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
You'd be forgiven for thinking this latest Mercedes A-Class is a completely different model line to the original version. It no longer looks like a mini-MPV, instead the lines are much more in-keeping with those of the premium hatchback cars it counts as rivals. The Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and VW Golf now have another serious competitor thanks to this stylish and classy new A-Class.
It's not just better on the outside, either. The Mercedes A-Class is better to drive as well, with a much more inviting interior design and a raft of new safety technology thrown in for good measure.
The range of engines and specifications is solid and there is plenty of choice, from the entry-level A180 petrol SE to the extremely quick A45 AMG hot hatch. For most buyers the best engine to go for is the A180 CDI diesel, which is a strong performer with low running costs - it emits just 99g/km of CO2, making it free to tax. If you really want to keep costs down, however, go for the A180 CDI ECO model, which boasts emissions of 92g/km of CO2 and over 78mpg.
There's plenty of grip and the higher-powered engines are pretty fast, but keen drivers will prefer the excellent BMW 1 Series when it comes to handling. There are five main specifications to choose from: SE, SE ECO, Sport, AMG Sport and top-spec Engineered by AMG. These sporty top-spec models get bigger wheels and stiffer suspension.
The most powerful, and most expensive, model in the range is the Mercedes A45 AMG, which has over 350bhp and four-wheel drive. Overall the A-Class is a classy and efficient car that gives the other German premium hatchbacks a run for their money.
Our choice: A180 CDI SE
The new Mercedes A-Class is a world away from the frumpy old model, with a lower roofline, longer bonnet and the latest Mercedes family face characterised by the large grille and three-pointed star. It's better looking than the plain Audi A3 and much more stylish than the BMW 1 Series - it's up there with the Volvo V40 as one of the best-looking hatchbacks you can buy, premium or otherwise.
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.
With the A-Class' sporty looks and AMG badges being used throughout the range, it's clear that the Mercedes hatchback is setting its sights on the best-handling premium hatch crown. The BMW 1 Series has something to say about that and the A-Class can't match the BMW when it comes to driver engagement.
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.
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 car. It all helped the A-Class get the full five stars from crash safety experts at Euro NCAP.
Mercedes is becoming one of the most reliable and liked brands in the country, with a solid 5th place finish in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey – five places ahead of Audi and 10 ahead of BMW. The A-Class was too new to feature but given the performance of the Mercedes brand as a whole, it seems likely to do well in next year's results.
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. T
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.
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 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.