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
With downsizing all the rage among buyers of posh hatchbacks, the old Mercedes A-Class couldn’t cut the mustard. This all-new model was introduced in 2012 and is the manufacturer's first genuine rival to the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3, Volvo V40 and VW Golf. It's clearly aimed at a younger audience than the old car - it's more dynamic to look at and to drive, and comes in a wide variety of trim options, including aggressive AMG Sport and Engineered by AMG specs. There’s a broad range of petrol and diesel engines, too, including an entry-level A180 BlueEFFICIENCY, an A180 CDI diesel engine with a tax-busting 99g/km of CO2 and a powerful A250 version with 208bhp. There's even an A45 AMG model on the way, which will have four-wheel drive and around 350bhp to rival the BMW M135i. However, the A-Class isn’t as sporty as a 1 Series and optional extras can push the list price skyward very rapidly.
Our choice: A180 CDI SE
Mercedes ‘clean sheet’ approach to the new A-Class means the latest model bears no resemblance to the old car – this is no facelift, that's for sure. Mercedes’ designers have produced a stunning looking small hatchback, a world away from the upright mini-MPV predecessor. It’s more striking than the 'same again' Audi A3, and more dashing than the ugly duckling 1 Series. Only the Volvo V40 gets close to the A-Class’s catwalk looks. Base models get USB and Bluetooth, but you'll need to upgrade to SE for 16-inch alloys and sports seats. Add Sport, AMG Sport or Engineered by AMG trim and its looks are amplified even further, with the flagship model getting 18-inch alloy wheels, a curvy diamond grille and Xenon headlights. The interior is similarly stylish, with a great looking, easy to use dash. That said, where the dashboard meets with the door looks a bit ungainly - as if two designers didn’t talk.
With SE, Sport and AMG Sport trim levels, plus the top-of-the-range A250 model being badged Engineered by AMG, it’s clear that Mercedes is aiming at the BMW 1 Series with the A-Class. However, the A-Class drives like a Merc, meaning it’s decently sporting, but without the dynamic edge that makes BMWs so special. While grip levels are high, the ride is far too firm for British roads, especially if you opt for cars with sports suspension and bigger alloy wheels. The steering isn’t as sharp as its BMW rival, either. Top models aside, performance isn’t exactly scintillating, while some of the diesel engines sound very gruff and the seven-speed automatic gearbox is slow to react at times.
Mercedes has long led the world when it comes to safety, and the new A-Class continues that tradition. This no doubt helped the baby Merc gain a full five stars when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2012. Every model comes with ESP and Collision Prevention Assistance, but it’s not a full autonomous braking system – it won’t entirely prevent you from hitting the car in front. Pre-safe, which prepares you and the car for an impending accident, and plenty of other high-tech is available, much of it rolling down from the S-Class. But much of it is on the options list and not standard. Mercedes finished a respectable 8th in the 2012 Driver Power survey, suggesting there shouldn’t be reliability issues with the A-Class.
The penalty of Mercedes’ shift from mini MPV to super-stylish hatchback is practicality. It’s 160mm lower, and longer and wider, too but the stylish coupe-style looks have had a big impact on the boot dimensions. Its opening is narrow,it's more than 90 litres smaller than in its predecessor’s and smaller than a BMW 1 Series or Audi A3, too. As you’d expect, because the car is lower, you’re now getting down into an A-Class, although rear legroom is still okay. Headroom is good but the roof does narrow at each side, while the rising waistline means you can feel a bit hemmed in. Over the shoulder visibility is none too special, either. 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.
The petrol-powered A180 costs less than £19,000 and the A180 CDI diesel is Mercedes’ first model to dip below the 100g/km barrier, while the other diesels are reasonably efficient, too. So running costs should be as low as downsizers stepping into this premium small hatch class would expect – even the petrol models are suitably efficient. 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 its posh rivals, check the spec sheets carefully because it’s not especially generously equipped and you can easily ramp up the costs with extras.