Mercedes A-Class review
The latest Mercedes A-Class is a premium hathback rival to the Audi A3, VW Golf and BMW 1 Series
The first-generation Mercedes A-Class was a bit of a departure from the German brand. It was a tall, compact hatchback with shades of mini-MPV about it, majoring on safety and ease of driving. The second-generation model followed this formula, too, but in 2012 Mercedes launched the current A-Class which ditched this formula in favour of a smart, stylish and sporty-looking hatchback body.
A minor facelift in 2015 gave the A-Class new lights front and rear and new engines under the bonnet, making it a real rival to the likes of the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series at the premium end of the family hatchback market.
The A-Class certainly looks attractive, and it also features a classy looking interior, with loads of cutting edge technology and cars are powered by a range of efficient petrol and diesel engines.
The range of engines is broad, starting with the A 180 SE starting off the model line-up and the incredibly fast A 45 AMG hot hatch being the most expensive model you can buy.
We recommend the A 180d diesel for most buyers, as it offers reasonable performance with low running costs. It's free to tax thanks to 89g/km emissions, but go for anything bigger, or even upgrade to Sport trim, and emissions immediately break the 100g/km barrier.
The BMW 1 Series is at the top of this class for handling, and the Mercedes A-Class isn't as fun to drive as its sporty looks would suggest. The Mercedes A-Class AMG model, the A 45, 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, Sport, AMG Line and AMG specifications, as well as the A 45. 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 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, although we'd recommend you try before you buy, as it's not the most spacious model around.
Engines, performance and drive
With sporty 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 if you go for a four-wheel drive model, 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.
Go for an A 200d, and you get Merc's trusty 2.1-litre diesel under the bonnet. It makes 134bhp in this guise, but as mentioned, it's rather noisy when compared to rivals. Add a seven-speed DCT gearbox, and while it delivers smooth shifts, they're not as fast as the DSG-equipped Audi A3. Seventh is relatively long geared, to, so it kicks down readily at motorway speeds, but thankfully doesn’t jerk between ratios.
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Mercedes has fitted the Dynamic Select system to the A-Class, which lets you choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual driving modes. Eco blunts the throttle response enough to be frustrating, while Sport mode holds on to gears for longer to boost acceleration, although that does mean the engine sounds harsh. There are paddles on the wheel to allow you to take manual control of the gearbox, but the plastic shifters aren’t that pleasant to use, and, most of the time, the electronics do a good enough job of finding the right ratio.
In corners, the A-Class continues to be a bit of a letdown. The numb steering doesn’t offer any feedback, while the chassis lacks the agility found in an Audi A3 or BMW 1 Series. The Mercedes suffers with understeer, leaving you uninspired by its driving dynamics.
Slotting in just below the rapid AMG A 45 is the A 250 AMG hot hatch. Power comes from the same four-cylinder turbo petrol engine as the A 45, but power drops from 381bhp to 215bhp. A few years ago, that would’ve been a fair amount, yet today, it’s at the lower end of the power charts when compared to front-drive rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R and SEAT Leon Cupra.
Mercedes claims that the A 250 can sprint from 0-62mph in just 6.3 seconds, but damp conditions during our test meant we only managed a best 0-60mph time of seven seconds. That was half
a second slower than the a VW Golf GTI in the same conditions, although the two cars posted identical times through the gears from 30-70mph – both clocking 5.3 seconds. In-gear acceleration was similar, too, although the slightly shorter-geared VW edging ahead in the higher ratios.
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The Mercedes A 250 feels heavy in corners in comparison to a Golf GTI, and it isn’t as agile. The steering is positive and turn-in is sharp, but there isn’t much feedback. Plus, while there’s plenty of grip, the chassis doesn’t feel as composed as the GTI’s when you push the limits. The six-speed manaul model doesn’t have quite the same positive shift as a GTI, either, while getting on the power early on the exit of corners sees the nose push wide where the Golf tucks in and sticks to your chosen line.
Take it easy, and the A 250 is on the firm side. It features sports dampers as standard, and while they do a good job of soaking up big bumps, the car’s stiff chassis tends to follow crests and dips in the road – making for a fidgety ride. Mercedes does offer adaptive dampers for £595, and these are synchronised with the standard Dynamic Select system to enhance the car’s ride.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The entry-level petrol A 180 costs about as much as a mid-spec Ford Focus, making it pretty good value. Our favourite engine, the A 180d diesel dips below the 100g/km barrier but it is a bit more expensive to buy in the first place. The other diesels are reasonably efficient: the A 200d AMG Sport manages a claimed 62.8mpg. Every model gets stop-start, while the optional seven-speed double-clutch gearbox posts better economy figures than the manual models across the board. Adding a DCT automatic gearbox to the A 200d boosts economy to a claimed 74.3mpg.
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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. Mercedes offers upgrade packs that range in price from just under £1,000 to nearly £3,000, while some of the options they offer aren't available as individual items.
The A-Class range covers groups 17 to 31, with most models in the 20s. The A 250 AMG has similar insurance costs as its hot hatchback rivals, and is a more wallet-friendly choice than the A 45, which is in Group 44.
Interior, design and technology
With its bold grille, low roofline and sporty dimensions, 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.
The mid-life refresh in 2015 was pretty subtle, with the biggest difference being revised lights at the front and rear, plus the new badging at the back designed to identify diesel or hybrid models easier. Go for a Sport version and you get 18-inch wheels and a diamond pattern grille, although it forgoes the chrome finish seen on higher-spec AMG versions. One thing to note is that Sport models don't get lowered suspension, unlike some rivals. The range gets a variety of metallic paints, from bright green and purple, for £575, to matt grey for £1,795. But even in standard white, the A-Class looks sharp.
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Inside, the Mercedes remains largely unchanged, with big updates coming in the form of revised trim levels. The A 200d Sport has the same chequerboard finish to the dash as you’ll find in other models, while the trio of circular air vents add a modern touch. The interior is classy, 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.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The tablet-style infotainment screen is easy enough to navigate via the rotary controls on the centre console, but it looks like it’s an aftermarket fitting, compared to VW’s integrated display and Audi’s slick pop-up screen. Man-made Artico leather comes as standard, although its slightly harder feel means you can notice the difference between that and the optional hide you get in rivals.
Build quality in the cabin is first rate, but some of the plastics do feel rather hard, especially those
for the window switches and infotainment controls, although a bank of metal buttons below the multimedia controls gives a slightly classier feel.
Standard kit is reasonable, with climate control, a reversing camera and Bluetooth all included. However, sat-nav and DAB radio are options, while both rivals have them as standard, plus desirable kit such as LED headlights and adaptive cruise control is only available as part of expensive option packs.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The racy looks of this A-Class are appealing, but the price you pay for them is a relatively cramped interior. A boot capacity of 341 litres is nearly 40 litres down on the VW Golf and Audi A3 Sportback, while a high sill and narrow tailgate opening mean it’s even trickier to load large items in and out.
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Leg room, head room and passenger space
Rear legroom is tighter, too, while the small windows and black materials used throughout the cabin make it feel claustrophobic. There’s plenty of seat and wheel adjustment to help you get comfortable, and while the view out the back is restricted by the small windows and thick C-pillars, a reversing camera is included on most models as standard. You get a decent-sized glovebox and armrest cubby, too.
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Go for the AMG-badged 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. You get six airbags, tyre pressure monitors and collision prevention assist. But cruise control is a £260 option on most models, and goodies such as lane keeping and traffic sign recognition are included in option packs.
The A-Class placed 119th in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey – well behind the Golf, in 30th. It was a different story for Mercedes’ dealers, which came in 21st – nine spots ahead of VW's – yet that’s still not great considering the brand’s premium status.