The Mercedes 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.
Mercedes A 180 Sport 7G-DCT
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 only available as a five-door hatchback in the UK. As with the third-generation model, spin-offs from the same platform (including the four-door coupe CLA and GLA mini-SUV) will be offered at a later date.
There are three trim levels for buyers to choose from. The SE kicks off the range with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, 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. The Sport gets wheels an inch larger in diameter, LED headlights and different interior trim, while the AMG Line gets 18-inch alloys, a sports steering wheel and full Artico upholstery.
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 A180 and A200, while the A250 uses a 221bhp 2.0-litre turbo with either front or four-wheel drive.
Both the A180 and A200 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.
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 1.33-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 covers the 0-62mph dash in 8.8 seconds and maxes out at 134mph, while the A 200 is 0.8 seconds 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 201.7mpg. 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 slighltly 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 of 3.9 seconds. Power is fed through an eight-speed auto, and with four-wheel drive the A 45 S has an impressive amount of grip. It rivals the Audi RS 3 for performance and price, costing over £50,000.
Predictably, the single diesel option is the most frugal version of the Mercedes A-Class. Officially, the A 180 d achieves 61.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 111g/km on a WLTP cycle, which is better than a BMW 116d, a car the Merc matches for performance, and a tiny bit thirstier than the equivalent Audi A3, which is slower. Though we don’t have our own calculated figures for the diesel yet, it managed an indicated mid-fifties mpg in mixed driving on our test.
The A 200 is claimed to achieve 46.4mpg and CO2 figures of 126g/km. In a group comparison against the Volkswagen Golf and the Audi A3 (both equipped with a 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol), the Merc not only delivered significantly stronger acceleration figures than both, but was more frugal too: our calculation of 41.2mpg was 2.2mpg more than the Audi and 2.6mpg better than the Golf. Match those figures regularly, and the A 200 promises a real-world range of 390 miles.
The A 250 trades some economy for performance compared to the smaller petrol, though if it gets close to its claimed 40.4mpg and 139g/km in the real world, it’s impressive for a car which offers so much performance. If you’re prioritising efficiency, the A 250e hybrid will appeal as Mercedes claim of 201.7mpg.
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, we tested it at 34mpg and 189g/km.
What gains the A-Class might make relative to its rivals in terms of fuel costs are offset when it comes to insurance. The A 180 d starts from group 20 insurance, three groups higher than an A3 1.6 TDI and five groups higher than the BMW 116d SE.
The difference is as high further up the range: a high-end A 250 falls into group 34, while the BMW 125i sits in group 28.
Official figures have yet to be confirmed for the latest A-Class, though its likely to maintain a similar percentage of its value after three years as its closest rivals.
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.
As it stands, the customisation choices on the A-Class are pretty limited. There are only five standard exterior paint colours to choose from (red is the only choice not on the greyscale), and the three trim levels give three variations of black on the inside. AMG models get slightly more choice with the addition of a yellow and a blue.
There are only three 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.
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’, it features a pair of 10.25-inch screens 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.
There is a price for all of this tech, however. The 10.25-inch screens aren’t standard – they’re available as part of the optional Premium Package, which also includes electrically folding mirrors, active park assist, heated front seats, ambient lighting, keyless go and an uprated sound system. All of this comes to £2,395. The augmented reality tech adds another £495. That’s the best part of three grand for the best tech, but in reality, it’s worth saving cash on a cheaper, more frugal engine and getting the technology – it’s that good.
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 only, with seating for five. 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. Optional adaptive dampers help to combat this, but cost £695.
The A-Class 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.
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.
Its overall safety rating for the Mercedes A-Class is yet to be assessed by Euro NCAP, but the old A-Class scored very highly. It’s safe to say that the new model – more tech-laden than ever – will do even better.
It’s too early to say how the A-Class fares in the reliability stakes, but Mercedes finished a disappointing 26th out of 30 manufacturers in the 2019 Driver Power satisfaction survey. Audi finished ten places higher in 16th and BMW were one ahead in 25th.
The previous generation model finished in the bottom half of the overall rankings. The 56th place finish was enough to put it six places higher than the BMW 1 Series, but the Audi A3 managed a more respectable 46th place.
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. Mercedes also provides 30 years’ corrosion protection from the inside out, and 30 years of breakdown cover.
The standard service interval for the Mercedes A-Class is set to once a year or every 15,500 miles – whichever comes first. Various service plans allow buyers to spread the cost of maintenance over monthly payments. A typical plan costs 28 per month, granting the owner one annual service over either two, three or four years.