► We drive the entire range
► Improved driving dynamics and practicality
► On sale now, UK prices from £23k
The Mercedes A-class has evolved into something quite different from the technical showboating of the original Mk1 monobox back in 1997. Fast forward twenty and a bit years, and the new Mercedes A-class hatchback ups the ante with a more conventional look, some impressive interior tech and a more enjoyable ride.
We’ve now comprehensively tested every engine in the Mercedes A-class line up – bar the recently announced A35 AMG special – and this review covers every powertrain you can get in the new A-class, plus how it drives on UK roads. So, is the new, fourth-generation Mercedes A-class a legitimate Golf-rival, or just another overpriced Mercedes hatch? Keep reading for our full, updated verdict on the all-new A-class hatchback to find out.
The new interior: A-class debuts MBUX
For the past few years, Mercedes, Audi and BMW have been locked in a technology arms race, and it’s not just the flagship models such as S-class or 8-series models that are benefiting: The new A-class hatchback now has one of the smartest interiors Mercedes has to offer.
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Step into a well-specced A-class and you’re greeted with a clean, premium-feeling cabin slathered in leather and pinsharp, modern widescreen displays (see below). The latter are a central part of the cabin, and control just about every auxiliary function the new A-class has. And, trust us, there’s a lot functions. Thankfully, however, the all-new MBUX infotainment system is polished to within an inch of its life, and HD graphics make the whole experience more like using a flagship smartphone than a ‘entry-level’ hatchback.
MBUX is not quite as easy to use as Audi’s offering, nor as intuitive as BMW’s iDrive, perhaps, but it’s a marked improvement over the previous A-class. Interestingly, Mercedes has scrapped its rotary, click and touchpad controls for a more simple track pad layout – and on the whole it works well. Despite not being as tactile as the old system, the new system is still easy to use: There are hard shortcuts for home, nav and all those useful bits, and it also has OCR so you can write in navigation queries. We particularly liked how swiping left and right at the top of the pad changed tracks.
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It might not have the total eyes-off design of the rotary dial, but it’s easy to get used to – and when combined with the new wheel’s hand controls, it’s an overall better experience.
Oh, and because the American demands it, the main screen in the A-class is also a touchscreen – which does occasionally make things a little easier.
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The natural speech recognition is especially clever. Commands like 'phone home' and 'play Metallica' worked every time as did requests like 'take me to Stamford.' However, there are legal issues at play; it's why the A-class will open the sunroof blind for you, but can't open the sunroof. Either way, Mercedes tells us this system will only get better, as it's being updated over-the-air throughout the car's life.
Eyes forward to the Widescreen Cockpit (7.0 inches standard and 10.25-inches as an option) and the levels of customisation are seemingly endless. Switching between graphics of the trip computer, media, maps and driver assistance displays is done through fingerprint-size touchpads on either side of the wheel – itself borrowed from the larger Mercedes S-class. Again, it’s not as immediately intuitive as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but the technology on offer is still seriously impressive.
Gripes? It's not a perfect cabin: we found the stalks operating the indicators (left) and gearlever (right) too damn flimsy; they totally let the side down, feeling cheap and moving with a less than pleasing, poorly engineered action. We in fact often selected Neutral rather than Reverse.
They're at odds with an otherwise first-rate cabin; we can't think of another family hatchback with a more knock-out interior.
What engines can you get?
This is your engine list for the new A-Class:
- A180d diesel
- A200d diesel
- A180 petrol
- A200 petrol
- A220 petrol
- A250 petrol
For the A180d, 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel producing 114bhp and 192 lb ft of torque, good for 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 125mph.
And, if we’re being honest, it feels all of its double-figure 0-62mph time. Overtakes need to be undertaken with written notice, while accelerating uphill onto a motorway requires a good few seconds of pedal-to-the-metal action to get things going. It falls short of being too slow, mind, and the sharp throttle map means it feels perky at low speeds.
Happily, refinement has been improved over the previous A180d. There’s still an unmistakable diesel clatter, but only as the rev needle ventures into red line territory. The rest of the time it’s hushed and smooth enough for pleasant motorway cruising.
The A200 tested
Unsurprisingly, the A180d (along with AMG Line trim) is set to be the biggest-seller once again – although not by much – as the anti-diesel brigade guilt trips consumers into the A200 instead. And speaking of the 161bhp A200, it’s noticeably perkier than the A180d under hard acceleration, hitting the magic 62mph mark in 8.0 seconds dead and a top whack of 139mph.
Such figures are down to a 1.3-litre – yes, you read that right, a 1.3-litre Mercedes-Benz – turbocharged petrol producing 161bhp and 184 lb ft of torque. It’s not quite as silky smooth as you might expect, mind, with a coarseness to its character whenever you stray above 4000rpm.
It's actually quite raucous when stoked, but the performance on tap matches the zesty character of the new A-class range. We found the automatic transmission hunting a fair bit on our A200 auto, but most of the time this powertrain combo suited the Merc well.
All cars deliver their power through a seven-speed DCT transmission operated by the familiar Mercedes-Benz gear selector on the steering column arrangement. There are also manual override paddles – which are surprisingly responsive – should you need to put your own mark on the auto ‘box.
Gearchange frequency can be tweaked using the drive mode selector, along with the steering weight, throttle response and stability control settings.
The A180 tested
Not to be boring, but we’re going to have to start this section with a small, but significant footnote. The two cars we drove on the overseas launch event both had multi-link rear suspension and adaptive dampers. Nothing wrong with that, except that only UK cars in top-level AMG Line trim will have the multi-link rear end, while adaptive dampers will not be available full stop – or at least to begin with. The A250 we drove didn’t have adaptive dampers for example.
What we were left with then, was an A-class on 18-inch wheels that tackled the pockmarked roads of Croatia rather well, soaking up the worst of the asphalt’s imperfections and only occasionally allowing the large alloys to add an unpleasant edge to the ride.
Push on, and, although the front-wheel drive A-class, couldn't hang with a 1-series through the bends, there was still ample grip and stability from the front end, and enough feel through the steering wheel to let the driver know most of what was going on. Body roll was noticeable, mind, confirming that this is a car gunning for comfort more than dynamic ability.
Driving the basic A180 SE
Unlike our first test of the A180 at the initial A-Class launch above, Mercedes UK provided us with an absolutely bog-standard A180 SE to try, complete with a six-speed manual and no additional options to distract us, giving us the best idea of what the car is like at the lowest end of the scale.
It's safe to say that the A180 SE is a gem. The engine itself isn't exactly inspiring; it drones on just as much as the other petrols do and it isn't exactly fast. But the main surprise was the manual gearbox: a feelsome clutch pedal and slick shifting make it easy to use, plus, with rev-holding when changing up a gear and rev matching when changing down in Sport mode, smooth shifts are an absolute doddle.
The SE's teeny-weeny 16-inch alloys are clothed in chubby tyres, so pretty much all big lumps in the road are ignored.
Some may not be keen on the smaller screens that have been wrapped in black gloss plastic, but the simpler layout means nothing is blocked by the rim of the steering wheel, and it all still works smoothly via touching the screen or using the trackpad, which has been nudged further back in the centre console to accommodate the manual gearbox.
The A250 tested
Subsequent to the media launch we have now sampled an A200 and A250 back on British roads, and on the whole the A-class is far more alive, and vibrant than you’d expect. In both the A200 and A250, steering is sharp and incisive, and its lightness doesn’t give you a great deal of feedback, it’s certainly fun to throw the new A-class around. Agility and turn-in are areas previous A-class would struggle in, but the Mk4 seem to walk the fine line between comfort and excitement.
When combined with the A250’s warm turbo engine, the A-class drives like a high-end go kart.
It’s not Honda Civic Type R fast, but it does give you a good kick of powers on corner exits, and will even give you some movement with traction control off. Just be aware that the A250’s power plant sounds less AMG V8, and more Morphy Richards food mixer. If anything, the AMG-line A250 we drove just makes the wait for an new A45 feel longer.
Any other fancy gadgets?
Yes. All cars come standard with goodies such as sat-nav, cruise control, DAB radio, keyless ignition, a vast suite of crash-avoidance tech and ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice-activation – the latter being predictably hit-and-miss when it comes to simple commands on first acquaintance. Spend time in the car, however, and both parties learn from each others' habits.
The best piece of kit, however, is the augmented reality sat-nav included in the Advanced Navigation Package. It uses a forward-facing camera to display the road ahead on the central infotainment screen, highlighting approaching side-turns and junctions with blue arrows demonstrating where you need to go. Should you need to find a specific address, it also highlights buildings by their number, too.
Early impressions suggest it works very nicely indeed and reduces the chances of missing a crucial turn, although, disappointingly, it’s not available on all roads. However, we’re assured that such issues can be fixed with a simple software update. We've now tried this in the UK and can report it works very well overlaid on British routes.
The Distronic adaptive cruise control and steering assist (including automatic lane changing) is also worth a mention and works significantly better than many rival systems on cars twice as expensive. Sadly, it’s not coming to the UK until nearer the end of 2018, so bear that in mind before you rush down to the dealership.
Is there enough room for passengers?
Coming in both longer and wider than the previous-gen car, the 2018 A-class also has a wheelbase that’s a whole 30mm longer, generating more legroom for those in the front and rear. The result is a car that you can comfortably sit four average-sized adults in, with a small child sandwiched in the middle seat.
It's still not quite as roomy in the back as some rivals, however. Those rear seats (above) are just a tad too cramped - and the AMG spec sporty seats can be tricky to fold, owing to their huge, fixed head restraints. All the seats are very comfortable, however.
Bootspace has also been bumped up by 29 litres to create 370 litres of luggage capacity with the rear seats in place and 1210 with them down. Still not class-leading, but competitive with the Audi A3 and BMW 1-series.
New Mercedes A-class: verdict
As a first step onto a manufacturer’s ladder of cars, the new Mercedes-Benz A-class is a pretty darn good one. Mercedes has addressed many concerns surrounding the – hugely popular – previous generation model and bequeathed the 2018 car with an onslaught of clever tech and high-end interior design, not to mention improved driving manners.
However, with the arrival of the new BMW 1-series and Audi A3 just around the corner, we won’t know for sure just how competitive the A-class will be for a little while yet. Stay tuned for our group test.
For now, be satisfied that the new 2018 A-class is right near the top of the family hatch pile. Engineering purists may decry the loss of the Mk1 A's sandwich floor and innovative layout; but rest assured, the beautifully finished cabin, surprise-and-delight tech and sharp drive make the Mk4 A-class a smash hit. We like.
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