At £18,945, the Mercedes A-Class A180 is pitched right against mainstream C-segment hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. The new car signals a new direction for the A-Class, too, as the fuddy duddy, quasi-MPV look of the old car has been ditched in favour of a lower, wider, generally more stylish shape that’s aimed at a new generation of younger buyers for the brand.
There’s something quite un-Mercedes-like about the entry-level car’s 15-inch steel wheels that are exactly the same size as those fitted to the £5,995 Dacia Sandero. However, the complex headlights, complete with daytime running light ‘eyebrows’, go-faster creases that adorn the A-Class’s sides and aerodynamically sculpted rear end make the A180 seem like it’s cut from the same posh cloth as Merc’s larger cars.
On the inside it’s clear that, despite its price, Mercedes has worked hard to ensure that the materials and switches you touch feel really good. The door handle thunks solidly, the combined indicator and wiper stalk has a nice, damped action, and the buttons on the centre console feel like they’re made of nice, thick plastic.
You sit nice and low, with the view out a little more compromised than rivals like the Audi A3, thanks to the A-Class’s sleeker design, although the dials and the centre display for the radio and optional sat-nav are right in your line of vision. The swoopy design has also compromised the boot, which has a very small opening, because the tail-lights aren’t incorporated into the tailgate.
The engine is smooth and relatively quiet, and offers reasonable response when accelerating in and out of traffic. The standard-fit stop-start system is really fast and unobtrusive, too.
On more open roads, you have to work a bit harder with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. It’s not quite as slick as the one in the BMW 1 Series, but is easy enough to slip through the gears.
The A-Class handles well, with direct and very positive steering, powerful brakes and little body roll, although more aggressive driving does hamper fuel economy a fair bit.
However, the major bugbear with the way the A-Class drives is its ride. The A180 comes with fairly high profile tyres and Mercedes’ ‘comfort’ suspension settings. But even this extra absorption can’t mask the fact that the car is way too firm, and actually quite uncomfortable on a longer run. An A3 with standard suspension and 17-inch rims is far more relaxing.