The third-generation Mercedes-Benz A-class has always had plenty of kerb-appeal but has lagged behind rivals in terms of comfort and refinement. Updated in 2015, the option of adaptive dampers has largely rectified this, while interior upgrades coupled with a few exterior changes, has put the A-class right up to the top of its class.
It isn't without issues though. The BMW 1-series bests it dynamically, while the 2.1-litre turbodiesel is relatively unrefined compared to the competition. The uprated interior, including the addition of an improved nav-screen and higher resolution display definitely makes it feel the most premium affordable hatchback on sale, even when compared with range toppers from BMW and Audi.
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Aside from the badge, and the fact it has four wheels, this generation of the Mercedes-Benz A-class couldn’t be more removed from its lofty, sandwich floored and space efficient predecessor. It's a backward step technically, but the B-class fulfils the practical and compact role in the Mercedes-Benz line-up, so the A-class is free to compete more readily in the mainstream and premium hatchback marketplaces. That’s moved it from an innovative (if relatively unpopular) anomaly, to large volume, profit-generating small car that gives Mercedes-Benz a genuine direct rival to the incredibly successful Audi A3 and BMW 1-series. Not the mention the Volkswagen Golf.
> Performance and 0-60 time - The A45 AMG is comfortably the fastest car in the A-class range, hitting 62mph in a blistering 4.2sec and topping out at 167mph. Read more about the A-class performance here
> Engine and gearbox - Beneath the A-class is a range of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines. A manual gearbox is standard while a seven-speed dual-clutch setup can be optioned. Read more about the A-class engine and gearbox here
> Ride and handling - The A-class’s steering generally lacks feel of any sort of feel or communication, while the chassis is benign (and best left in its Comfort setting). Read more about the A-class ride and handling here
> MPG and running costs - The A160 is the entry-level A-Class, but it's the A 180 d BlueEFFICIENCY Edition that will deliver the biggest savings. The A45 AMG is predictably the most expensive to run. Read about A-class MPG and running costs here
> Interior and tech - No matter which model you opt for, the interior will be impressively opulent for a hatchback, with many featuring different metals and textures all over the cabin. Read about the A-class interior and tech
> Design - The new A-class is a significant step on from the innovative one-box design of the old car. In AMG trim it’s also guaranteed to turn more heads than an Audi A3. Read about the A-class design here
Prices, Specs and Rivals
Mercedes-Benz was late to the compact premium hatchback game, at least with a model people wanted to buy. So with its current A-class, Mercedes-Benz has pitched aggressively, making the A-class affordable on finance and leasing deals for mainstream hatchback money.
Prices start at just shy of the important £20,000 psychological barrier for an A 160 in SE specification. This trim level includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, a 7-inch central media display, Active Braking Assist and cruise control. It also comes with that rare component in a modern Mercedes: a manual gearbox.
Sport adds £995 to the price, but the alloy wheels grow to 17 inches in diameter, a silver diamond-shaped grille and automatic lights and wipers are added, as are a multifunction steering wheel and sports seats. Sport Editions bring the new Dynamic Select rotor, as well as a bigger 8-inch tablet and illuminated door sills. A multi-function AMG GT-style steering wheel is also added.
Standard equipment isn’t overly generous at the bottom of the range, though the extensive (and expensive) options list allows you to indulge your desires, even if you do pay handsomely for it. Compared to its premium rivals the A-Class is competitive, but slide it up alongside a mainstream offering and you see how much extra you pay for that premium badge on the grille.
Key rivals include the Audi A3, Volkswagen Golf and BMW 1-series. The Audi pips the Mercedes in terms of interior build quality, the Golf is the consummate all-rounder, and the 1-series is the most entertaining to drive of the German quartet. Many will choose on badge appeal, which will probably discount the Golf and make it an Audi/BMW/Mercedes battle. On balance, we'd go for the rear-drive BMW.
An A-class by another name is the recently-introduced Infiniti Q30. Slightly higher in stance than the Mercedes (62mm taller, but still not a full crossover model), the Q30 is very similar under the skin and anyone familiar with the A-class will instantly recognise the switchgear, the key and the engine lineup. Where the Infiniti scores is in refinement - it's quieter and smoother-riding than the A-class. It'll be less ubiquitous too, which should appeal to some.