Mercedes A-Class review
The Mercedes A-Class has ditched its dumpy MPV styling and is now a proper rival to the Audi A3, VW Golf and BMW 1 Series
The Mercedes A-Class used to be a tall, compact MPV-style hatchback, but the current model has changed all that: it's now a smart, stylish and sporty hatchback, more like its rivals. The A-Class takes on the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and VW Golf in at the premium end of the family hatchback market - one of the most competitive new car segments in Britain.
The new A-Class is better looking than ever, but it also features a hugely improved interior, loads of up-to-date technology and a competitive engine range. It's better to drive too, which is a big bonus for potential buyers.
The range of engines and specifications is solid, with the lowest-price A180 SE starting off the model line-up and the incredibly fast A45 AMG hot hatch being the most expensive model you can buy.
We recommend the A180 CDI diesel for most buyers, as it offers good performance with low running costs. It's free to tax thanks to the low emissions, but for an even bigger saving on fuel you can go for the A180 CDI ECO model, which boasts emissions of 92g/km of CO2 and over 78mpg.
Although the BMW 1 Series is the top of this class for handling, the Mercedes A-Class is still grippy and fast (with the higher-powered engines fitted). The Mercedes A-Class AMG model, the A45, is one of the fastest hot hatchbacks ever, thanks to over 350bhp and four-wheel drive, plus a paddle-shift automatic gearbox.
Buyers can choose from SE, SE ECO, Sport, AMG Sport and top-spec Engineered by AMG specifications, as well as the A45. The top-spec models get bigger wheels and stiffer suspension, so be aware of what you're buying if you're looking for a more comfortable ride.
The A-Class is now a serious contender in the premium hatchback class, and those looking at a BMW 1 Series or Audi A3 should definitely give it a look.
Our choice: A180 CDI SE
Engines, performance and drive
With sporty AMG badges, bodykits and stiffer suspension, the higher-spec A-Class models are clearly aimed at those looking for a car that's fun to drive. However, the BMW 1 Series still trumps the Mercedes in this department.
Like many other Mercedes models, the A-Class feels decently sporty, but it lacks the direct steering and responsive handling of the BMW. There's plenty of grip, especially in the four-wheel drive models, but the ride is too firm on UK roads. This is particularly true if you opt for high-spec cars with sports suspension and bigger alloy wheels.
The diesel engines are powerful enough, but they sound quite gruff and are a bit too noisy around town. Petrol models are better, but aren't as efficient and could do with being a bit more powerful to keep up with traffic easily. The A45 AMG model is a totally different story - while it's not very economical, it is incredibly fast, going from 0-62mph in just 4.6 seconds.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The entry-level petrol A180 costs about as much as a mid-spec Ford Focus, making it pretty good value. Our favourite engine, the A180 CDI diesel, is Mercedes’ first model to dip below the 100g/km barrier but it is a bit more expensive to buy in the first place. The other diesels are reasonably efficient, too: the A200 CDI AMG Sport model manages 62.8mpg, while the A220 CDI with the DCT automatic gearbox returns 67.3mpg.
The most economical model in the range is the A180 CDI ECO, which gets fuel economy of 78.5mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 92g/km of CO2. Unlike other eco variants like the VW Golf BlueMotion, this model retains the stylish exterior look, too.
Every model gets stop-start, while the optional seven-speed double-clutch gearbox also posts better economy figures than the manual models. Although the A-Class slightly undercuts posh rivals like the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, you need to check the spec sheets carefully because it’s not especially generously equipped and you can easily ramp up the costs with extras.
Interior, design and technology
With its new face, lower roofline and sporty kit on the options list, the Mercedes A-Class is much more desirable than the frumpy previous model. It's up there with the Volvo V40 as one of the best-looking hatchbacks you can buy, premium or otherwise - certainly beating its German rivals, the BMW 1 Series, VW Golf and Audi A3.
Standard equipment includes USB and Bluetooth connectivity, alloy wheels and sports seats, which look great. Move up to the Engineered by AMG trim and you can make the A-Class look even better, as it includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a different diamond grille, xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights. Go for the A45 AMG and you get a sporty bodykit, lowered suspension and a twin-exit exhaust.
The interior is classy and much better than the previous model's but the Audi A3 and VW Golf beat it in terms of quality and functional design. Some of the plastics aren't of the best standard and the finish doesn't quite match the VW Group cars' interiors.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Thanks to the new, sleeker styling the A-Class is 160mm lower, as well as being longer and wider - but that shift in dimensions has made the boot quite a bit smaller and less practical.
Both the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 have larger boots, and the opening to the A-Class' is narrow, which makes it hard to get larger objects in and out.
Today's A-Class isn't likely to appeal to the same audience as the original car. You have to step down into the car as you would with a sports coupe, the old high-riding model was more suited to older buyers who might have had trouble getting into lower vehicles.
The sleek roofline means rear headroom isn't the best, especially at the sides - taller passengers will feel themselves tilting their neck to fit in. The narrow glasshouse means that rear visibility isn't great either. Legroom is decent, however.
Go for the AMG Sport or Engineered by AMG trims and the ride is seriously compromised due to the larger alloy wheels and stiffer springs proving quite uncomfortable on Britain’s rutted roads.
Reliability and Safety
With technology trickling down from the imperious S-Class luxury saloon, Mercedes has always been ahead of the game when it comes to safety. ESP and Collision Prevention Assistance comes as standard, but do be aware that this is not a full autonomous braking system – it won’t entirely prevent you from hitting the car in front.
There's Pre-safe, which prepares you and the car for an impending accident, and plenty of other high-tech kit is available even if it does add a lot to the price of the A-Class. It all helped the car get the full five stars from the crash safety experts at Euro NCAP.
Mercedes performed well in the 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, coming in 9th place overall in the manufacturer chart and beating its close rivals BMW and Audi.