The styling may be more conventional than that of previous A-Class models, but it’s an undeniably good-looking hatchback. It’s clean, sharp and designed to make you feel proud about owning your Mercedes-Benz. There’s a large three-pointed star on the grille, to let everyone else know what you’re driving, and it’s enhanced by the large air intakes and large, swept-back headlights. The further up the range you go the better things get, with ever-larger alloy wheels at each corner and suitably purposeful body styling additions.
This is an interior that will make you feel good every time you get in. The materials look and feel great, and the way they’ve been put together is beyond reproach. The top half of the dash is covered in high-quality plastic (or leather on higher-spec models), and all of the metallic trims lower down feel suitably robust. The only slight black mark for quality is the rather hard plastic on the central partition between driver and front passenger. It isn’t the easiest interior to use, either. There are numerous buttons that are similarly sized and marked, so it’s tricky to decipher what they do. It’s easier to use the on-screen menu system, although even that isn’t as good as BMW’s iDrive set-up. Meanwhile, the switch for the electronic parking brake requires you to push it to activate the brake and pull it to disengage it, which is counter-intuitive. Rear visibility isn’t great, with small windows and large pillars causing sizeable blind spots.
Front-seat occupants will feel pretty well off in the A-Class, because there’s a decent amount of headroom (although the optional panoramic roof cuts into this), and there’s enough legroom to stop you feeling cramped. It’s not nearly so good in the back, where there’s (just) enough room for two (three people would feel very intimate indeed as the centre seat is almost impossibly narrow). Foot space beneath the front seats isn’t great, and the sides of the roof slope down at the rear, making it all feel too claustrophobic, something that’s made all the worse by the small windows and the rear seats being set higher than those in the front. The low roofline and shape of the doorway also make getting into and out of the back seats an exercise in neck-bending, hip-thrusting flexibility. The boot is a reasonable 341 litres, but still trails rivals’, including what you’ll find in the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen Golf.
Ride and handling
This is where the A-Class really disappoints. Low-end models have a ‘Comfort’ suspension, while AMG Sport cars are lowered, and Engineered by AMG versions are stiffer as well. We’ve driven cars equipped with the optional adaptive damping system, and while it improves matters, it doesn’t do so by enough. The ride in Comfort mode is firm-but-acceptable, but switching things into Sport mode firms it all up too much so that the car ends up bobbling along in an uncomfortable and unsettling manner. Still, body control is good, and the car reacts well to steering inputs. Grip is extremely strong, too.
There are five petrol engines and four diesels to choose from, not including the bombastic 376bhp A45 AMG superhatch. Three of the petrols are 1.6-litre turbos with 101bhp, 120bhp or 154bhp, while the 2.0-litre engines have 208bhp or 215bhp. The most powerful 2.0 engine feels very punchy indeed, but the smaller petrol versions feel quite lazy in the way they deliver their performance. The 1.5- and 2.1-litre diesels deliver between 89bhp and 175bhp. The larger diesel engine feels very muscular, but it’s nowhere near as quiet or as smooth as it should be. To make matters worse, that’s a statement you could make about the A-Class in general, as its overall lack of refinement – road and wind noise are particular problems – means it’s much less comfortable than its rivals over long distances.
Heading up the trim levels brings bigger alloys that adversely affect the car’s CO2 output
The A-Class is competitive with its rivals on CO2 emissions and average economy figures, although be aware that heading up the trim levels brings bigger alloy wheels that adversely affect the car’s CO2 output and so will cost company car drivers more in BIK tax. Choosing the A180d with its official CO2 figure of 89g/km will partly mitigate this, though. Aside from that, the A-Class is significantly more expensive than most of its premium-badged rivals. The good news is that you’ll get a decent chunk of that purchase price back when you sell the car on.
The quality of the A-Class’ interior will make you feel like the car will run and run while all around are falling apart. However, recent reliability surveys don’t reflect that, because Merc’s cars have not performed particularly well. For instance, Warranty Direct’s reliability ratings see four Mercedes models in the bottom 10. The good news is that these are models from a few years ago, and newer cars appear to be better built. We can but wait and see.
Safety is something at which the A-Class excels. It has no fewer than seven airbags and has already attained the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP’s crash tests, helped by its pedestrian-friendly pop-up bonnet. Stability control and a driver-fatigue sensor are present and correct, as are ISOFIX child seats. In addition, the A-Class has Collision Prevention Assist Plus as standard. This warns the driver if the car in front is too close or slowing rapidly, and can even activate the brakes to help avoid a collision.
Even entry-level cars come with alloys, air-con, leather trim, a USB port and Bluetooth
Standard kit is generous, even on entry-level SE cars. These come with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, man-made leather trim and a reversing camera. In addition, a USB port and Bluetooth are fitted. Sport models add Dynamic Select, which gives four driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual), plus automatic wipers, climate control and a central media screen. AMG Line versions have bigger alloys, sporty styling additions, lowered suspension and ventilated brakes. The Motorsport Edition is enhanced with an active parking system, LED headlights with active full beam, self-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats and satellite-navigation, as well as a colour scheme inspired by the company’s F1 cars’.
The A-Class looks great as you walk up to it, and feels brilliant once you’re inside it. It’s a shame that space and visibility aren’t so great and the driving experience trails rivals’ by such a long way. The Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen Golf all match the A-Class even in its good areas, and leave it far behind in its weaker spots.