Status symbols don’t get any more prominent than a new prestige car parked in the driveway – especially when it’s German.

TECHNOLOGY

Stop-start engine management is standard across the board. It’s a quick and easy way to help trim fuel use. The Merc and the Audi use seven-speed dual-clutch automatics.

Audi has the fuel economy edge, claiming 5.0L/100km against the others’ 5.8L, and also comes with tyre pressure monitoring.

The ace up the A180’s sleeve is the standard parking software that will take over the steering inputs when parallel parking. Given the younger target audience and city-biased nature of the car, this is smart marketing.

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DESIGN

The A-Class is the extrovert of this crowd. It was styled from the ground up to appeal to a younger demographic than the longstanding Merc buyer and consequently has more panel surfacing and interior textures than its opposition. Highlights are the carbon-fibre-esque weave across the dash, the SLS-style air vents and the swoopy lines that lift the exterior profile. The plastic steering wheel is one of the few downsides.

Audi’s A3 Sportback is a practical package with a premium feel. The attention to detail is hard to fault and every element is designed to increase space or the sensation thereof.

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SAFETY

As expected, these are all five-star cars with high levels of safety for occupants backed by decent protection for errant pedestrians. The A3 scores 36.41/37 in the ANCAP crash-test analysis, is fitted with seven airbags and, like the others, has intelligent seat belt reminders on all pews.

The nine airbags in the A-Class add to a 35.8 rating. ANCAP has yet to assess its standard forward collision mitigation – audible and sensory warnings if the A180 gets too close to the car in front.

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DRIVING

The Audi is the more compliant of the two. It cruises over speed humps without being soft enough to split the front spoiler or hard enough to slam occupants’ heads on the roof. The steering isn’t as precise as the other pair and loses a little in driver feedback. Road noise on coarse-chip surfaces is its biggest flaw. The Merc is stiffer-sprung without being close to the sports suspension on the A250.

VERDICT

All-round excellence gives the Benz the win but the Audi is an uncomfortably close second.

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