First Drive: Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Already a cornerstone of the range, the new A-Class feels a cut above its rivals, says Alex Grant.
SECTOR Lower Medium PRICE £25,800-£30,240 FUEL 45.6-68.9mpg CO2 108-141g/km
For all the lure of its premium badge, the A-Class never really found its place until, in 2012, Mercedes-Benz reinvented its compact MPV as a sporty hatchback. This was the car buyers had wanted; plenty of tech and styling options, with the residuals and efficiency to put it within reach of company car buyers. And it hit the ground running.
Six years on, it’s a cornerstone of the UK line-up; almost a quarter of Mercedes-Benz volume in 2017, outselling its competitors and ranked tenth most popular car in Britain, all in its runout year. Drivers are, on average, ten years younger than its predecessor, 60% are new to Mercedes-Benz and it’s part of a five-model small car line-up that’s so popular it’ll soon grow to eight. This is the first component.
There’s no reinvention this time. It’s new from the ground up, and marginally larger, but focused on addressing the old car’s weaker points rather than starting again. So there’s a noticeable increase in passenger space inside – especially in the back – and the boot has an extra carry-on bag of volume, with two-piece rear lamps that no longer cut into the boot opening. The pillars are reprofiled to improve driver visibility, though it’s still a little gloomy in the back.
Ride comfort, never a strong point last time, was harder to judge. The launch cars were equipped with optional adaptive suspension, which wasn’t overly supple set to Comfort, while Sport found imperfections in well-surfaced roads. UK cars will get fixed-rate sport suspension, and our Moon surface road network to deal with, while the more sophisticated multi-link rear axle fitted to the old car will only come with AMG Line versions this time, to offset the effects of larger wheels. That’s likely to give lower versions a more unsettled ride, but we don’t know yet.
However, over half of UK customers chose AMG Line last time, which is unlikely to change. With its unique bodykit, single-piece sport seats and 18-inch wheels, it’s a marked step up from the plainer and very similar-looking SE and Sport versions. All get satellite navigation and digital instruments in one sweeping, glass-covered binnacle, with the option to add Executive and Premium packs to spec them up to larger screens, but only artificial leather upholstery is standard-fit.
Not that it’s short on wow factor. The cabin is fit for an executive car, beautifully built and with infinitely changeable display and lighting options, the customisable infotainment homescreen, and Alexa-like “Hey Mercedes…” voice commands that should please the tech-savvy. Novelties aside, navigation which can overlay directions and house numbers over a live image from the forward-facing camera is a highlight, though it’s a pricey option at £495.
The A-Class can also be integrated with Mercedes-Benz’s multi-brand fleet management system, and shared via a smartphone app based on the Car2Go platform, though this does rely on leaving a deactivated key in the car, unlike similar rivals.
There are three engines at launch; the big-selling 1.5-litre diesel, upgraded to 115bhp and fitted with AdBlue injection, and petrols at 161bhp and 221bhp, all fitted with seven-speed automatic gearboxes. The small diesel remains a willing performer, if a little noisy and prone to buzzing through the cabin at idle, but the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel from the E-Class is likely to follow. But, worth noting, all versions now feature 43-litre tanks instead of 50 litres in the outgoing car, which could be a bind for long-distance drivers.
Signs are, though, that they’d want for little else. Having found its place, the A-Class has matured into a very desirable, well-rounded entry point to the range.
What We Think:
The A-Class has all the bells and whistles to attract young drivers, and some genuinely useful technology for fleets too. With more compact cars en route, and an EV in the pipeline, it feels well placed to build on 2012’s well-targeted reinvention.