Mercedes A180 CDI ECO review
New low-CO2 Mercedes A180 CDI ECO aims to take top spot in the economical family hatch class
The Mercedes A180 CDI ECO is a welcome addition to the A-Class range. It isn’t perfect, but the low CO2 emissions and more relaxed dynamics mean it comes closer to matching the class best. Keen drivers will still be let down by the inconsistent steering and bizarrely lifeless pedals, although the economy figures impress. Better still, it looks and feels just like the standard A-Class inside and out – unlike some low-CO2 special editions.
The entry-level diesel A-Class, the A180 CDI, has been replaced by the Mercedes A180 CDI ECO – but while emissions are lower, performance remains unchanged.
Like the standard SE model, the ECO gets a body-coloured two-bar grille and a smooth rear bumper with a hidden exhaust, while silver 10-spoke 16-inch alloys replace the standard car’s diamond-cut five-spokes.
However, the exterior design does compromise interior space. Small back doors make access tricky, and the dark cabin doesn’t get as much light as the Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion's, so overall it feels more claustrophobic, especially in the back.
Still, the layout will be familiar to any Mercedes owner, as it features the same buttons, switches and single stalk control for the wipers, lights and indicators that you’ll find across the rest of the range. It seems solidly built and works precisely, but the VW has a higher-quality feel, with plastics that are softer to the touch, and better-damped controls.
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Fire up the 1.5-litre diesel, and you’re left in no doubt about the type of engine under the bonnet. It’s quite rattly on start-up, especially when it’s cold, and it seems to take a little time to smooth out.
The long-throw six-speed gearbox means it feels slow, too. It has a vaguer shift than the VW Golf’s transmission, while the high-set clutch pedal is awkward to use. Those long gear ratios meant the Mercedes feels significantly slower in-gear, too.
In corners, the sports suspension improves composure and agility, but there’s not much fun to be had. There’s some body roll, while the steering lacks precision. The firmer suspension also spoils comfort, with the A180 CDI ECO unsettled by bumps in town or on motorways.
Euro NCAP gave the car five stars for safety, while its percentage scores are similar to the Golf’s. You get seven airbags, plus useful kit like attention assist, collision prevention and a pop-up bonnet to help reduce pedestrian injuries. Tyre pressure monitors and radar cruise control are options.
Claimed economy of 78.5mpg is nearly 10mpg down on the VW Golf Bluemotion, but a smaller 40-litre fuel tank means the A180 can’t go as far between fills, and CO2 emissions of 92g/km won’t make any difference to road tax - all cars under 100g/km are free.
If you value practicality over style, the A180 isn’t for you. The tailgate has a narrow opening, because the large light clusters cut into the rear of the car, and the 341-litre boot is nearly 40 litres smaller than the Golf’s.
Folding the seats is a bit fiddlier, too. You can only reach the shoulder levers from the boot when the parcel shelf is removed. Our car came with the £170 optional storage pack, which brings assorted cargo nets, while a net under the parcel shelf is a neat addition.
Passenger space isn’t great, and the high-backed standard sports seats cut into rear legroom. It’s easy enough to get comfortable up front, although the view out is compromised by the small windows and large A-pillars. An electric parking brake makes room on the centre console for two cup-holders and the control wheel to navigate through the screen menus.