Luxo hatchbacks: the group test

I suspect the Merc lagged due to its auto gearbox. It initially seems out of place on a car of this size, and it's not the savviest at low speeds, principally due to its short gearing, which sees it rattle through the first four of the seven ratios before it pauses for breath. At least the shifts are swift, but, all in all, it's not as satisfying a drivetrain as it should be. Noise intrusion is the issue here. It may not waggle its gearlever at start-up like the 118d, but nor is it as smooth and silent as the peachy V40. Once up and running, it's as if there's a giant fizzing Alka-Seltzer in the engine bay. It's quite distracting.

And it's not like the engine's performance is engaging enough to draw attention away from it. It's flatly consistent, doing nothing of real interest other than modestly increasing your speed. The Audi and Volvo provide more low-down shove 'n' punch, while the BMW is more exciting. For a diesel. Quick tip: both the Audi and BMW have switchable modes to enhance the sportiness of the throttle, steering, etc. In the Audi, it makes a bit of difference. In the BMW, you'll swear the car is literally asleep in Eco Pro mode; up the ante to Sport, and it's like you're driving a different car, one that responds snappily and does all the eager stuff you want.