The first two Meredes-Benz A-class iterations were clever and sold well, but the tall and narrow styling caused Mercedes some headaches at the first car’s launch. 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.
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 A45) strengthened its position further.
Mercedes is hoping to replicate that feat with the latest, more technologically-advanced and more sleekly-styled 2018 A-class. 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.
Early impressions suggest it’s a more appealing car in the showroom than it is on the road, with uninspiring handling and an unsettled ride chipping away at the car’s premium feel, but for cabin ambience and technology the new Mercedes A-class is hard to beat, and smaller wheels may yet fix our misgivings about the car’s road manners.
Mercedes-Benz A-class in detail
Performance and 0-60 time – A250 approaches hot hatchback levels of performance but without the drama. A200 and A180d… do not.
Engine and gearbox – Two petrol four-pots and a four-cylinder diesel, all turbocharged. A seven-speed DCT is standard across the range, with a six-speed manual on the way.
Ride and handling – Handling is competent and grippy but uninspiring, while a poor ride harms refinement. Smaller wheels may help improve matters.
MPG and running costs – Nearly 70mpg (on paper) from the A180d, with low rates of tax as a result. Real-world figures are less impressive but on-par with rivals.
Interior and tech – The new A-class’s stand-out feature. Slick cabin design makes rivals look old, bulky and clunky, and the in-car tech is among the best we’ve tried.
Design – A refined version of the old car’s styling, with fewer uncomfortable lines, and neater details.
Prices, specs and rivals
The new A-class is more expensive than the model it replaces, and takes a big jump at the point of entry too – though this is skewed somewhat by the new car’s higher level of equipment compared to its predecessor, and the unavailability – for now, at least – of a cheaper manual gearbox option.
As such, an A180d in SE trim currently begins at £25,800, rising to £27,500 for an A200 petrol and £30,240 for the A250. SE models kick off with 16in wheels, DAB, Artico artificial leather and cloth trim, various assistance systems, and navigation. Sport adds LED headlights, bumps the wheel diameter up by and inch, and throws in automatic climate control, while AMG Line gains you another inch in wheel diameter, AMG body styling, Artico and Dinamica (artificial suede) trim, sports seats and a sports three-spoke steering wheel.
To get the full effect of the new A’s cabin you do then need to spend a few more pennies – swapping the standard pair of 7-inch screens for a pair of 10.25-inch screens means finding £1395 for the Executive pack (10.25in touchscreen, active park assist and heated seats) and another £2395 for the Premium pack (10.25in instrument display, 64-colour ambient lighting, keyless go, an upgraded sound system and a few other toys).
Pricing, while higher than before, is on-par with premium rivals – matching the A180d SE means opting for an Audi A3 Sportback 1.6 TDI SE Technik S Tronic at £25,630, or a BMW 116d SE Business (manual only) at £24,330 in five-door form.