Mercedes freshens up the A-Class and adds eco-friendly stop-start technology.
There has always been a great deal of potential in the A-Class. It’s flexible, spacious and very well built – and it looks different to mainstream family models, too. The highlight of this latest round of changes to the range is the stop-start system, which brings about some useful fuel savings. But performance isn’t particularly impressive and the baby Mercedes is still wooden to drive, with an uncomfortable ride and only average handling. Plus, even in basic Classic trim, it’s quite an expensive choice, at nearly £16,000.
Don’t worry, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. This really is Mercedes’ new A-Class. With subtly tweaked headlamps, bumpers and a restyled front grille, it doesn’t look a lot different to the model it replaces – but there are revisions underneath the skin that are much more significant.
These include the new fuel-saving stop-start system, called Blue Efficiency, which is available on the petrol A170 we drive. There’s also a fresh cabin and more safety kit. Do the changes finally put the A-Class on terms with the BMW 1-Series?
Well, the stop-start kit alone allows Mercedes to match its rival. Fitted to the four-cylinder petrol 1.7-litre, it operates smoothly, switching off the en-gine when you shift into neutral below 5mph while braking. As soon as the clutch is pressed or the middle pedal released, the engine frees up again.
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This helps reduce fuel consumption from 42.8mpg to 46.3mpg, although CO2 output is unchanged at 157g/km. An ‘eco’ light on the dash tells you the system is active – it’s possible to turn off the stop-start function – plus there is a shift alert signalling the optimum point at which to change gear.
The engine is mated to a five-speed manual transmission, and offers reasonable performance in town. But on motorways, it becomes a little noisy.
As for the rest of the car, it’s business as usual. The suspension remains unchanged, the ride rather stiff, the steering is still imprecise and the seating position awkward, with not enough thigh support.
All-round visibility is great, though, and access to the high-mounted seats is easy. The dashboard is clean and functional, too. Other than revised fabrics, the interior is carried over, and it remains a quality affair.
Top-spec cars now have the option of a new ‘infotainment’ system, with hard disc sat-nav, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.
Safety equipment is improved, too. The brake lights flash if you have to do an emergency stop to warn following vehicles, while a new hill-hold system prevents the car rolling back when pulling away on slopes. What’s more, thanks to its twin-height boot, simple folding rear seats and big load area, the A-Class is as practical as ever.
Do these changes go far enough? Well, the 1-Series is still a better car, but the entry Mercedes is now more frugal – and thus more appealing.