Right now, there are just three engines to pick from: a lone diesel (badged A180d), a 1.3-litre petrol (A200) and an altogether sportier 2.0-litre petrol badged A250. There will be more engine options further down the line, including a warm AMG model (potentially badged A32) and a sizzling version to replace the outgoing and very excellent A45l.
The 114bhp diesel isn’t very quick (0-62mph takes 10.5sec) but that's similar performance to the equivalent Audi A3 1.6 TDI, while it feels quicker on the road than a BMW 116d. And the A180d has a very handy slug of mid-range poke that is perfectly adequate for general commuting and, unlike some diesels, it delivers its power progressively rather than in one big rush as the turbocharger kicks in.
The 161bhp A200 is much nippier, but unlike the more flexible diesel you do need to work it quite hard to get the very best from it. Meanwhile, the range-topping A250 packs an impressive 221bhp and can sprint to 62mph from standstill in just 6.2sec. That means it’s actually slightly faster than a Volkswagen Golf GTI. Although it loves to be revved to its redline, it still feels pleasingly brisk when you’re not thrashing it.
All versions of the A-Class currently come with a seven-speed automatic gearbox. In automatic mode, it can be slow at selecting the right gear, but it shifts quickly if you take control by tugging on the paddles behind the steering wheel.
The previous-generation A-Class wasn’t exactly famous for its smooth ride but, thankfully, this latest model is a lot more comfortable.
Is the A-Class as comfortable as the smooth-riding Golf? Not quite – the Golf's softer set-up sees to that – but the differences in ride comfort between the A-Class in AMG Line trim and the Audi A3 seem to be fairly minor; the A-Class is a little less settled at high speeds but generally more supple over patchy town roads. Either way, the margins are relatively small and, indeed, the A-Class feels much smoother over any road than the choppy-riding BMW 1 Series.
That's even on larger 18in wheels (standard on AMG Line trim). And don’t feel too worried about going for the A250; it may be moderately sporty, but the ride is still very pliant for everyday use. There is one caveat, though; curiously, despite having the smallest wheels that usually would improve a car's ride, our experience of the A200 Sport has been that it has a slightly lumpier ride than the other versions, so make sure you test drive the exact trim you're thinking of buying to check you are happy.
Judging by the versions we've tried so far, the A-Class handles pretty well. Yes, there’s a bit of body lean through faster corners, but this happens so progressively that things never feel unstable during quick changes of direction. It runs out of front grip quicker than the sharper-handling A3, but we'd happily recommend the A-Class to keener drivers over the 1 Series.
Even the steering impresses; it builds weight in a very natural way as you turn in to corners, and the fact that it’s always accurate allows you to place the car just where you want it on the road. It’s also light enough to ensure town driving isn't a chore.
The A250 and AMG Line version of the A200 get a more sophisticated rear suspension set-up that’s designed to improve handling. Our experience of the A250 is that it corners flatter, grips harder and is less troubled by mid-corner bumps.
This isn’t the A-Class’s strongest suit, although it’s hardly a horror show, either. Wind noise is very well suppressed, helped by the car’s superb aerodynamics, so you aren’t plagued by a constant whistling and fluttering at motorway speeds. And while there’s a noticeable amount of road noise at speed, it's no worse than you'd get in an equivalent A3. It's worst on models with 18in AMG wheels, but even cars with 17in wheels still emit some background drone.
The engine in the A180d is smooth and quiet by the standards of most rivals' diesels; it's smoothest at low-to-mid revs but does sound a little strained higher up. However, the A200’s 1.3 petrol unit is rather boomy and generally a bit uncouth, especially when you work it hard – something that you’ll need to do to get the best from it. The A250 certainly has the more cultured petrol engine, proving smooth at low speeds, with a fairly sporty rasp if you work it hard.
You’re unlikely to have much bother getting comfortable behind the wheel of the A-Class. The driver’s seat adjusts manually on all trim levels (electric seats are available as part of the Premium Plus package) but supports you in all the right places and there’s plenty of steering wheel movement.
The sports seats in the range-topping AMG Line models are designed to hold you in place better through corners and also have integrated head restraints. They're supremely supportive – to the extent that we didn't even miss the lack of standard lumbar adjustment, which you only get with the electric seat option.
All versions come with a 7.0in digital instrument cluster and a 7.0in media screen. Opt for the Executive equipment package and the 7.0in media screen is replaced by a 10.3in version. If you’ve also added the Premium package, then the instrument screen is also enlarged to 10.3in and, when combined, they appear like one giant widescreen that stretches half the length of the dashboard.
If you’re an owner of the third-generation A-Class (that’s the previous model), you might have found yourself cursing your car’s sizeable blindspots when pulling out of junctions or backing into tight spaces.
If so, you’ll definitely approve of this latest car, because visibility is some 30% better thanks to taller, squarer windows. All models come with a reversing camera as standard, although you’ll need to add the Executive pack if you want front and rear parking sensors.
In terms of infotainment technology, there’s nothing in the family car category that can touch the A-Class.
Even if you stick with the standard 7.0in system, you get sat-nav, a DAB radio and a couple of USB sockets. However, so far we’ve tried only the optional 10.3in screen that comes as part of the Executive pack.
Both systems can be controlled by pressing the screen, by swiping and pressing a main touchpad between the front seats, or by another smaller touch pad on the steering wheel. The touchpad methods are easier when you’re driving and there’s haptic feedback on the main pad to help you navigate through the menus, so you don’t need to continually study the display. That said, the rotary dial interfaces in the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series are still that bit more intuitive.
Another option is something Mercedes calls ‘augmented reality navigation’. It’s in effect a live camera feed of the road ahead but overlaid with house numbers, road names, direction arrows and other useful bits of information to help you work out where you need to get to.
Even the cheapest models come with a Siri-style personal assistant as standard. To wake it up, you just say "Hey Mercedes" and then, in theory, use normal speech to control various aspects of the car, from sat-nav to interior temperature.
It’s definitely fun to use and sometimes very useful. But, like many voice-recognition tools, it can misunderstand what you’re saying or simply not recognise it at all. Those are the times when you wonder why you even bothered trying.
If there’s one thing about the A-Class that we’d give straight As for without a second thought, it’s the look of its interior. It’s more in line with what you’d expect to find in a luxury saloon than a family hatchback, with lashings of shiny piano black plastic, leather, wood and metal in all the important places.
The jet-style air vents, borrowed from the E-Class Coupé, also help to lift the overall impression above most other premium-badged rivals (especially when they glow like afterburners at night), including the 1 Series and Lexus CT. The A-Class even tops the A3 for pizzazz, although where the Mercedes falls down and the A3 doesn't is in build quality rather than pure style; nothing feels more solidly constructed than the A3 inside, whereas there are a few wobbly bits, such as the climate control panel, that mark down the A-Class a smidge.
The only caveat is that, so far, we’ve only sampled the A-Class in relatively posh trim levels and all of our test cars have had lots of expensive options fitted. It remains to be seen what a bog-standard entry-level SE model looks and feels like inside.
You’re unlikely to grumble about space in the front, even if you tower over most of your friends and colleagues. The seats slide back a long way and there’s plenty of head room, although the optional panoramic roof (part of the Premium Plus package) does reduce this slightly.
The door pockets are big enough for a couple of 500ml bottles of water and there are two suitably deep cupholders in front of the infotainment touchpad, plus a decent glovebox and storage under the large centre armrest.
Anyone taller than six foot won’t exactly be kicking back, but neither will they be cowering with their knees tucked up under their chin. Put simply, the A-Class is roughly on a par with its key rivals, the Audi A3 Sportback (the five-door version) and Volkswagen Golf, for both head and leg room, and it's bigger in the rear than a BMW 1 Series.
Access to the rear seats is better than in the 1 Series due to less of an intrusion from the wheel arches, although getting into the back of an A3 Sportback is easier still, while the A3's wider rear is slightly better for seating three adults in a row.
You’ll need to stump up for the optional Premium package if you want a rear centre armrest.
‘Par for the course’ is probably the best way to describe the A-Class’s seating flexibility. All versions come with 60/40 split-folding rear seats, but that’s no better than the flexibility in most rivals, including the A3 and 1 Series.
Electric front seats (with lumbar adjustment and a memory function) are available as part of the expensive Premium Plus package.
There’s nothing spectacular about the boot of the A-Class, although it’s spacious enough for a big weekly shop or a week away with your other half. In fact, when we did our suitcase boot test, the A-Class and A3 tied on six carry-on suitcases each (a 1 Series managed five). although fitting these in the A3 was less of a squeeze.
The lip at the boot entrance is a bit annoying because it means you have to heave heavy items over it rather than simply sliding them in or out. Rivals such as the A3 and Golf have a height-adjustable boot floor to mitigate this, so it’s a bit of a shame that a similar feature isn’t available on the A-Class.
Drop the split-folding rear seats and you end up with a large, flat, extended load space.
The starting price of the A-Class is probably enough to make you raise more than an eyebrow; it’s several thousand pounds more expensive than its two key rivals, the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series.
However, there are mitigating circumstances, not least the fact that the recently launched A-Class is currently only available with three engines and an automatic gearbox. Less powerful petrol engines and a manual gearbox option are on the way and will bring down the starting price considerably. The A-Class will also hold onto much more of its value after three years, so you'll recoup some of that initial outlay come trade-in time.
Of course, the vast majority of A-Class buyers won’t be paying cash; they’ll be signing up to a PCP finance deal. If you’re planning to do that, then the A-Class will generally cost you more per month than its premium rivals.
If you’re a company car driver, the A180d and A200 are both good choices, although they do emit slightly more CO2 than equivalent versions of the A3. This knocks the car up one company car tax band.
Entry-level SE trim gets you most of the basics, including (relatively small) 16in alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control and keyless start.
But since budget motoring isn’t really what the A-Class is about, we’d recommend stumping up a bit extra for mid-rung Sport trim. This gets you more attractive 17in wheels, more powerful LED headlights, dual-zone climate control and various styling enhancements.
Range-topping AMG Line is also tempting, but pushes the price into the territory of larger cars, such as the Audi A4. For that reason, we’d stick with Sport trim and add the Executive package, which gets you the larger 10.3in media screen, front and rear parking sensors and heated front seats. If you’re feeling flush, the pricier Premium package adds all of that and more, including a 10.3in instrument cluster, keyless entry, an upgraded stereo and cool-looking ambient lighting.
This version of the A-Class is too new to feature in our most recent reliability survey, although the previous model had an average number of faults per 100 cars by class standards. The 1 Series and A3 were both found to be slightly more dependable.
It’s a similar story if you look at Mercedes as a whole, because the brand finished 23rd out of 32 manufacturers in the same survey, ahead of Volvo but behind key German foes Audi and BMW.
Euro NCAP is still finalising its safety appraisal of the latest A-Class. There’s no reason to suspect anything other than a good showing, though, because even the most basic versions come with automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, seven airbags, a system that monitors the driver’s alertness and a pop-up bonnet to cushion any impact with pedestrians.
Meanwhile, traffic sign assist (a camera that scans the road for speed limit signs and displays them on the dashboard) is on the options list.
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