Both use automatic gearboxes (an eight-speed torque convertor for the Ford, seven-speed dual-clutch auto for the Merc). They also both have MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension.
And the cost? There’s less than £1000 in it, in the sporty ST-Line X trim in the Focus, and the sporty, erm, Sport trim of the A-Class. By the time you fiddle with the various standard kits and options, you end up with quite literally just a few extra pennies for the Mercedes. Translate that to a PCP deal and a monthly payment, and diddly-squat becomes the numerical value.
The point? For however brilliant the Focus is to drive, and it is that, the quality of Mercedes and its overall package are of huge appeal, and the best example of how the premium players are squeezing the middle-market mainstream brands with cars such as the A-Class. Ask the average car buyer whether they’d have a Ford or a Mercedes for the same money, and we can all guess the answer.
It’s working for Mercedes, too. The A-Class is perhaps the most commonly spotted new car I’ve seen on the roads this autumn, after the ubiquitous Ford Fiesta. Hardly surprising, when it was the third bestselling new car in the UK in September. Third bestselling? Crikey.
Like me, all those owners will be discovering more about what an interesting car it is to live with. The Mercedes’ interior and technology are in a different league from anything else the segment has seen.
The MBUX infotainment system may be ‘only’ the entry-level one with the two 7.0in screens rather than the full S-Class-style widescreen treatment across the whole dashboard, but it’s wanting for nothing in functionality.
I’m experimenting more with the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice activation system, which is definitely one of the better ones I’ve encountered. The trick is to speak to it normally, and not like a robot. ‘Hey Mercedes, can you call Andrew Frankel, please?’ will have you on the phone to the road test guru faster than ‘Hey Mercedes. Call. ANDREW FRANKEL’. ‘I’m sorry, could you repeat that?’
I’m continuing to be bowled over by the effortless efficiency of the A180d. The economy has settled around 60mpg now the weather has got colder, a quite extraordinary figure and in another league again to the 45mpg or so average I got from a similar drivetrain in the Focus. That’s another part of the financial argument in the Merc’s favour.
Yet there’s a negative point on the transmission, specifically at step-off. It’s just so darn slow to react. Take this example. There’s a T-junction on my commute on the edge of town. You have to pull across the traffic to join a lane that has just come around a blind corner. Gaps in the traffic can be only a second or two, so once you add in your reaction time and the time for the transmission to engage and then to pull away, the gap could well have gone.