Mercedes-Benz A-class review – high-tech hatch takes aim at 1 series and A3
Now in its fourth generation, the Mercedes A-class is unrecognisable from the car that kicked things off two decades ago.
The first two Meredes-Benz A-class iterations were clever and sold well, but the tall and narrow styling caused Mercedes some stability headaches at the first car’s launch. Like the Audi A2 it was a brilliantly packaged machine that aimed to combine the tradition Merc traits of space and quality, but in a package that was more VW Golf in its size and running costs. While it sold well, conventional rivals sold even better.
By the time the second-generation A-class had arrived, Audi and BMW’s own small cars - the A3 and the 3 series compact (and later 1 series) had nailed the balance of a premium feel and compact size that an increasing number of customers craved. leaving the intelligent but ungainly A-Class out of favour buyers now more concerned with image than intelligence.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. The third-generation A-class ditched the sandwich floor and lofty seating position and went down the conventional two-box hatchback route. Sales went gangbusters (particularly in the UK, the world’s biggest A-class market) and diversification into saloons and estates (with the CLA line), mini-MPVs (B-class) and hot hatchbacks (the AMG A35 and A45) strengthened its position further.
With this fourth-generation A-class, more technologically advanced and sleekly styled than ever, Mercedes is hoping to replicate that feat. With sharper looks, a striking cabin, new engines and E-class levels of technology it works on paper, but it also has to impress on UK roads.
Initial impressions suggest it’s a more appealing car in the showroom than it is on the road, with solid but otherwise dull handling and a sometimes choppy ride quality make it feel ultimately a car that's less about the driving experience and more about how big of a Mercedes badge you can fit onto the nose. Still, as you go up the range, the A-class steadily gets more and more impressive, and there's also no doubting its efficiency which will almost certainly be a consideration for many buyers.
Mercedes-Benz A-class in detail
- Engine, gearbox and technical specs - A wide range of four-cylinder units, both petrol and diesel. Six-speed manual, and seven- and eight-speed autos are available depending on the model.
- Performance and 0-60 time - In performance terms the A35 is a proper hot hatchback, even if it's not as wild as some. Lesser models have competitive performance but no unit truly shines, and the 1.3-litre petrol is disappointingly harsh.
- Ride and handling - Handling is competent and grippy but uninspiring, while a poor ride harms refinement on most models. Smaller wheels may help improve matters. A35 is poised, grippy and decent fun, and actually one of the better-riding A-classes - or at least more acceptable due to its performance.
- MPG and running costs - Just over 60mpg (on paper) from the A180d, with low rates of tax as a result.
- Interior and tech - Slick cabin design once made some rivals look old, bulky and clunky, but now rivals have caught up, you notice the harsh plastics and so-so build quality
- Design - A refined version of the old car’s styling, with fewer uncomfortable lines, and neater details. An aero kit for the A35 bumps up the aggression.
Prices, specs and rivals
A combination of manufacturing constraints, low supply and high demand has made all A-classes shoot up in price with the entry level A180 Sport coming in at a whopping £30,750, putting it way above mainstream rivals and nearly £8000 more than when it was launched in 2018.
Cough up an extra £1350 and the entry-level A180d diesel is available at £32,100, also in Sport trim. Climbing the range, the 160bhp A200 Sport will set you back £32,300 the diesel A200d Sport almost £33,360. The more popular AMG-line cars begin at £31,150 for the A180, and top the range off at £37,500 for the ridiculously named A200d AMG Line Premium Plus Night Edition. A more recent addition is the A250e which starts at £36,395 in its simplest AMG Line Executive form, and tops out at £40,095 for the Night Edition. As for the AMGs, the A35 starts at £41,540, the full-fat A45 is now an eye-watering £58,725.
To take full advantage of the tech on offer, you’ll want to spend a bit extra to equip the dual 10.25-inch screen infotainment system as opposed to the 7-inch units fitted as standard. The Premium packs offer the same upgraded infotainment screens alongside 64-colour ambient lighting, keyless go, an upgraded sound system and a few other toys too. Pricing is higher than for many rivals, with the admittedly lower-specification Audi A3 Sportback 1.0 TFSI Technik starting at £26,070, or a BMW 118i SE at £27,245.