Mercedes-Benz A-Class has always been a compact hatch with one major selling point – that three-pointed star on the nose. But while its predecessors all lacked a little substance behind the badge, this latest generation is a genuine contender for class honours. Step inside and it blows its rivals away – the interior design and quality is wonderful, and the infotainment system is quite possibly the best on the market at any price.
Some rivals are more fun to drive and several are more comfortable, but the A-Class leads the class both in terms of refinement and efficiency. Invest in one of the higher grade infotainment set-ups, and the A-Class is one of the most high-tech hatches money can buy.
The latest Mercedes A-Class is the fourth generation of Mercedes’ smallest car. While the first two examples took on a mini-MPV design direction (with clever, if not particularly desirable, results), the most recent pair have gone for a more conventional five-door hatchback shape in order to compete directly with the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3.
The A-Class is an important model for Mercedes: in reality, it’s the brand’s biggest-seller, especially when taking into account the fact that official figures for the next most popular, the C-Class, roll saloon, estate, coupe and cabriolet numbers into one grand total.
The A-Class is available as a five-door hatchback and four-door saloon in the UK. As with the third-generation model, spin-offs from the same platform are available – including the four-door coupe CLA and GLA mini-SUV).
There are seven trim levels for buyers of the hatchback to choose from. The SE (not available with the saloon body) kicks off the range with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, heated half ‘Artico’ artificial leather/half fabric seats and a pair of seven-inch digital screens – one for the dials and another for the infotainment setup.
Sport models feature upgraded 17-inch wheels and LED headlights, while the Sport Executive includes the Parking package as standard and a bigger infotainment touchscreen.
AMG Line versions add the usual sporty touches to the exterior trim and inside the cabin, while there’s also the AMG Line Executive, Premium and Premium Plus variants that offer further luxury items and safety kit.
Engine choices are made up of three diesels and four petrol units. The A180 d uses a revised version of the Renault-sourced 1.5-litre diesel from the previous A-Class, the A 200 d gets a 148bhp 2.0-litre unit and the A 220 d gets the same again, but with 188bhp. A 1.3-litre turbo is offered in two power outputs in the A 180 and A 200, while the A 250 uses a 221bhp 2.0-litre turbo unit.
Both the A 180 and A 200 are available with a choice of six-speed manual and seven speed twin-clutch automatic gearboxes, while the A 200 d and A 220 d get an eight-speed twin-clutch automatic.
There’s also the A 250 e that gets the turbocharged 1.3-litre petrol engine, mated to a 15.6kWh battery and a 75kW electric motor. Total system output jumps from 158bhp to a more serious 215bhp.
A more spritely AMG A 35 is available in hatchback or saloon form and uses a new 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder, producing 302bhp and 400Nm of torque. Hot hatch fans will love the manic AMG A 45 S, featuring the world’s most powerful four-cylinder engine – a bespoke turbocharged 2.0-litre unit with 415bhp.
If there’s one aspect of the A-Class that impresses the most from behind the wheel, it’s refinement. On a motorway cruise, it’s class-leading: a 0.25 drag coefficient means that there’s barely a whisper of wind noise. The engines settle down to a barely-audible hum, and the most obvious – but not intrusive – sound comes from the tyres.
Like-for-like, the A-Class is 20kg lighter than the old one, even though it’s grown in every direction. While the handling is an improvement on before, this still isn’t an exciting car. It’s got plenty of grip, but the suspension is biased more closely towards security than fun. Things aren’t helped by steering which has very little feel, though it is precise and its light weight at low speeds makes the A-Class very easy to park.
The model you choose determines the sort of rear suspension set-up you’ll get. The A 250 gets a multi-link rear setup, as does the A 200 AMG Line. The A180 d, however, gets a less sophisticated, cheaper torsion beam set-up. The torsion beam lacks the overall control of the multi-link, but you need to be seriously pressing-on for this to be a noticeable issue.
There is, however, a more tangible difference in ride comfort. Around town, the torsion beam jiggles ever so slightly more over short, sharp bumps, though in reality, the more advanced set-up doesn’t fare much better when compared to class rivals. The A-Class is a car that fidgets over bumps rather than smothering them – particularly on larger wheels.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
Of the engines available, it’s best to aim either low or high in the A-Class range. The entry-level A 180 d has a very sweet unit: co-developed with Renault, the 1.5-litre lump is smooth (both in noise and power delivery), quiet, and easily the most frugal choice in the range. Stats of 10.5 seconds to 62mph and a 126mph top speed are leisurely rather than thrilling, but it’s otherwise excellent.
The 2.0-litre petrol in the A 250 scratches the performance car itch; a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds and 155mph top speed puts it into hot hatch territory, and though not exactly tuneful, it sounds sporty enough. The automatic gearbox – an in-house unit as opposed to the diesel’s Getrag – can be a little slow to respond, especially when using the paddle shifters.
The 1.3-litre petrol in the A 180 and A 200 uses the superior Getrag ‘box, but otherwise there’s little else to recommend it. The A 180 manual version covers the 0-62mph dash in 9.2 seconds and maxes out at 134mph, while the A 200 manual is 1.0 second and 6mph faster respectively. Both perform fine on paper, then, but the torque deficit relative to the 180 d means that these A-Class derivatives need working hard at times – effort they hastily announce through a loud, thrashy tone. They’re undoubtedly the weakest units in the current range.
The A 250e is the only hybrid currently available and it provides a healthy amount of performance despite offering up to 282.5mpg. The A 250e accelerates from 0-62mph in an impressive 6.6 seconds thanks to a combination of a 1.3-cylinder 4cyl turbo petrol with an additional electric motor which in total produces 215bhp.
The AMG A 35 model produces 302bhp and 400Nm of torque. It will sprint from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds (4.8 in the saloon version) onto an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph, pegging it close to the VW Golf R. Power is fed to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and there are five drive modes to choose from, allowing separate adjustment of elements like the dampers, throttle and gearbox responses.
Engaging the A 35’s most aggressive drive mode transforms the car’s behaviour, feeling composed, grippy and lightning fast. It flatters in a way the old A 45 couldn’t, mimicking the Golf R’s fantastic all-weather ability and adding a welcome degree of involvement. The Golf R is perhaps slightly crisper to drive and feels slightly more agile, but most drivers will be impressed by the the A 35’s incredible all-weather performance.
The AMG A 45 S takes the honour of the fastest A-Class with a 0-62mph time of 3.9 seconds. Power is fed through an eight-speed auto ‘box, while the four-wheel drive system provides an impressive amount of grip. It rivals the Audi RS 3 for performance and price, costing well over £50,000.
If you’re prioritising efficiency, the A 250 e hybrid will appeal as Mercedes claims an all-electric range of 43-44 miles – equating to a staggering maximum of 282.5mpg. That latter figure is somewhat meaningless, however, as with frequent charges you could reasonably run this car for months without filling it up with fuel even once. The fact it emits only 23g/km of CO2 will be more relevant to business users, who will save a fortune in company car tax.
The A-Class diesel options are still pretty frugal and offer excellent returns from a tank of fuel. The A 180 d achieves a claimed maximum of 62.8mpg when paired with the seven-speed auto transmission and CO2 emissions of 117g/km.
Opting for more diesel power doesn’t mean you have to take a huge drop in economy – the A 200 d and A 220 d deliver 57.7mpg and 55.4mpg on the combined cycle, respectively.
There’s nothing to really separate the A 180 and A 200 petrol models either in terms of fuel efficiency, with both capable of around 47mpg. Emissions are dependent on which equipment level you choose, but start from 134g/km for the A 180 and 135g/km for the A 200 six-speed manual versions.
The A 250 trades some economy for performance compared to the smaller petrol, though if it gets close to its claimed 41.5mpg and 155g/km in the real world, it’ll be impressive.
The strong figures across the standard A-Class range are no doubt partly thanks to a slippery body shape, which Mercedes claims that is the most aerodynamic in its class.
Naturally, the performance-oriented AMG A 45 S model is the least efficient of the range, although a claimed 31.4mpg on the combined cycle is still a good return when you consider it produces a staggering 415bhp.
The A 180 d starts from group 17 insurance, while the A 220 d in top AMG Line Premium Plus spec is in group 27. Further up the range, a high-end A 250 falls into group 31, while the 415bhp AMG A 45 S 4MATIC+ Plus will be pricey to insure, sitting in group 41.
Although buyers will have to pay handsomely to own and insure a new A-Class, the range offers good residual values with an average of 47% retained over 3 years and 36,000 miles. The A 250 e models perform even better, keeping hold of around 51% of their original value over the same period.
The fourth generation A-Class sports a design which amounts to a fairly conservative evolution over the old model. It’s a bit sharper to look at while the lights are pointier and slimmer. The hot AMG versions get a sporty body kit and a lairy wing, but overall it’s a look which will neither set pulses racing nor put off existing customers.
The big changes come on the inside. The new model is a huge leap forward over the tidy, yet slightly cheap-feeling predecessor. The design is unique, attractive, well-laid out and feels immaculately put together with lots of soft-touch plastics. It all adds up to a cabin which makes the previous class design benchmark, the Audi A3, look rather old-hat overnight. The giant leap forward in appearance, however, is thanks in no small part to its fantastic infotainment system – more on which later.
Non-metallic Polar White paint is standard for the A-Class range, with a handful of other exterior colours available. However, there’s not much in the way of other opportunities to personalise your car.
There are only three standard alloy wheel designs too, and you’re tied down to one depending on the trim you go for: SE models have 16-inch wheels, Sport models are an inch larger, and AMG Line cars get 18-inch items. However, the Mercedes-AMG 35 and 45 S models feature imposing 19-inch alloys.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
It only takes a few seconds gawping at the A-Class’s infotainment system to realise that it’s head and shoulders above any rival system. Dubbed ‘MBUX’, the top-spec Premium and Premium Plus cars feature a pair of 10.25-inch screens positioned side-by-side for an almost continuous widescreen display: the screen in front of the driver shows various driving information and data, while the central display caters for the infotainment functions.
The latter is controlled via a range of input methods. The screen itself responds to touch, there’s a mousepad-style controller on the centre console, and it can respond to voice commands via the ‘Hey Mercedes’ operating system.
The menus are more logically laid out than in previous Mercedes systems, and the various input methods mean that you’ll never find yourself lost in a sea of sub menus.
Perhaps the greatest feature of the new system is the navigation system, which features augmented reality graphics. When approaching junctions, it displays images from a forward-facing camera onto the screen, and in real time superimposes arrows onto the display which inform the driver of the turning they need to take. It’s a brilliantly executed idea, and works particularly well on roundabouts and busy urban streets.
The digital dials are perhaps not quite as clever, but they still look great. The steering wheel gets touch-sensitive controls inspired by the S-Class, which lets the driver customise three sections of the screen to show whichever driving, navigation or entertainment information they prefer.
As standard, the Mercedes A-Class features a pair of seven-inch touchscreens. They don’t offer the customisation features or the stunning graphics of the bigger set-up, but they’re still a significant step up over the old car’s tech.
Of course, if you decide that the in-built system isn’t quite good enough, then it’s always possible to connect your phone via either Bluetooth, or smartphone mirroring apps like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Whichever way you choose, the devices pair quickly and reliably.
The A-Class is available as a five-door hatch and four-door saloon. Up front, the driving position is great – there’s plenty of adjustment for both the seat and the steering wheel, so it’s easy to get comfy. Mercedes has made an effort to slim down the plastic trim around the pillars, and as a result visibility, particularly over the shoulder, has improved. However, it can feel a little claustrophobic in the back compared to some of the A-Class’ rivals because of the front seats – their shape and size block out a lot of the light.
In terms of cubby spaces, the A-Class is pretty standard for the class. There’s a big central storage bin, a couple of cup holders ahead of the infotainment touch pad, and a smartphone-sized space at the base of the dash. The front door pockets are roomy enough for a large bottle, but those in the back are small.
It’s worth noting that while refinement is good on most models, the A 35’s large 19-inch wheels roar on the move – a trait that’s pretty tiring on longer journeys. The car’s sporty bias also means it feels a bit fidgety on the move, detracting from long-distance comfort.
The A-Class hatchback measures 4,419mm long, 1,796mm wide and 1,440mm tall. That’s 30mm longer than the old car, and larger than the A3 Sportback in every dimension – the extra 106mm in length could make a difference when parking in tight spaces. The 2,729mm wheelbase is also longer than the A3’s 2,637mm space between its axles.
The saloon model is longer at 4,549mm, but is the same width and just 6mm taller.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Mercedes states that there’s more elbow and headroom in the back compared to the previous A-Class. However, a lack of kneeroom means that when filled with four six footers, it’s more cramped than the Audi. Headroom is fine, unless you’re in the raised middle seat. That central berth is narrow too, so it’s not a comfortable place to sit.
On the plus side, it’s really easy to fit a child seat. The Isofix mounts are clearly exposed by plastic openings, and the doors open fairly wide.
One criticism of the previous model is that the boot wasn’t just smaller than most rivals, but hard to make use of due to a narrow opening. The new car addresses both of these issues to an extent – the opening is a useful 20cm wider, and the total volume is up 29 litres, taking the total to 370 litres. That’s a nominal 10 litres fewer than front-wheel drive A3 models, but more than quattro-equipped cars. There’s also a tiny bit of underfloor storage for hiding away smaller items.
The rear seat backs fold in a 40/20/40 split, but the boot floor isn’t quite flat. With the seats down it increases the capacity to 1,210 litres – still 10 litres less than the Audi.
All versions of the A-Class come loaded with safety kit: an active bonnet, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, auto headlights, and a glut of airbags are standard throughout the range. Also included is ‘Mercedes me connect’; an in-built system which not only keeps the driver within easy contact of approved breakdown services, but is also able to contact the emergency services in the event of a serious accident.
The Mercedes A-Class was assessed by Euro NCAP in 2018 and achieved a maximum five-star safety rating. Adult and child occupant protection scored an excellent 96% and 91%, respectively.
The A-Class appears to be solid in terms of reliability, and finished 36th out of 75 cars in our 2020 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but Mercedes as a brand finished a disappointing 28th out of 30 manufacturers. High running costs were highlighted by customers as a key point of concern.
As with other models in the Mercedes range, the A-Class comes with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty. That’s a match for BMW’s standard warranty, and better than Audi’s which is capped at 60,000 miles over the three year period.
Various service plans allow buyers to spread the cost of maintenance over monthly payments. A typical plan costs £30 per month, guaranteeing the price of parts and labour for up to three services.