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In-depth reviews

Mercedes A-Class review - Engines, performance and drive

A great cruiser with strong performance, but the A-Class has uninspiring handling and the small petrol lacks refinement

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Engines, performance and drive Rating

3.5 out of 5

Price
£30,680 to £41,890
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If there’s one aspect of the A-Class that impresses the most from behind the wheel, it’s refinement. On a motorway cruise, it’s class-leading: a 0.25 drag coefficient means that there’s barely a whisper of wind noise. The engines settle down to a barely-audible hum, and the most obvious – but not intrusive – sound comes from the tyres. 

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Like-for-like, the A-Class is 20kg lighter than the old one, even though it’s grown in every direction. While the handling is an improvement on before, this still isn’t an exciting car. It’s got plenty of grip, but the suspension is biased more closely towards security than fun. Things aren’t helped by steering which has very little feel, though it is precise and its light weight at low speeds makes the A-Class very easy to park. 

The model you choose determines the sort of rear suspension set-up you’ll get. Most versions of the A-Class use a torsion beam set-up, however, if you go for the A 180, A 200 or A 200 d engine and upgrade to Premium Plus trim, this adds more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension – the same set-up the high-performance AMG models use. The torsion beam lacks the overall control of the multi-link, but you need to be seriously pressing-on for this to be a noticeable issue.

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There is, however, a more tangible difference in ride comfort. Around town, the torsion beam jiggles ever so slightly more over short, sharp bumps, though in reality, the more advanced set-up doesn’t fare much better when compared to class rivals. The A-Class is a car that fidgets over bumps rather than smothering them – particularly on larger wheels. 

0-62mph acceleration and top speed

The entry-level A 180 manages 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds with a 134mph top speed, while upgrading to the 161bhp A 200 petrol version sees the sprint time improve to a more sprightly 8.2 seconds and 140mph. Saloons are each a tenth slower to 62mph while the A 200 gains 3mph on top speed. All perform fine on paper, then, but the torque deficit relative to the A 200 d means that these A-Class derivatives need working hard at times – effort they hastily announce through a loud, thrashy tone.

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Thankfully, the new mild-hybrid system in the A 180 and A 200 works very smoothly, cutting the engine out and starting it up again quickly, while smoothing off some of the previous lumpiness in this engine-and-gearbox combination. 

The plug-in hybrid A 250 e is only available as a saloon and it provides a healthy amount of performance despite offering upwards of 350mpg. The A 250e accelerates from 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds thanks to a combination of a 1.3-cylinder 4cyl turbo petrol with an additional electric motor which in total produces 215bhp. In EV mode, it tops out at 87mph, going on to 143mph with combustion power.

The AMG A 35 model produces 302bhp and 400Nm of torque. It will sprint from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds (4.8 in the saloon version) onto an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph, pegging it close to the VW Golf R. Power is fed to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and there are five drive modes to choose from, allowing separate adjustment of elements like the dampers, throttle and gearbox responses.

Engaging the A 35’s most aggressive drive mode transforms the car’s behaviour, feeling composed, grippy and lightning fast. It flatters in a way the old A 45 couldn’t, mimicking the Golf R’s fantastic all-weather ability and adding a welcome degree of involvement. The Golf R is perhaps slightly crisper to drive and feels slightly more agile, but most drivers will be impressed by the the A 35's incredible all-weather performance. 

The AMG A 45 S takes the honour of the fastest A-Class with a 0-62mph time of 3.9 seconds. Power is fed through an eight-speed auto 'box, while the four-wheel drive system provides an impressive amount of grip. It rivals the Audi RS 3 for performance and price, costing more than £63,000.

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    A180 SE 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £23,085

Most Economical

  • Name
    A180d SE 5dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £25,695

Fastest

  • Name
    A250 AMG Line 5dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £30,735
News reporter

As our news reporter, Ellis is responsible for covering everything new and exciting in the motoring world, from quirky quadricycles to luxury MPVs. He was previously the content editor for DrivingElectric and won the Newspress Automotive Journalist Rising Star award in 2022.

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