Mercedes A-Class hatchback
Price: £20,715 - £38,190
- Stylish looks
- Economical engines
- Very hi-tech
- Smaller boot than rivals
- Options are expensive
- Sport models are uncomfortable
"The Mercedes A-Class is one of the most stylish premium family hatchbacks on the market and is a real rival to the likes of the BMW 1 Series."
The Mercedes A-Class is a family hatchback of a similar size to the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 and is very different to the original A-Class, which was a slightly awkwardly-styled small MPV. The current model is a sleek and stylish car designed to appeal to younger buyers keen to get their hands on a car with a premium badge on the bonnet.
Fortunately, the A-Class doesn’t just look better – it's a lot better to drive than the old model, too, thanks to a superb line-up of engines and decent handling. There's an ultra-efficient model offering emissions below 100g/km CO2 – making it exempt from road tax – and a high performance AMG model that offers breath-taking power. The A-Class can’t quite match the BMW 1 Series for handling, so serious drivers are better off going for the that, but buyers looking for something a little more exclusive and luxurious will find the A-Class right up their street.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Diesel engines are very cost-efficient, with high economy and low emissions
The Mercedes A-Class comes with a choice of seven engines – three diesels and four petrols. The diesels offer the best running costs by far. The A180 CDI ECO is the first ever Mercedes to emit less than 100g/km CO2 – it will do 78.5mpg and 92g/km CO2, making it exempt from road tax. Standard spec A180 CDI models will do 70.6mpg and 102g/km CO2. The other diesels in the range offer more power but still have competitive running costs. The A200 CDI will do 67.3mpg and 114g/km CO2, while the A220 CDI does 67.3mpg and 109g/km CO2.
Petrol versions are reasonably fuel efficient, too, thanks to stop-start technology and an excellent seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox that helps to improve fuel economy. The A180 is the most efficient petrol version and will do 51.4mpg and 128g/km CO2.
Interior & comfort
Comfort levels are a bit disappointing especially on high-spec models
Comfort is usually one of the main strengths of any Mercedes car, so it's disappointing to find that the A-Class has a bit of a firm ride. It seems as though the German company was shooting for the A-Class to be the best handling car in the premium family hatch market. Unfortunately, it fell short of the mark – the 1 Series is better in this respect – so it's neither the best handling nor the most comfortable car in its class. And the suspensions setup only gets firmer the higher up the specification levels you go, with the top-spec AMG Sport and Engineered By AMG models verging on the genuinely uncomfortable. Headroom in the rear seats is slightly compromised by the low roofline, too, which will make taller passengers uncomfortable over longer journeys. Legroom is decent, though, and the seats are comfortable. The interior is really stylish, but the layout, quality and finish isn’t a match for the Audi A3 or Volkswagen Golf.
Practicality & boot space
Reasonable interior space but boot is smaller than rivals’
The original A-Class may not have been much of a looker but it was practical, thanks to its boxy MPV-inspired dimensions. The current A-Class sits a lot lower to the ground and has a swooping roofline that looks great but really cuts into interior space. As a result, headroom in the rear seats has been compromised, and the car isn’t as easy to get in and out of as the old model. It also obscures rear visibility, making parking harder than it should be for a car of this size. But the real issue with the A-Class's practicality is its boot. The opening is quite narrow, which makes loading bulky objects awkward. And capacity is just 341 litres – that's smaller than the BMW's boot (360 litres), the Audi A3's (365 litres), and the Volkswagen Golf's (380 litres). Annoyingly, you also have to remove the parcel shelf in order to fold the back seats – although at least when you do the space increases to a decent 1,157 litres.
Reliability & safety
Five star safety and Mercedes gets a big thumbs up from customers
Mercedes is one of the most highly rated car brands around, according to customer satisfaction surveys. It came fifth out of 32 in the 2013 Drive Power manufacturer chart. That put it well ahead of both BMW and Audi, although still some way behind Jaguar and Lexus. The A-Class was still too new to feature in the Top 100 cars league table, but we would expect it to do quite well. It certainly feels well put together – although some of the materials are a bit cheap looking for a Mercedes and material quality is higher in some rival cars. It's a very safe car, though, scoring five-stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and comes with an array of safety technology. All models get a range of airbags, ABS, traction control, ISOFIX points for child seats, electronic stability control and collision prevention assistance as standard. Plus there are a number of advance safety systems available as optional extras.
Engines, drive & performance
It performs well on the road but it’s not quite as good to drive as the BMW 1 Series
The Mercedes A-Class drives very well – it's fast, with accurate steering, plenty of grip and very little body roll in corners. The petrol engines offer plenty of performance while the diesel engines are smooth, powerful and efficient – if a little noisy. AMG Sport and Engineered By AMG models offer serious driving thrills. Keen drivers, however, will notice that it lacks the magic of the BMW 1 Series – the A-Class just isn’t quite as responsive, as fast or as fun. The seven-speed automatic gearbox improves the car's efficiency but it's also quite sluggish and nowhere near as good as the automatic in the Audi A3.
Price, value for money & options
List prices are higher than rivals, and options are expensive
Entry-level prices for rivals like the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf undercut the Mercedes A-Class, but that's not necessarily a like-for-like comparison because entry level SE A-Class cars come with a pretty decent equipment list. You get alloy wheels, an MP3-compatible CD/radio, collision prevention assist, tyre pressure monitoring system, and air-con. Plus the A-Class is a lot less common than any of its rivals, which gives it greater level of exclusivity. In addition to entry-level SE, there are three higher spec levels: SE ECO, Sport, AMG Sport and Engineered By AMG. Optional extras are very expensive, so you’re better off picking a spec that includes all the equipment you want than getting click-happy with the options list. Residual values are good on the A-Class, so you shouldn’t take too big a hit when it comes time to sell on.
What the others say
"Great to look at, wide range of engines and lots of clever tech, but a narrow boot, firm ride on sport models, and expensive options."
"If you're looking for a snappy rival to the BMW 1-Series, look elsewhere; this is a superbly built, cosseting little hatch. Lovely."
Last updated: 24 Feb 2014