price difference, you might still be wondering why I have chosen to compare these two cars, so let me spell it out to you - the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is not worth the extra, because the Leon is an equal car to it. It is better at speed, much quicker, and feels just as good inside. It might not look as good, but that's the small price you pay for saving a lot of cash.

So if you are considering an A-Class, take a long hard look at the Leon. It's a better car.

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