Having changed from a quirky baby people carrier to conventional hatchback, Mercedes’ new A-Class is here and ready to do battle in the increasingly crowded premium compact market. Has the Stuttgart manufacturer imparted enough of its luxury feel to distance the A-Class from the usual hatchback contenders? Motors.co.uk took to the wheel to find out.
What is it?
The entry point into Mercedes’ vast luxury car range. As well as enticing new and younger drivers to the brand, the A-Class is pitched at those looking to downsize from a larger car, but who don’t want to leave behind the opulent trappings of their executive saloons. Three petrol engines are offered: a 120bhp 1.6-litre as tested here, and a 2.0-litre in 154bhp and 211bhp states of tune. Diesel power is provided courtesy of a 1.5-litre with tax-dodging 98g/km CO2 emissions, as well more powerful 134bhp and 168bhp versions at 1.8 and 2.1 litres respectively.
What is it like to drive?
Despite our entry-level car’s lack of sports suspension and large wheels, the A-Class felt overly firm with bumps in the road making themselves felt in a manner unbecoming of a supposedly premium car. This, combined with a lack of road and wind noise isolation in the cabin at motorway speeds means the A-Class doesn’t really have the cossetting feeling we would expect from a Mercedes. It’s the sort of thing that a Volkswagen Golf does much better.
Get the A-Class on a winding road and there is more to like. It’s set up more for stability rather than driver thrills, though it will raise a smile when driven with enthusiasm. It’s a large car, though, and can feel cumbersome next to more athletic rivals like the BMW 1-Series. We’d also avoid the automatic gearbox if you’re opting for a lower powered engine, as it feels mismatched to the car.
What is it like inside?
While the cabin has expensive details like air-vents lifted from the Mercedes SLS supercar, the dash configuration is very upright, as in the marque’s bigger cars, and the layout doesn’t cocoon passengers in the way the 1-Series or Audi A3 do. And, though material quality is high the surface finishes never feel quite as expensive as expected, feeling more a rival for mainstream hatchbacks as opposed to the expensive premium contenders.
Specify dark interior trims and the cabin can also feel gloomy, thanks to the narrow glazing all around. It’s designed to give a cockpit-like, sporting feel, though some, particularly those with children, may find the claustrophobic feeling unbearable.
Thankfully, this being a baby Mercedes, it is available with a lot of the toys that are usually the preserve of luxury saloons, including adaptive cruise control and active park assist. Be warned, however, getting happy with the options list will quickly raise the asking price from expensive to eye-watering.
Is it practical?
Style has been given priority over practicality with the A-Class with the rear load space in particular falling short of rivals. It’s a shallow load space too; the high boot floor preventing larger items being loaded. While quite roomy, the cabin doesn’t exactly bristle with useful cubby-holes either, aside from the centre-console, which offers limited storage for oddments. The small windows and thick pillars also make parking a nightmare, meaning the optional (at £690) park assist is an essential purchase.
Should I buy one?
We concluded our test drive decidedly nonplussed with the A-Class. With a larger engine the rather flat driving experience would have been remedied, though even in its least sporty setup, it was too uncomfortable to be truly luxurious. Certainly it falls behind its Audi rival in this respect, and doesn’t offer the engaging dynamics of the BMW either. With mainstream offerings, particularly the Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon, being so well rounded, its difficult for us to recommend Merc’s new baby.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Mercedes A-Class in our classifieds here.
Mercedes A180 BlueEFFICIENCY SE Automatic
List price: £21,600
Engine: 1.6-litre, four cylinder, petrol
Top speed: 126mph
0-62mph: 9.1 seconds
Fuel economy: 39.8mpg (urban), 62.8mpg (extra-urban) 52.3mpg (combined)
Emissions: 127g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: 5 stars