Review: Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Mercedes-Benz has revamped its best-selling A-Class. The five-door coupé- cum-hatchback became a UK top ten seller after its arrival in 2013, when it replaced a smaller and less sexy version. That original A-Class had introduced front-wheel-drive to the brand in 1997.
The styling of the new A-Class is noticeably sleekerThe styling of the new A-Class is noticeably sleeker
The styling of the new A-Class is noticeably sleeker

The 2013 model made a big impression, not just on the market but on me. In one of those what-if moments, I thought I might buy one. This is the ultimate sacrifice for a car reviewer, a decision easy to make for others, but when it’s one’s own money, rather less so. The A series developed into a semi-SUV GLA version, a coupé and a shooting brake and a super- quick AMG model.

My other short-listed car was the Skoda Octavia estate – which has since been revised. My approximate budget was £20,000. Since then I have driven a VW Golf with a one-litre petrol turbo engine and DSG gears – so sublime and economical I’d have sent the cheque – if only I had really, really needed a car.

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Now, out of Germany, come two new contenders, to make me think again – this latest A-Class and the all-new Ford Focus. Of the two tested, the Ford was a nicer drive. The A-Class has been lifted up-market. It fairly glows in its wider and longer skin, relegating the previous model as a precursor to this better-looking, sweeter-styled car. Sleeker light clusters enhance – particularly at the rear where the “old” shape quickly aged. The wider units now reach into the tailgate. That said, it’s not hugely different and shouldn’t make recent buyers of the old model too dismayed. Inside, there is an inch or so more wriggle room but the cabin remains compact. The boot aperture is wider and the capacity increases slightly.

The major change is the control area, which brings in big-car features from the superb S-Class limousine. The steering wheel is packed with buttons and roller wheels and two small blue touch pads. These manage and alter the various digital displays on the virtual instrument panel and the large navigation and information screen. There’s also a voice command system.

The clarity of the displays is as good as anything and better than most. A £495 upgrade to the navigation (Executive, Premium or Premium Plus grades) brings live camera vision approaching junctions, with a blue arrow indicating the correct direction, street names and house numbers.

The Executive pack costs £1,395 and brings a larger 10.25-inch screen, parking assistance and heated seats. The £2,395 Premium pack replaces the 7-inch instrument display with a second 10.25-screen.

The launch engines are the 180d diesel and A200 and A250 petrol turbos. A 180 petrol is here soon with more powerful diesels next year, plus electric on the near horizon and several other body styles.

The numeric values of these engines are misleading. The 180d is actually 1.5 litres. The A200 is a mere 1.33 litre – both originating at Renault Nissan with additions from Mercedes. This allows the company to get smaller engines without a massive investment.

My demo car was the A200, dressed up in AMG Line, with a seven-speed automatic gearbox. The standard price is £28,700 but the Premium pack, augmented navigation, and metallic black paint and a dashboard trim brought the price to £31,710. A “personal agility” four-year contract at 10,000 miles a year works out at £359 a month.

As an everyday drive on normal roads the A200 was disappointing. The initial set-off was grumbly. Once under way this subsided, to be replaced by far too much tyre/road noise. It was running on Bridgestone’s newly introduced Turanza T005 tyres. My passenger likened it to the roar in an aeroplane cabin. The other major annoyance was wheel thump at the back – even on the comfort suspension setting. Last, the effort needed to close the tailgate was too great.

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The small capacity engine did give decent acceleration. The 0-60mph time is under eight seconds and the stated top speed is 139mph. The combined fuel consumption of 53.3mpg and the CO2 rating of 123g are good results and were partly emulated in real-life driving. A typical modern motorway journey averaged 55 out and 52mpg back. The overall in a week was 49mpg. On my regular “commuter” route it gave 42mpg.

On those figures I can’t see a huge attraction in spending more to buy the 180 diesel model for which prices start at £25,800 and close at £32,135 for the AMG Line Premium Plus – all with automatic gears. The SE has a 68.9mpg rating with 108g on 16-inch wheels.

Main model lines are SE, from £22,850 (180d and 180 petrol engines only); Sport, from £24,350 (adding the A200 engines) and AMG Line (adding the A250 and A250 4Matic) from £25,550, all these with the 136hp A180 petrol engine and manual gears. Add £1,600 for the automatic gearbox (standard with the 180d).

Verdict: Sure to be another hot seller.