What Car? says...
Here’s a conundrum for you: what has huge presence but is relatively small, and prolific yet far from banal? Okay, this is the Mercedes A-Class review, so it’s a good shout that we’re referring to the smallest car with a three-pointed star. And before anyone writes in to tell us that the Smart Fortwo is the smallest Mercedes of all, technically you’re right, but it doesn’t wear that famous badge.
Few would argue that the A-Class doesn't cut more of a dash on the road than many other family cars, from the Ford Focus to the Skoda Octavia. And despite selling in inordinately big numbers, the A-Class retains its lofty air of prestige panache that makes so many potential buyers think: “I want one.”
There are various spin-offs, too, including the A-Class Saloon and the CLA Coupé, plus not just one but two racey hot hatch versions: the sizzling 302bhp A35 and the 'pants on fire' 415bhp A45. You can read about all those by clicking the individual links; here we’re focusing on the regular hatchback.
So, after all that, you might be feeling the urge to bag yourself an A Class right now, but hold your horses. There are at least two other cars in the class that need to be considered first: the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. And if, after weighing up those, you do decide that the A-Class is still your dream car, you’ll need a route map through all the various trims, option packs and engines that are available.
That’s where this review will help you. Keep on reading and we’ll tell you how the Mercedes A-Class compares with its premium rivals, and which engine and trim combo makes the most sense. When you’re feeling au fait with the facts, the next stage is to head to our New Car Buying service. With a few simple clicks and no haggling at all, you'll find big discounts on the A-Class, and nearly every other new car on sale.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
If you're after diesel power, the A180d is your best bet. It earns its spurs with a progressive power delivery that’s spread evenly through the rev range, and while it isn't spectacularly quick outright (0-60mph takes around 10 seconds if you pick the automatic gearbox) it still has more than enough oomph to sit happily in the outside lane of the motorway. The A200d is also a cracker, feeling quite a bit nippier and worth considering if you have the money, but the faster-still, yet pricey, A220d falls foul of the law of diminishing returns.
What about your petrol engine options? Avoid the A180, because it needs to be worked quite hard to keep up with traffic. The more powerful 161bhp A200 is much pokier, and our pick of the range. In our test, it covered the 0-60mph sprint in 7.5sec – far quicker than the Audi A3 35 TFSI and BMW 118i managed – and it has effortless oomph for relaxed cruising. The A250 is also a belter. It uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine that packs an impressive 221bhp – enough to take you from 0-62mph in just 6.2sec, which isn't far off the Ford Focus ST hot hatch's time.
Finally, there's an eco-friendly plug-in hybrid, the A250e. It uses the 1.3-litre petrol engine from the A200 with an electric motor that bumps up the power to a useful 215bhp. That makes it properly brisk (0-62mph takes just 6.6sec) while providing you with an official electric-only range of 44 miles – an impressive figure that is also entirely believable, because we managed more than 40 miles on battery power alone.
Suspension and ride comfort
The A-Class, even the sportier AMG Line trims, takes a different approach from the generally firmer A3 and 1 Series. Its softer set-up makes it one of the comfiest family cars over pockmarked town roads and sleeping policemen; the trade-off is more float and bounce along crests and falls tackled at speed than its two premium rivals. If you really value a cosseting ride, the best car in the class is the Volkswagen Golf, but only when fitted with optional adaptive suspension.
Usually, fitting bigger wheels or buying the sportiest version of a car is the death knell of a good ride, but the A-Class goes against that form book. Even the relatively sporty A250 model is no less comfortable than the cheapest models in the range, partly because it features a more sophisticated rear suspension setup. Even the heavy battery the A250e plug-in hybrid has to cart around doesn't trounce its ride; there's a little more the float we mentioned on undulating country roads, but it never gets out of hand.
The A-Class handles pretty well. Yes, there’s a bit of body lean through faster corners, but this happens so progressively that it never feels unstable during quick changes of direction. Even the steering impresses in the main; it builds weight naturally, and this, combined with its accuracy, means you can place the car easily on the road. It’s also light enough to ensure town driving isn't a chore. The A200 and A250 are the most dynamic versions, because their more sophisticated rear suspension design delivers flatter cornering.
Is it the best-handling premium family car? No, because the A-Class isn't as agile as the Audi A3 S line. The A250e is the least fun to drive; at around 200kg heavier than the rest of the range, due to its big battery, it exhibits the most lean in corners and runs out of grip the soonest.
Noise and vibration
The 1.3-litre petrol engines in the A180 and A200 aren’t the most refined in the class, but that's mainly a problem when you work them past 5000rpm. The BMW 118i is a lot smoother to rev out, as is the Audi A3 35 TFSI. The A250e suffers the same affliction but is whisper-quiet when it’s in electric mode.
The more powerful A250 petrol comes across as rather more cultured, combining smoothness at low speeds with a fairly sporty rasp as you rev it out. The A180d is relatively hushed, with less rumble than the BMW 118d. The A200d and A220d are only a little more raucous.
The eight-speed automatic 'box (fitted to the A200d, A220d and A250e) can be quite jerky in traffic, but the seven-speed auto that comes with the A180, A200, A250 and A180d is much better. There’s more wind noise at speed than the A3 and 1 Series generate, but road noise is better tempered than it is in its two chief rivals, keeping the A-Class slightly quieter at motorway speeds. There is quite a bit of suspension noise over lumpy roads, though.
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