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Mercedes A170

Roomy A-Class offers plenty of practicality as its trump card.

  • Widest boot and lowest lip here teamed with a large tailgate make it easy to load big items. Also, the only test car that can comfortably seat three adults in the back.
  • Suffers from a large amount of body roll in corners. MPV-style shape looks chunky compared to rivals here.

With a line-up that ranges in price from £13,892 to £150,097, no other manufacturer has as broad a spectrum of models in its dealerships as Mercedes. But whatever you choose, there’s no doubt that a car wearing the three-pointed star still has a certain kudos.

However, due to its unique MPV-style concept, the A-Class doesn’t quite carry off the premium image as well as the BMW or Audi. The basic concept of the Mercedes hasn’t changed since it first appeared in 1997, but with the second-generation model, the German firm’s designers tried to give it a more upmarket feel.

Yet the styling remains fairly conservative, and it’s a similar story inside, where the cabin layout is still rather functional, even if quality has improved. It’s robustly put together and the materials aren’t as brittle as before, but even our Elegance-spec model, with its standard wood trim, didn’t seem particularly luxurious – especially when compared to the Audi.

In fact, the most noticeable thing about sitting in the A-Class is the raised view of the road. The high seating position means visibility is a strong point, but the driving position is compromised by the lack of reach adjustment on the wheel – Mercedes charges £115 for this – and the fact that the seat base is a little on the firm side.

Yet with its lofty height and low window line, there’s still an excellent feeling of space in the front. And with the most legroom and headroom, it’s a similar story in the back, while the versatile load area means the A-Class is ahead of its two rivals for family friendliness.

The fact that the A-Class is roomy, well built and practical is virtually a given, but how does the baby Mercedes fare against its rivals in terms of the driving experience?

Well, the engine doesn’t have the performance of the Audi or the smooth nature of the BMW. At 1.7 litres, the A170 has the largest capacity, but the 116bhp output is the smallest here, and a 0-60mph sprint time of 10.2 seconds was 1.6 seconds slower than the A3’s.

It’s worth bearing in mind that our test car was fitted with the optional CVT gearbox, yet despite this, it rarely felt any more sluggish than the 116i. The £1,390 transmission makes life easy around town, but it maintains high revs under hard acceleration, which doesn’t help refinement on the open road.

Yet when cruising lower in the rev range, the A-Class recorded the best sound figures at 30mph and 70mph, giving figures of 57dB and 67dB respectively. However, the A170’s engine lacks character, and that’s a criticism that can be applied to the driving experience as a whole. While the A-Class is relatively secure in corners, its short wheelbase and relatively tall body mean it displays more roll than either of its rivals. It’s also the first to surrender to understeer.

The steering is light and devoid of feedback, and while the ride isn’t firm, it’s let down by damping that allows the car to fidget over uneven surfaces, which means the traction control cuts in frequently. And while the A-Class recorded decent stopping distances, the brake pedal lacks bite. It’s practical, but has the A-Class got a broad enough range of talents to win this test?

Details

Price: £17,782
Model tested: Mercedes A170 Elegance SE 5dr
Chart position: 3
WHY: The A-Class has a focus on practicality, and is the cheapest route into Mercedes ownership.

Economy

Mercedes quotes 42.6mpg combined for this A-Class – that’s 5mpg more than BMW claims for the 1-Series. So the A170’s 28.6mpg return is disappointing. When driven hard, our car’s optional CVT box has a thirst for fuel.

Residuals

The A-Class doesn’t retain its value as well as either competitor here. It’s predicted to hold on to 39.8 per cent of its showroom price, so after three years and 36,000 miles, the A170 would be worth only £7,077. That’s below par.

Servicing

We were quoted £850 for three services on the A-Class – that’s £60 less than for the A3. But Mercedes garages may not treat you as well. They came 18th out of 32 in our Driver Power 2007 dealer survey; Audi was 16th and BMW 11th.

Tax

Its 157g/km output is only slightly higher than the Audi’s, but is enough to put the Mercedes into the next tax group. So it’s the costliest business choice, at £704 annually for a lower-band earner. That’s £128 a year more than for the 1-Series.

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