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

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. 

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. The A 250 gets a multi-link rear setup, as does the A 200 AMG Line. The A180 d, however, gets a less sophisticated, cheaper torsion beam set-up. 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. 

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. 

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

Of the engines available, it’s best to aim either low or high in the A-Class range. The entry-level A 180 d has a very sweet unit: co-developed with Renault, the 1.5-litre lump is smooth (both in noise and power delivery), quiet, and easily the most frugal choice in the range. Stats of 10.5 seconds to 62mph and a 126mph top speed are leisurely rather than thrilling, but it’s otherwise excellent.

The 2.0-litre petrol in the A 250 scratches the performance car itch; a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds and 155mph top speed puts it into hot hatch territory, and though not exactly tuneful, it sounds sporty enough. The automatic gearbox – an in-house unit as opposed to the diesel’s Getrag – can be a little slow to respond, especially when using the paddle shifters.

The 1.3-litre petrol in the A 180 and A 200 uses the superior Getrag ‘box, but otherwise there’s little else to recommend it. The A 180 manual version covers the 0-62mph dash in 9.2 seconds and maxes out at 134mph, while the A 200 manual is 1.0 second and 6mph faster respectively. Both perform fine on paper, then, but the torque deficit relative to the 180 d means that these A-Class derivatives need working hard at times – effort they hastily announce through a loud, thrashy tone. They’re undoubtedly the weakest units in the current range.

The A 250e is the only hybrid currently available and it provides a healthy amount of performance despite offering up to 282.5mpg. The A 250e accelerates from 0-62mph in an impressive 6.6 seconds thanks to a combination of a 1.3-cylinder 4cyl turbo petrol with an additional electric motor which in total produces 215bhp.

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 well over £50,000.

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