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Is the Mercedes A-Class really a big car in a small body?

Published: 10 May 2019

► New Mercedes A-Class daily driver
► Full long-term test review, updates
► We live with an A200 AMG Line
 

Month 5 living with a Merc A-Class: boot space and practicality

One of two things happens when you’re showing someone around your A-Class and you tell them the interior is smarter than an S-Class’s. Some will love the screens and the seats; others will shuffle quickly away, in case your gullibility is infectious. So what do those big car/small package claims actually amount to? Let’s break it down.

Does it really have more tech than an S-Class? The A-Class debuted the new MBUX interface. You don’t get the full monty on entry-level cars, but if you do follow our route of specifying the Premium package and Augmented Nav package (together adding nearly £3k on top of AMG Line trim) then you get a fantastic merging of instrument screen and central touchscreen, a brilliantly effective voice-activation system, and augmented reality on the sat-nav. This really is better than the S-Class.

Does it drive like a big car? No, although it’s more grown-up than most hatchbacks. And it falls well short of big cars on its range between fill-ups. With big cars, it’s not unusual to go 500 miles. In the A-Class, you’re looking out for pumps (the sat-nav helps a lot here) soon after 300. When the car is so comfortable and refined, that feels like an unnecessary interruption.

How roomy is the interior? Everyone in an S-Class has more room than anyone in an A-Class. S-Class boot space varies depending on version, but generally it’s 510 litres for a short-wheelbase and 530 for a long-wheelbase. That’s far more than the A-Class with its rear seats up: 370 litres, same as an Astra, more than a Focus, less than a Golf. But drop the rear seats and it grows to 1210 litres. That’s big enough to carry the bags of a family of four going on holiday for a week. But of course two of those people will have to stay at home. But still, it’s a great interior in terms of design, practicality and feel.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line

Price £28,700 (£31,710 as tested)
Performance 1.3-litre 4-cyl, 161bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 139mph
Efficiency 53.3mpg (official), 45.1mpg (tested), 123g/km CO2
Energy cost 13p per mile
Miles this month 1358
Total miles 8211  


Month 4 of our Mercedes A-Class long-term test: should you pick the automatic or the manual?

New 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-ClassHaving grouched about the way the Merc’s automatic gearbox seems to be set up for economy rather than driving pleasure, I made a point of doing a few journeys making changes manually. And… it wasn’t a great success. 

The A200’s seven-speed automatic gearbox is designed for ease and simplicity of operation. You engage D, R, P or N with the right-hand stalk: similar to that used by automatic Mercs for decades, if rather spindlier. You also have paddles, which override the automatic selection, but the system soon resumes making changes for you, usually up, taking it out of the rev band I’d put it into. 

This gets tiresome. Because the pleasure of manual gearchanges isn’t located in just the odd shift here and there – it’s in stringing together a sequence of shifts, keeping the engine on the boil.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line

Price £28,700
As tested £31,710
Engine 1332cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 161bhp @ 5500rpm, 184lb ft @ 1620rpm  
Transmission 7-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 139mph, 123g/km CO2
Miles this month 1792
Total  6853
Our mpg 38.4
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £252.36
Extra costs Screenwash £1.20


Mercedes A-Class long-term test

Month 3 living with a Mercedes A-Class: engine focus

It came up in a recent episode of CAR Uncut and I make no apology for bringing it up again here: it may be true that there are no bad cars any more, but it’s also true that some versions of any given good car will be better than some other versions.

The current A-Class is a very clear example. Our A200 is enjoyable and impressive in many ways, but its deficiencies are illustrated by driving an A180d. For a modestly sized hatchback I’d generally prefer the lighter, revvier feel of a petrol, but in this case the diesel is better suited to the car.

The figures don’t really tell the story. The diesel’s slightly cheaper and its official combined mpg figure is superior by more than 20mpg, but it’s 3.2sec slower to 62mph; thank the petrol’s 47bhp advantage. The real difference, however, is in daily driving, where the A200 is all too keen to be in the wrong gear, whereas the 180 has a more harmonious relationship between revs and ratios. There are modes to play around with, and of course the difference your right foot can make. But no combination of settings and driving style has made the 200 as smooth and natural-feeling as the 180. Bear in mind that other engines will soon become available, and that there are manual gearboxes, and also remember that there are plenty of other wonderful things about the A-Class.

Mercedes A200 vs A180d

The cabin in particular continues to delight. There’s the novelty of the different instrument configurations and strip-light colours. There’s the effectiveness of the voice-controlled infotainment. And there’s the sheer brilliance of the upholstery and dash: on design, materials and build quality, this is – deep breath – better than any Audi. Yup.

As with all long-term test cars, the A200 gets driven by a lot of different people. This is invaluable when it comes to evaluating a car from many perspectives, but extremely annoying when you return to the car after someone else has been in it and all of the settings are askew. There’s a lot to get used to with the A-Class – from the instrument display to the angle of the seat, from the audio to the cabin lighting – and it had taken me several weeks to get everything to my liking when I first got the car. And then Jake Groves has it for a few days and it turns into some kind of mobile internet cafe/Las Vegas nightclub. Some things – the cabin temperature, the lighting colour, the default radio station – could be reset in an instant, simply by pressing the Profile icon and choosing my profile, which established my preferences on day one. But the particular A-Class doesn’t have electric seats, and it took a while to get comfortable again.

First-world problems, I know, but particularly noticeable in the Merc, which has so many features, big and small, physical and digital, that can be adjusted.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line specs and costs

Price £28,700  
As tested £31,710  
Engine 1332cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 161bhp @ 5500rpm, 184lb ft @ 1620rpm  
Transmission 7-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 139mph, 123g/km CO2
Miles this month 651
Total 5061
Our mpg 33.9
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £124.01
Extra costs None


Month 2 living with a Mercedes A-Class: menu madness

Every day – literally every day – I’ve found a new combination of graphs, dials, lists, maps and squiggles to display on the twin screens. Yet there’s also a setting called Understated. Saab did it years ago, but it’s all the more welcome for being in a high-tech package. ‘Here, look at all the amazing things our car can do!’ ‘Er, no thanks, I’ll just leave it blank.’

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line specs and costs

Price £28,700  
As tested £31,710  
Engine 1332cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 161bhp @ 5500rpm, 184lb ft @ 1620rpm  
Transmission 7-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 139mph, 123g/km CO2
Miles this month 1130
Total 4410
Our mpg 39.1
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £181.58
Extra costs £1.50


Merc A-Class

Month 1 of our Mercedes-Benz A-Class long-term test review: welcome to the fleet

The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is as outstanding inside as it is generic outside. Jarringly so, as if Mercedes started with the interior and ran out of time or money or imagination before the body could be persuaded to do anything more than complete its transition into a BMW 1-series or Mazda 3 clone, at precisely the same time as Ford reached the same destination with the Focus.

One of the challenges in my time with the A200 is to avoid the trap of going on and on about the many wonderful and intriguing and sometimes baffling aspects to the interior to the exclusion of the rest of the car. And that would be a serious oversight, because first impressions are that the Merc is pretty ordinary to drive, and at times quite annoying, and we can’t let that pass, however good the interior is.

This particular A-Class is the lesser of two petrols currently available. There’s also a diesel, and other variants will follow. Its 1332cc turbo four drives the front wheels through a seven-speed paddleshift auto. It rides on 18in alloys, with multi-link suspension at the rear and MacPherson struts up front. 

It’s in AMG Line spec, which involves a bodykit and fancy grille, sporty-ish seats and a multi-function steering wheel. That costs £28,700 on the road. This car also has £3010 of extras, in the shape of the Premium package (a 10.25in central screen merging with a 10.25in instrument screen, heated front seats, 64-colour ambient lighting, illuminated door sills, an audio upgrade, electrically folding mirrors, active parking assistance, keyless unlocking, all for £2395), a nav upgrade that includes augmented reality (£495) and some aluminium trim (£120). 

Passengers love it. The augmented reality, which superimposes road names and arrows on to a camera image of the junction ahead, is actually better positioned for passengers than for the driver, as you need to take your eyes south-west to the central screen. They also love the adjustable ambient lighting, which can make the dash, the footwells and the door bins glow a variety of colours. The way the air vents glow red when you increase the temperature is also a big hit.

More news, specs and photos of the new Mercedes A-Class

And the voice activation is remarkable. I’ll doubtless have much more to say about this in the months ahead, but at the moment we’re in that wonderful stage in a relationship where we’re getting to know each other. This is not an illusion; it really does adapt to your voice and the sort of thing you want it to do. For a while it thought that saying ‘white Mercedes’ was a request for help, but soon learnt that it wasn’t.

The interior of our Mercedes A-Class hatchback: keeper Colin Overland in the cabin

It currently responds to ‘hey Mercedes’, ‘hi Mercedes’ and ‘okay Mercedes’, but ignores ‘white Mercedes’. It’s quick and efficient at adjusting temperature and lighting, too. But it’s far from flawless,  denying all knowledge of certain destinations and certain music, and being weirdly keen on getting me to listen to more Prodigy.

The central touchpad (where a gearlever would go in a what we used to think of as a normal car) is extremely fiddly, as are the tiny touchpads on the steering wheel, but the central screen can be used as a conventional touchscreen, which works just fine.

I love the look of the dash – with its simple horizontality, its Fritz Lang vents and its Austin Maxi perforations  – and the elegance of the seats with their built-in head restraints.

But I’m finding the fuel tank to be annoyingly small. The transmission is poor in every way – it does dozy and it does jerky, but I can’t get it to do the good stuff in between. And the brakes are juddery too often. I may soon adapt.

By Colin Overland

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Logbook: Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line specs and costs

Price £28,700  
As tested £31,710  
Engine 1332cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 161bhp @ 5500rpm, 184lb ft @ 1620rpm  
Transmission 7-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 139mph, 123g/km CO2
Miles this month 319
Total 3280
Our mpg 40.6
Official mpg 53.3
Fuel this month £47.10
Extra costs None

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