► Booted A-class or roomier CLA?
► A-Class Saloon a conundrum...
► ...but a rather good car regardless
When will we learn to trust that Mercedes knows what it’s doing when it comes to adding seemingly unnecessary new models to its line-up? When Benz announced that the fourth-generation A-Class would be gaining a saloon version, to be offered alongside the A-Class hatch and the CLA coupe-saloon, the puzzlement was widespread – even in our own office. Why one compact saloon, let alone two, at a time when everybody is going crossover crazy?
But as with similar conundrums throughout the Merc range – CLS vs GT 4 Door, and all those SUVs vs their coupe cousins – the point becomes apparent the moment you drive them.
It’s available with choice of petrol and diesel engines, front- and all-wheel drive and three trim levels, plus the hot AMG A35 version.
Just how different is the A-Class Saloon?
Not very. The structural differences are focused on the back end. The hatch becomes a trunk, and it sticks out further. The roofline curves slightly differently. But see the two A-Classes head-on and you’d struggle to spot the difference. The differences between A and CLA are slightly greater, but they have the same wheelbase, largely the same underpinnings and very similar interiors.
The saloon has slightly less rear headroom than the hatch but significantly more than the CLA, because of the shape of its roof.
With the rear seats up, the saloon has the bigger boot: 420 litres against the hatchback’s 370. It’s a long, easily accessed space, but ultimately can’t match the hatch’s seats-down practicality.
All three cars feel very similar from the driver’s seat. The bigger differences are in the back and from the outside. We’re talking about details like the shape of the CLA’s rear seats, or the absence of frames on the CLA’s front door windows. An awful lot comes down to your own styling preferences.
What are your choices?
The saloon is available with a powertrain line-up that’s very similar to the hatchback’s but not identical. The chief divergence comes at the very top end, where the saloon currently peaks with the AMG A35, whereas the five-door gives a choice of A35 and A45.
Excluding the AMG, saloon buyers get a choice of four petrols, with a mix of manual and automatic, and front- and all-wheel drive, and three diesels, all with seven- or eight-speed automatic gearboxes and front-wheel drive.
The saloon skips the hatchback’s most basic trim level, SE, and starts with Sport (17in wheels, LED headlights), before leaping to AMG Line (bodykit, different wheels, more stylish grille, tinted rear glass, sportier seats, flat-bottomed steering wheel) – not to be confused with the high-performance AMG A35, which has its own trim level. The CLA, meanwhile, leapfrogs Sport and treats AMG Line as its entry level, with accordingly higher prices. Still with us?
Prices start just below £27k and proceed steeply northwards to almost £37k, before you start adding extras. (CLA prices span £32k to £38k.)
How’s it go?
The only version we’ve driven is the A250, and it’s a peach. A lot like the hatchback, of course, and quite a bit like the CLA. But the important bit is it’s a delight. Beautifully balanced, nicely weighted, unhesitatingly responsive, while always being smooth and refined, even when making the most of its 221bhp perkiness.
It’s also classy to look at on the outside, in a low-key kind of way. And inside it’s sensational. You don’t need any extras to get yourself a cabin that’s uncluttered, modern, stylish and for the most part highly functional.
The car’s well equipped with infotainment and safety aids, and falls just the right side of gimmicky. And it’s not wildly expensive, if you’re comparing it with the slender pool of rival premium compact saloons.
Even though Mercedes built its reputations on big, comfortable rear-wheel-drive saloons, it has now also clearly mastered the art of the agile, nimble, responsive front-wheel-drive saloon.
And of course so much of any journey is not about pushing the dynamic envelope – it’s about feeling good, and being proud of your car. The four-door A-Class is all about the feelgood factor.
Mercedes A-Class Saloon: verdict
You approach the A-Class Saloon wondering how it compares to the CLA and A-Class hatch, but you soon start suspecting that it might be making the C-Class look a bit unnecessary. The size difference isn’t as big as the gap in price. But then you stop yourself wandering up that particular blind alley, and remember to trust that if Merc thinks that it’s a good idea to offer a slightly cheaper, slightly smaller saloon that’s more fun to drive (than at least some versions of the C-Class Saloon), then it probably knows what it’s doing.
You might think you don’t need a premium compact saloon. But drive the A-Class and you could well find yourself coming up with reasons why that’s exactly what you need. It’s very good.
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