REVIEW DATE: 06 Aug 2008
With two diesel engines to choose from, the latest Mercedes-Benz A-Class looks an ever more tempting proposition. Andy Enright reports
Call me a convert. The original Mercedes A-Class may have established a reputation as a rather eccentric handler but later iterations of the car just got better and better. It never became a top driver's choice but towards the end of its days it was safe and, in some cases, reasonably spry. Mercedes' root and branch redesign of the A-Class has resulted in a car that looks capable of serving up some fun. Marrying this car to one of the two diesel engines on offer looks like a sound investment to boot.
Having witnessed prototype A-Class models being hammered around the Nurburgring, there's no doubt that with a committed driver at the wheel, this is a car that can really be hustled. That's not this car's raison d'etre though. Both the diesel units on offer are geared towards economy rather than performance and both are of course Euro IV compliant, starting with the 82bhp A160CDI, the top range being marked out by the 109bhp A180 CDI. Add a little more to those prices if you want five rather than three doors. A six speed manual transmission is the default gearbox but all models are available with an optional Autotronic CVT gearbox. Its 'manual' mode features seven gears, although like a proper automatic it has a torque converter. Should be interesting.
The Mercedes A-Class remains instantly recognisable in its latest form but anyone looking to tell the original second generation car apart from this facelifted model has a far tougher task on. For the record, the usual facelift suspects of light clusters, grille and bumpers have been tweaked but we'd be lying if we said that the alterations are groundbreaking. The MPV shape of the exterior remains, as do the people carrier design features that make the A-Class interior so easy to use.
"The Mercedes A-Class remains instantly recognisable in its latest form"
Perhaps the most salient addition to the latest version of the A-Class is the BlueEfficiency package which aims to regain some of the ground lost to BMW's outstanding EfficientDynamics initiative. The name might be less catchy but the results could be similarly compelling. BlueEfficiency runs to aerodynamic improvements to the radiator grille and a ride height lowered by 10mm that will also reduce drag. There's a generator management system that charges the battery with energy that would otherwise have been lost on the engine overrun. An A160 CDI with the BlueEfficiency modifications can return an outstanding 63mpg with 119g/km emissions.
The suspension system used is surprisingly sophisticated. Pry back the aerodynamic underfloor spoiler and a parabolic axle is evident. This curved tube joins the rear wheels and is mounted to a central pivot point with a linkage providing lateral guidance. It's not a new idea but Mercedes have refined the system so that it's a good deal more tuneable than the outgoing trailing arm set-up. What is really clever is their adaptive damping system. Most such systems use electronics to alter the characteristics of the dampers but engineers at Mercedes have developed a valve that allows the oil inside them to move freely when the car negotiates small surface irregularities, thus giving a composed ride, but when more is asked of the damper, the valve closes, firming up the ride during enthusiastic cornering.
The power steering does rely on electronic trickery, a motor replacing the old pump system. As you might well expect, the A Class still comes complete with a legion of electronic safety systems. The A-Class still doesn't challenge the best hot hatches in its class when it comes to tactility but it feels a good deal better planted on the road than the first generation car.
If you haven't tried a second generation A-Class model, the first and most crucial change with this generation car is that you can order it in three-door as well as five-door form, this extra bodystyle intended to appeal to younger, more sports oriented buyers. The stance of this car is purposeful, with a 45mm increase in width and a whopping 232mm increase in length over the MK1 A-Class. Its dimensions are now more akin to a regular supermini than its predecessor's tall, short and narrow measurements ever were. Short and long wheelbase models have been replaced by a one-size fits all policy, the three and five door cars riding on the same chassis.
Despite this more conventional sizing policy, a number of A-Class trademarks are carried over. The latest generation car is built on an all-new platform but structural features such as the innovative sandwich floor remain. Drop inside and you'll instantly appreciate the gulf in quality between this car and the outgoing model. The dashboard looks like a scaled down version of the E-Class fascia - think premium not Palitoy - and has been developed with the help of a shiny Berlin customer clinic where everything from materials to switch feel to door slam and indicator sounds have been exhaustively tested.
With a range of excellent common rail diesel engines and a slightly more conventional - albeit better looking - offering than before, the Mercedes A-Class is an immeasurably improved car. Our pick would be the top A180CDI, if only for that pokier mid-range urge, but in truth either of the two engines has the ability to satisfy. Mercedes finally have an A-Class that lives up to its billing.
The results below show the top A CLASS deals on buyacar
|Mercedes Benz A Class A180 SE 5dr hatchback|
|Mercedes Benz A Class A180 Sport 5dr hatchback|
|Mercedes Benz A Class A180 SE Executive 5dr hatchback|
|Mercedes Benz A Class A180d Sport 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Mercedes Benz A Class A160 Elegance SE 5dr CVT Auto hatchback|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT A CLASS DEALS|
|For A-CLASS DIESEL RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.0 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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