The A-Class is the biggest-selling car in the UK for Mercedes-Benz, so there’s a lot riding on this latest iteration.
An updated chassis, new and bigger body and what is touted as class-leading tech sounds appealing and intriguing. The German brand’s premium image cannot afford to be tarnished…
What is it?
A compact hatchback similar in size to VW’s Golf, the new A-Class is the fourth generation of a Mercedes class first launched in 1997. The first two generations were slightly odd looking MPVs that never really took-off on these shores, but the third generation, first seen in 2012, has been a massive success.
Perhaps allied to increased adoption of PCP deals, the British public spent above average money on this premium product, attracted by the three-pointed-star brand and its projected image.
In 2017, the UK was the largest market for the A-Class globally and Mercedes sold 43,717 here. The third generation buyers were more youthful too – the average age was 10 years lower than for buyers of the previous two generations and 60% of purchasers were new to the Mercedes brand.
The new car is much more than an update. There is a brand new and roomier body, albeit looking very similar to the old model, but the interior has been brought bang up to date. Indeed, it is the new tech available and the driver’s access to the cockpit displays and controls that leapfrogs the new A-Class ahead of most competitors.
Leaning heavily on systems developed for the bigger and much more expensive S-Class models, the stand-out feature is the full length single sheet of glass that houses two infotainment screens side by side and creates a widescreen cockpit display. A pair of 7.0-inch screens are standard but one or two impressive 10.25-inch screens are optional.
There are three engine options available at launch. The A 180d (from £25,800) uses a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel producing 116bhp and 260Nm of torque. It has a 0-62 mph time of 10.5 seconds and can deliver up to 68.9mpg on the combined cycle.
The A 200 (from £27,500) uses a new 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing a healthy 163bhp and 250Nm. It can get to 62mph in 8 seconds and can achieve 51.4 mpg. The A 250 (from £30,240) is the sporty one. Using a 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol generating 224bhp and 350Nm of torque it can sprint from 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds and delivers up to 45.6mpg .
There are three levels of trim; SE, Sport and AMG-line. All models get a multimedia system with voice activation, alloy wheels, DAB radio, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Brake Assist, Keyless-Go starting, Air-Conditioning and Mercedes sat-nav. Sport trim adds bigger 17” alloys, LED headlamps and Climate control. AMG-line buyers will get 18” alloys, AMG body styling, sports seats and a sports steering wheel.
Significant options include the £1395 Executive equipment line, which includes a 10.25-inch media display, Active Parking Assist with Parktronic and heated front seats. The £2,395 Premium equipment line adds the second 10.25-inch cockpit display and a better sound system.
The all-bells-and-whistles £3,595 Premium Plus line adds a panoramic sunroof, memory function for the front sears and multibeam LED headlights. In conjunction with these special equipment lines, a £495 augmented reality navigation display is also available. This overlays a real-time camera picture of the road ahead with navigation data and instructions – more on this later.
The new car looks sharper and more stylish. Slimmer light clusters at the front and the rear help the more modern look. The slightly larger dimensions allow greater leg and headroom for rear seat passengers and the boot is roughly Golf sized (370 litres) with a wider opening for access. Rear seats also fold flat very easily to offer 1,210 litres of space.
The interior is a revelation – the futuristic widescreen dashboard looks great, works very intuitively and is controlled by a solid, high-quality steering wheel-based touch-control buttons and haptic-feedback touchpad on the centre console.
It loses some of the dramatic appeal, though, if you stick with the standard 7.0-inch screens. They look lost in the long black glass-covered widescreen. Go for the full dual 10.25-inch set-up and you feel that you could be driving an S-Class – praise indeed. The voice-activated multimedia and sat-nav, works well and pretty accurately.
The only feature that I am not so convinced by is the augmented reality navigation display. The camera picture appears automatically before junctions and roundabouts and shrinks the usual pictorial map. It actually distracts rather than aids progress in our view. I would personally leave this £495 option box unticked.
Despite this caveat, the A-Class now has the clearest and most sophisticated tech in its sector and has leapt ahead of all premium rivals.
The fit and finish and quality of materials seems to have improved from the last model and you certainly feel that you are driving an executive hatchback worthy of wearing the Mercedes three-pointed star.
How does it drive?
I drove two versions of the new car – an A 200 with AMG Line trim and an A 180d with SE trim. The A 200 was a great surprise. Despite the small capacity engine, it really felt lively and sporty. Power never felt inadequate and it never suffered from a lack of torque. Being a petrol unit, it was smooth and quiet too; particularly when cruising on a motorway. Allied to the AMG sports seats and bigger alloy wheels that didn’t seem to affect the ride, it felt like a fun warm hatch that would entertain the interested driver.
The A180d was rather underwhelming in comparison. The initially noisy diesel unit felt a bit sluggish and, although this was a base SE model, the car drove very, well, ordinarily. Sure, if you are doing big mileages regularly, you cannot ignore its fuel frugality, but it loses some verve along the way.
Handling is predictable with good traction and little body roll. The steering of the AMG Line car is sharper than the SE.
The general ride quality of both cars is firm but smooth and the wind and road-noise suppression is above average if not exceptional. All launch A-Class cars get a seven-speed automatic gearbox as standard and it works seamlessly with smooth gearchanges. A six-speed manual will be available later in 2018.
The latest version of the A-Class is a welcome improvement in many areas. The biggest advance, and what makes it stand out amongst rivals, is the innovative driver-friendly tech. If specified in the right way, it can challenge premium luxury saloons from the classes above.
The availability of a small peppy petrol engine is a further bonus. There was a risk that the previous model’s popularity and, quite honestly, ordinariness may have diluted the appeal of the Mercedes-Benz brand. This new car firmly quashes any such ideas and fully justifies any increase in price.