Road Test: Mercedes-Benz A 180 d Sport Executive
Has the refreshed A-Class answered its predecessor’s criticisms? Alex Grant finds out. Sector: Lower Medium Price: £24,130 Fuel: 72.4mpg CO2: 102g/km
It’s almost four years since Mercedes-Benz moved the A-Class away from its MPV roots, turning it into a stylish hatchback and setting its sights on a younger, and significantly larger, customer base. It’s now a vital part of the brand’s fleet ambitions, too.
Around two thirds of European A-Class customers are new to the brand, and there’s a 13-year gap between their average age and that of the previous model. By offering a car which can appeal to new customers, it has potential to start a relationship which will eventually extend to larger models – including the platform-shared CLA and GLA-Class.
With the rest of the range since catching up with the family design hallmarks set out by the smallest model, it’s finally come into its own. So the design has barely changed, only adding LED-lined rear lamps and re-shaped front and rear bumpers to bring it up to date. Drivers who loved the original and are looking into a replacement will find no reasons to be put off.
They’ll also find a few of the early issues have been ironed out. Particularly the much-maligned lack of ride comfort offered by anything other than the entry-level SE on its button-sized wheels. From Sport upwards, all new A-Class models get selectable driving modes which include adjustments to suspension stiffness.
It’s a bit of a workaround, but it is effective. The outgoing car always felt sure-footed and none of that has been lost, but it’s now possible to dial out a little of the crashiness on heavily scarred stretches of the UK road network. Realistically, Sport and Eco modes are a bit of a luxury – Comfort offering plenty of engine pep without a significant economy sacrifice.
Ironically, gaining an Eco mode means moving up to a less efficient model. The larger wheels on Sport versions mean it can’t match the 80.7mpg and 89g/km CO2 emissions of the SE, which has no selectable driving modes. Sport versions come in at 102g/km and 72.4mpg, but the Renault-sourced 1.5-litre diesel is a genuinely efficient engine easily capable of averaging over 60mpg on motorway stretches and it’s lively enough to be fun to drive too.
Some things are more difficult to change. The cabin is stylish, borrowing heavily from larger Mercedes-Benz products in terms of design, but material quality could be higher and the new, larger, eight-inch display screen still looks like an afterthought stuck at the top of the dashboard. Back seat passengers will find it cramped, and access to the boot is impaired by the shape of the rear lights. Penalties of function following form.
It’s possible to accrue many thousands of pounds of options and personalisation add-ons, but the Executive package is the only necessity for business users. It’s a £995 trim upgrade which adds the essential but visually incongruous Garmin navigation system, but also includes heated front seats and a parking assistant. Sadly, DAB isn’t included, and it’s an expensive upgrade at £420.
On the upside, the artificial leather upholstery feels as upmarket as any entry-level genuine cowhide and it’s standard equipment. Apple CarPlay and Mirrorlink smartphone app streaming is also now included in the infotainment display, both of which include navigation software for occasional users. It might be enough to get by without the Executive trim.
This remains a form-focused car, which is on target for the part of the segment it’s out to conquer. There are space issues attached to that, but drivers seduced by the A-Class’s design last time will find it’s even more appealing this time around.
No major surprises here, but the improved ride quality makes the A-Class feel much more like a junior Benz.