Mercedes A-Class hatchback review
"Hi-tech, well built, stylish and as comfortable and luxurious as it should be: the Mercedes A-Class is a great premium hatchback"
- Great build quality
- Class-leading interior
- Impressive infotainment
- Underpowered entry-level petrol engine
- Not as sporty as some rivals
- Cramped rear seats
Now in its third generation, the Mercedes A-Class started the 'compact premium' class when it arrived in the late 90s. With the last-generation model proving a smash hit, Mercedes had a big task on its hands creating its replacement from the ground up. The result is a car that shares nothing with the old one so, although it looks similar, the latest A-Class represents a fresh take on the premium hatchback recipe, aimed directly at the new BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. The A-Class is bigger than before, but still offers better economy and emissions thanks to improved aerodynamics and engine efficiency.
The A-Class' interior is miles ahead of most rivals. It's packed with sophisticated technology and boasts a modern design along with high-quality materials and great build quality, so the A-Class now leads the segment in this respect. The car's infotainment system is particularly impressive. Voice recognition together with a large digital dial cluster and infotainment screen set-up help amplify the hi-tech experience.
The A-Class seems to have set the template for modern interior design, with a number of cars now featuring two similarly sized infotainment screens side-by-side.
There are now two core trim levels to choose from: Sport or AMG Line. The base SE has now been withdrawn, while Exclusive Edition was briefly available as a standalone version. You can then add 'Executive' or 'Premium' packs to the trim levels, which add extra equipment like parking sensors and upgraded headlights. Then, there's the range-topping performance A 35 and A 45 S hot hatches. Sport offers impressive standard equipment, including two seven-inch infotainment screens, as well as DAB radio and sat-nav with real-time traffic information, along with a range of active safety equipment. Over Sport, AMG Line gets a sporty makeover with exterior and interior touches. The A 35 and A 45 S models get aggressive, sporty looks and AMG-specific menus.
There are five petrol options and three diesels. The standard petrol engines offer between 134bhp and 221bhp and are badged A 180, A 200 and A 250, with the 302bhp A 35 and 415bhp A 45 S sitting at the top of the range.
A 2.0-litre diesel engine with either 114bhp or 148bhp is available in the A 180 d and A 200 d respectively, but the A 220 d has been discontinued. Mercedes has developed the A-Class with a view to incorporating electrification; there's a plug-in hybrid A 250 e available, while buyers after a fully electric car will be keen on the Mercedes EQA - essentially an electric version of the Mercedes GLA, which is based on the A-Class.
The A 200 and A 180 d can no longer be specified with a manual gearbox, meaning the A 180 in Sport trim is now the only Mercedes, not just the only A-Class, to offer a manual gearbox. Elsewhere in the A-Class range, a seven-speed automatic gearbox is standard. An eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is also available for the diesel engines, the A 45 AMG and in the A 250 e plug-in hybrid model.
With its 161bhp 1.3-litre petrol engine, the A 200 feels somewhat underpowered compared to the punchier A 200 d. Unlike some of its sportier rivals, the A-Class has been developed with comfort as a priority – and this is clear in the way it drives. The steering is well weighted but doesn’t give much feedback and while there’s not much body roll, the car isn't as grippy as you’d hope. The suspension is pliant and its ride is smooth; the A-Class is at home on the motorway, feeling as quiet and comfortable as you’d expect a Mercedes to be.
The petrol A 180 and A 200 manage around 47mpg, which isn’t bad by any means, but the A 180 d diesel manages up to 56mpg. The latter will likely suit those tackling longer motorway miles.
The A 250 e plug-in hybrid model makes sense for both private and business drivers. It’s the first A-Class PHEV, and shares the same turbocharged 1.3-litre petrol engine as the A 200 but here it’s linked to a 75kW electric motor and a 15.6kWh battery pack, increasing power to a considerable 215bhp. Claimed pure-electric driving range is 44 miles, with CO2 emissions of 24g/km and a claimed economy figure of up to 282.5mpg under the WLTP testing cycle. As with any plug-in hybrid, this entirely depends on the type of driving you do and how often you recharge the battery.
On the practicality front, the A-Class is something of a mixed bag – it’s spacious and comfortable in the front, but less so in the rear, and offers a 350-litre boot that’s a little bit smaller than rivals. Split-folding seats allow the total load area to be expanded to almost 1,200 litres when needed.
If you value comfort and luxury over outright practicality and sportiness, the new Mercedes A-Class is a great choice. Its class-leading interior and technology make it a desirable prospect, while its hushed interior and smooth gearbox make it a joy to travel in – even if it isn't the smoothest premium hatchback you can buy. Also, the least powerful petrol engine is lacking punch; others offer a better balance of power and economy.
For a more detailed look at the Mercedes A-Class, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.
What about buying a used or nearly new Mercedes A-Class?
The latest Mercedes A-Class has quite variable residual values, from around 44 to 52 per cent of its new value after three years or 36,000 miles, which means some models are quite good value as a used car and others are less so. Go for a less desirable diesel model to get the most for your money, although some higher-powered petrol models such as the A250 are also a good used buy if you don’t mind the higher running costs.
What’s its history?
The first Mercedes A-Class launched in 1998 and it was something rather different from anything else on the market. Its upright styling and small footprint on the road meant it was more practical than it looked, and Mercedes spent so much on this innovative model that it actually lost the company money for each model sold.
In 2001 this version was updated, then it was replaced with an all-new version in 2004, though this Mk2 version still had the upright design that set it apart from rivals from Audi and BMW.
In 2012 the much more conventional Mk3 model arrived, and it was then updated in 2015 with some new equipment. In 2018 the current Mk4 model arrived.
Used Mercedes A-Class (Mk3 2012-2018)
The previous-generation A-Class still looks modern today, and although it’s more cramped and more uncomfortable than the current Mk4 car, it’s still a decent buy simply because prices are more affordable. It’s decent enough to drive, well equipped, the interior is pleasant and best of all, the engines are really efficient and cheap to run.
Read the full Mercedes A-Class Mk3 review...
Used Mercedes A-Class (Mk2 2004-2012)
The second-generation A-Class was practical for its small size, had really low running costs and it was easy to drive. Its interesting styling is another reason to consider one (it looks like little else that was available at the time) but it’s neither the most comfortable nor quiet car, especially on the motorway.
Read the full Mercedes A-Class Mk2 review...
Older Mercedes A-Class models
The first-generation Mercedes A-Class is worth considering as a used car if you love older cars that were innovative when they first came out. It was a revolutionary car for Mercedes and paved the way for more mainstream models in the brand’s range. It’s easy to drive and there are some versions that will do over 60mpg.