Mercedes A-Class A 180d review
Entry-level A-Class brings superb economy and interior quality without breaking the bank
The latest Mercedes A-Class doesn’t represent the same leap forward as its predecessor. It was the generation introduced in 2013 that consigned the dowdy, mini-MPV A-Class to history, in turn putting Mercedes' smallest model on the radar for thousands of younger drivers who had never considered a car with a three-pointed star on the bonnet.
Today the A-Class is a direct rival for the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, but attractive finance deals also allow it to tempt buyers away from the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra and other family favourites. This is especially true of the entry-level A 180d, which offers a cost-effective first step on the Mercedes ladder.
Today's A 180d uses an evolution of the 1.5-litre diesel used by the previous generation A-Class. It’s an engine that was jointly developed with Renault and is also found under the bonnets of the Infiniti Q30 and Renault Kadjar SUV. It makes the A 180d less expensive to buy than any petrol A-Class launched so far, and Mercedes hopes this will encourage sales despite diesel's continuing fall from favour in the UK.
The latest version of the 1.5-litre diesel engine is 7bhp more powerful and produces 114bhp in total, and feels a little more eager than it used to. It's fairly quiet as well; there's the inevitable diesel clatter at start-up and when accelerating hard, but it fades into the background just as unobtrusively as the more powerful diesel engines in the range.
The refined engine helps the A-Class to be one of the quietest cars in its class. Thanks in part to its streamlined bodywork, you'll be hard-pressed to notice any wind noise, so the A 180d is a very relaxing cruiser. Mercedes reckons cars with the smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox are good for 68.9mpg, so high-mileage private drivers will find it fairly cost-effective for long motorway trips. A six-speed manual will be offered later.
The car is a little disappointing when you leave the motorway for the kind of challenging roads where the BMW 1 Series feels at home. Small engine aside, another cost-cutting measure taken in the making of the A180d is its rear suspension. It's of a similar design to that used by the Renault Megane but is far less sophisticated than the setup fitted to the more powerful A 200 and A 250 models, and makes the A 180d a little more prone to fidgeting on rough surfaces.
AMG Line models with big 18-inch wheels have lots of grip on the road and this will add to your confidence in corners, but while every model holds the road securely enough to take bends at speed, enthusiastic drivers will find it a rather shallow experience compared to that offered by the BMW 1 Series. The steering feels low-geared and lacks much feel or feedback, and there's little sensation or excitement to be derived from driving the car enthusiastically.
As a cruiser, the smooth-riding A 180d does far more to recommend itself, and the A-Class is arguably the pick of the compact premium bunch when it comes to interior design and quality. In fact, it treads on the toes of its more expensive Mercedes C-Class stablemate, with a more up-to-date look and more intuitive MBUX infotainment system – especially if you upgrade the standard seven-inch display to the crisp, sharp 10.25-inch version. This option doesn't come cheap, but brings 3D navigation mapping and makes for a really sophisticated, hi-tech interior.
Overall, the A 180d presents a tempting entry point to the A-Class range, with better economy and virtually the same specification as the A 200 for substantially less money. What's more, if you accept that no version of the A-Class can beat rivals for driver appeal, you realise that you're not missing out on much fun and excitement by opting for the least expensive version. On that basis, it's our favourite model in the range.