The last A-Class turned the model from a high-riding people-carrier into a core stylish hatch rival to Audi and BMW. The new one enhances that work
On the road
On the road
While not as dramatic shift as when the previous A-Class arrived, this new premium Mercedes hatchback is a big styling departure from its predecessor. Nowhere is this more evident than in the cabin, which if optioned at significant expense, is dominated by a pair of huge 10.25 screens that sit side-by-side across half of the dashboard.
More on those later though. Mercedes-Benz has done a good job of updating its smallest car, with the rounded lines of the previous hatchback being replaced by a more angled and aggressive nose. The sharp and slender headlamps aid this effect, and the Benz badge is prominent in both senses of the word, because it’s both large and protrudes from the recessed grille.
The rear isn’t quite as striking as the front, and seems to almost sag a little as you head backwards, but is still a decent step from the previous car.
- Rear sports seats are great, as long as you don't want to put child seats in the back, and be able to reach the buckle to plug them in. It's a nightmare every single time.
2. There are only a couple of individual options, with everything else wrapped up into one of three pricey packs. A sign of where all companies are going.
3. The interior feels very impressively high-quality, apart from the cheap-feeling and flimsy stalks, which is a shame.
The shift away from diesel engines is highlighted in the A-Class’s line-up, because only the one oil-burner is offered, a 116hp unit badged 180d; the outgoing A-Class featured two diesels above that power level, including a 170hp output, and one below.
But this time it’s petrol engines that are dominant, with a choice of four models: the 136hp A180, the 163hp A200 driven here, a 190hp A220 and the 224hp A250. The latter two are available with four-wheel-drive for an additional £1600 and a 7g/km CO2 penalty, as well as the regular front-wheel drive car.
The lower two petrol engines are also offered with a manual gearbox that cuts the price by £1560 against the seven-speed auto option that’s standard on the other three power units.
Three trim levels of SE, Sport and AMG Line are available, though only the lowest petrol and the diesel are available with SE, and they, plus the A200, come with Sport. The A220 and A250 are offered only with the top AMG Line.
Alloys go from 16-inch to 17 and 18 as you move up the trim levels, with steps of £1540 and £1200 to encourage progression through the range. All cars get Active Brake Assist, Active Lane-Keeping Assist, air-conditioning, cruise control and a 7.0-inch display, with the walk up to Sport introducing LED headlamps, two-zone climate control and carbon fibre trim, as well as larger alloys. Top-spec AMG Line models get the smart AMG body styling and upgraded interior, plus the slightly bling diamond radiator grille that certainly helps the car stand out.
But the upgrades don’t end there. At least partly as a nod to future-proofing the A-Class against the forthcoming WLTP emissions test changes that will, in 2020, require car makers to provide a CO2 figure individual to the options fitted to a car, the only solo options are metallic paint, a monthly service plan and, on the AMG Line, an aluminium interior trim.
Everything else is bundled into three packs – Executive for £1395, the £2395 Premium pack and the Premium Plus at £3595. They bring an array of options all packed together, and there’s no way of ordering any of them individually. On Executive, the list includes folding auto-dimming mirrors, the 10.3-inch central screen, heated front seats and park assist, which also brings front and rear parking sensors. Premium adds a 10.3-inch instrument cluster to join the main screen, as well as keyless entry, upgraded sound system and a rear armrest. Premium Plus buyers will also get front memory seats, multi-beam LED headlights with high-beam assist and a panoramic sunroof, on top of the contents of the other packs.
It’s a shame that you have to add £2395 to get the very impressive-looking double screen, and that appealing options such as heated seats or parking sensors can’t be specced on their own.
The only other extras, which drivers can only have if they’ve gone for the Executive pack or above, are the advanced navigation system that places arrows over live images from the forward camera to help the driver head the right way, and the smartphone Connect package. This adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging and pre-installation for using a phone as a digital key to unlock the car – though the tech isn’t quite ready yet. Both packs cost £495.
The augmented navigation is particularly impressive, and works particularly well in unfamiliar city situations where there are multiple roads.
Where optioned, the two 10.3-inch screens are a high-quality addition to a cabin that’s already anything but bland, combining materials, design and functionality very nicely. The only exceptions are the stalks, which feel a level below the rest of the cabin quality-wise, and the touchpads on the steering wheel, which are clever, but take a bit too much concentration when on the move, especially with one of them controlling each screen. Sometimes a rotary knob would just be preferable because you can operate the various systems with minimal amounts of taking eyes off the road. The navigation system itself also seems to lag slightly behind where the car actually is on the road, which is something we’ve also experienced in other Mercedes models. The system is also Mercedes first touchscreen, and incorporates the new ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice-controlled assistant.
The sports seats are very comfortable, front and back, as long as you don’t want to put child seats in the rear, where they significantly impede access to the seatbelt socket. But overall space isn’t too bad, certainly par for the class, and Mercedes claims improved shoulder, elbow and headroom for all occupants, as well as an extra 29 litres of boot space, taking it to 370 litres, which nestles the A-Class neatly between its German rivals.
The shallow window impedes rear visibility a touch, but overall outward visibility is decent, and Mercedes claims it has improved this by 10% versus the old car via reduced pillar claddings.
The mid-power A200 petrol driven here is quite vocal under acceleration, and the seven-speed auto gearbox is occasionally indecisive, but the driving experience is a comfortable one. It doesn’t match the rear-wheel-drive BMW 1-Series for handling prowess, but neither do the very good other rivals in its class, such as the Audi A3 Sportback and the Volvo V40; the Mercedes is on par with those cars as an all-round driving experience.
The ownership equation is helped by keener pricing than some Mercedes models enjoy against their main rivals, and a residual value that none of the car’s ageing competition can get close to – the best rival, the Audi A3 Sportback, can’t quite get within three percentage points of the new A-Class. But all three are getting long in the tooth, and will be replaced in the next 18 months, so it will be interesting to see how the new A-Class – impressive for its looks, interior technology and whole-life cost in particular – compares when its three premium rivals get a new lease of life. But for now it’s got the competition covered in most areas.
This is the fourth generation of A-Class, but in many ways the second ‘new’ A-Class, because there was a huge change of focus between A-Classes two and three.
When the first-generation (pictured) was launched in 1997, it was the brand’s first foray below the C-Class saloon, so took the premium German firm into new lower and cheaper territory.
That car was also the one that famously failed the ‘Elk test’, when a Swedish car magazine managed to roll one in an extreme avoidance test.
The first-generation car was lauded for its interior versatility in particular, and the second-generation A-Class continued in a similar silhouette when it arrived in 2004, adding a three-door variant as well as the five-door. But there was an about-turn in philosophy with the third-generation car in 2013, with Mercedes-Benz shifting focus to produce a regular lower hatch, going head-to-head with the Audi A3 Sportback and BMW 1-Series. The plan, which according to the company has been a resounding success, was to lower the average age of customers significantly, with the sportier styling and driving experience drawing in a younger audience
What they said
What They Said
“The new A-Class is among our most intelligent and advanced cars, and has a cabin that’s a first-class experience. My favourite feature is the new user experience – MBUX – which performs dozens of tasks, simply by talking to it: it allows you to change the temperature, set the navigation – all sorts of things.
“The engines provide excellent real-world economy combined with engaging performance, and we’ve got RDE2-compliant engines on the way, which will offer significant savings in both VED and BIK.”
Robert Morris, National Fleet Operations Manager, Mercedes-Benz Cars UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
The augmented navigation is very clever; shame it’s a pricey option
The expensive optional double screen set-up is clearly the best in class
Nose is sharper than the old car’s, especially with the AMG Line upgrade
...And one we don't
The touch pads on the steering wheel are clever, but there’s a bit too much going on
This middling petrol engine offers reasonable performance, but is a bit noisy and the automatic gearbox isn’t always decisive.
The Audi A3’s 1.5 petrol and auto combination beat the Merc’s by 6g/km, but the A-Class is well up on BMW and Volvo petrol auto rivals. The diesel hits 108g/km.
Interior space front and back is par for the class, as is the boot space that’s 10 litres above the 1-Series and the same behind the A3.
Standard kit is reasonable rather than extravagant. The options packs are great value if you want all of the kit included, but very pricey if you’re only wanting some of it.
The styling makes the A-Class look much more aggressive, at the front at least. The back is a little less striking.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
Loud engine under acceleration apart, the A-Class ticks the regular Mercedes comfort and refinement boxes successfully.
In general it’s a very impressive cabin, apart from a couple of cheaper elements. But all-round design and quality are impressive.
Upgrading to the two large screens is pricey but transforms the cabin and the infotainment. The steering wheel touchpads are clever, if not always the easiest to use on the go.
Whole life costs 9/10
Great RVs lay the groundwork for class-leading running costs against admittedly aging competition.
CCT opinion 8/10
A great update pushes Merc to the front of the premium hatch pack.
Strengths of residuals, efficiency, cabin design, quality and front-end styling all position the A-Class very nicely in the premium lower medium sector.