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 Mercedes’ 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 Mercedes 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 Coupe, 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 a Mercedes 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 Deals pages. With a few simple clicks and no haggling at all, you'll find big discounts on nearly every new car on sale.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
We think most folks will be perfectly happy with the diesel-powered A180d. It earns its spurs with a progressive power delivery that’s spread evenly through the rev range, rather than coming and going in a flash like the BMW 118d's. It's not spectacularly quick outright (0-62mph takes 10.5sec if you pick the auto 'box) but it still has more than enough oomph to sit happily all day in the outside lane of the motorway. The A200d is also a cracker, feeling quite a bit quicker and is worth considering, but while the A220d is quicker still, it falls into the reaches of the law of diminishing returns.
What about your petrol-engine options? We’d avoid the A180, because it needs to be worked quite hard to keep up with traffic. The more powerful A200 is better, but still no ball of fire, even when you do drive it with gusto. So, and we say this advisedly: if you really want a petrol and you can afford it, the A250 is 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. That's not far off a Ford Focus ST and, thanks to having plenty of low-rev urge, it still feels pleasingly brisk even when you’re not thrashing it.
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 quite brisk (0-62mph takes 6.6sec) while providing you with an official electric-only range of over 40 miles with a full charge. In the real world expect that to be a bit of a stretch, though.
Suspension and ride comfort
The difference in ride quality between an A Class and its premium rivals is fairly minor. Most versions of the Audi A3 and the BMW 1 Series are a little firmer, especially in their respective sportier trims, S line and M Sport. Being firmer, they are slightly better tied down over hefty undulations.
The A Class's approach is slightly different. Its softer set-up makes it one of the comfier family car options over pockmarked town roads and sleeping policemen, but it tends to suffer from a bit more float and bounce along crests and falls tackled with some speed. If you really value a cosseting ride, then the best car in the class for you is a Volkswagen Golf 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 formbook. 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; if anything it's the most comfortable version of all.
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 in a natural way, which, combined with its accuracy, means you can place the car just where you want 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 runs out of front-end grip quicker than an Audi A3 and isn't as agile as M Sport versions of the BMW 1 Series. The A250e is the least fun to drive; at around 200kg heavier than the rest of the range, thanks to its big battery, it exhibits the most lean in corners and runs out of grip soonest.
Noise and vibration
Refinement isn’t the A Class’s strongest suit, and less so if you choose the A180 or A200. Their 1.3-litre petrol engines are boomy and uncouth, especially when you work them hard. Likewise, while the A250e is whisper-quiet in electric mode, that tranquillity evaporates when its petrol engine springs into life.
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 our favourite engine, which, for a diesel, is pretty quiet, with less rumble than a BMW 118d emits. The A200d and A220d are only a little more raucous.
The six-speed manual gearbox that's standard on lesser versions is notchier than the A3’s, and the eight-speed automatic 'box (fitted to the A200d, A220d and A250e) can be quite jerky in traffic. The seven-speed auto 'box that comes with the A180, A200, A250 and A180d is much better. There’s more wind and road noise at speed than a 1 Series, and it tends to consume you from all directions. And the A Class has the most suspension noise if you compare it with a 1 Series or A3.
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