New Mercedes A 180 SE 2019 review
The Mercedes A 180 SE is the cheapest way to buy a new Mercedes, but is a bog-standard A-Class something worth considering?
Those stepping up from more mainstream models will feel satisfied to be sitting on the first rung of the Mercedes ownership ladder. The A 180 is fast enough, pretty frugal and good to drive, while SE spec throws in kit that’s inconspicuous on more expensive rivals. If you’re tempted by the pricier A 200, we’d save some cash and spend the difference on a few choice options.
In SE spec, as tested here, it comes with a Renault-sourced 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine and a six-speed manual gearbox. But does that mean those unable to stretch to the more powerful and arguably more desirable A 200 AMG Line, should feel short-changed?
If, hypothetically, you were trading down from a Mercedes C-Class or E-Class, there’s a very real chance the stubby gear lever on the centre console might take you by surprise; the usual auto box’s column-mounted shifter offers a much cleaner dashboard design. But to those switching from a Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf, it’s business as usual – albeit in a tech-laden, leather-lined suit.
Every new A-Class – including the basic SE – comes with twin digital displays, sat-nav, Live Traffic information and keyless go. Quality is excellent; the doors shut with that characteristic Mercedes thud, and the dash is covered in squashy plastics. The only place you’ll find scratchier materials is on the very lower part of the front seats, in fact, but all the regular touchpoints feel solidly screwed together.
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Delve a little deeper and you’ll find that leather is actually made from ARTICO man-made fabric. But this is something Mercedes is implementing right across the range as an environmental upgrade, rather than an attempt to cut costs. Either way, it looks and feels like the real thing. While the standard central display appears a little small alongside the larger set-up in better-specced cars, in isolation it looks just fine – especially when you consider the fact the left-hand side of the steering wheel slices neatly between the two.
Under the bonnet, you’ll find a de-tuned version of the A 200’s 1.3-litre petrol engine. Instead of that car’s 161bhp output, the A 180 produces just 134bhp, while torque (200Nm versus 250Nm) is down, too. But linked to the six-speed manual gearbox, the cheapest A-Class never feels slow; it doesn’t launch like a hot hatch, but performance will be more than adequate for most buyers. The shift is even pretty sweet – the springy feel of old Merc manuals is gone, replaced by a pleasingly short and notchy throw.
It’s even a fairly accomplished motorway cruiser. You’ll need to work the box for peak performance, as it doesn’t shift down automatically like the DCT. But it’ll sit quietly at a steady 70mph, with those deep-profile tyres cushioning the A’s occupants from the UK’s all-too-frequent potholes.
So should you step up to the faster A 200, or indeed Merc’s high-end trims? An A 180 SE will cost you around £357 per month on a 36-month, 10,000-mile a year PCP deal with a 10 per cent deposit. There are tangible benefits to spending another £18 per month on the Sport-spec’s LED lights and two-zone climate control, of course, not to mention the aesthetic gains gifted by the 17-inch wheels.
But we’d argue that another £27 per month (£402/month) for the equivalent A 200 is money better spent on the A-Class’s excellent Executive Package, which adds heated front seats, Active Parking Assist and a larger 10-inch media display.
Company car drivers looking for a slice of the premium pie will be pleased to hear the A 180 sits two percentage points lower (29 per cent vs 31 per cent from April 2019) than the A 200 when it comes to Benefit in Kind taxation, though the auto version of each is cleaner still. Those numbers pip the BMW 118i, but fall shy of the latest Audi A3 35 TFSI – despite its sizeable power deficit.