REVIEW DATE: 05 Jun 2008
There's nothing else quite like the Mercedes A-Class. Steve Walker checks out the smallest Mercedes-Benz.
Safer, greener and slightly better looking, the latest Mercedes-Benz A-Class continues with its unorthodox approach to the premium hatchback sector. Unlike its rivals, it's not sporty in any meaningful way and the engines that flattered to deceive in that regard have been dropped. Today's higher-tech A-Class is content to offer comfort, quality and interior versatility and should continue to find a ready market.
With its tall shape and MPV overtones, the Mercedes A-Class has always looked something of a misfit in the premium hatchback sector. While Mercedes stuck to its guns, developing the first generation model's practical themes to create the superior second generation car, its big German rivals were busy perusing more dynamic directions with their entry-level products. Now buyers are presented with the facelifted version of the second generation A-Class. Its core values remain but the hope is that the package is now even more persuasive.
In trying to pinpoint direct rivals of the Mercedes A-Class, it's easy to end up in a bit of a muddle. The obvious candidates are BMW's 1-Series and Audi's A3 which, together with the A-Class, constitute the most affordable way of putting a new premium-badged German car on your driveway. If you take all that badge equity bit out of the equation though, the A-Class has more in common with slightly larger five-seater compact MPVs like Ford's C-MAX and Renault's Scenic. Punters after the spaciousness and family-friendly design that these kinds of vehicles offer twined with German engineering and build quality, tend to arrive at the same conclusion. Apart from the A-Class, there isn't much else that fits the bill.
The engine range gives UK buyers four choices to mull over. Two petrol options are the most straightforward: there's the A160 with its 1.5-litre 95bhp unit and the A180 with its 1.7-litre lump producing 116bhp. Performance is as modest as those power ratings suggest with the A160 taking 12.6s to reach 62mph from a standing start and the A180 doing the business in 10.9s.
"The A-Class prioritises safety and comfort over power and exhilaration.."
The diesel options are more vocal than the refined petrol units but have extra strength at low revs for launching the A-Class about town. The A160 CDI is an 82bhp 2.0-litre affair while the A180 CDI has that same capacity and 109bhp. These aren't really the kind of power outputs we've come to expect from 2.0-litre common-rail diesel engines but by keeping the wick turned down, Mercedes has enhanced economy. The sporty models which once sat at the top of the A-Class range are no more in the UK market and this looks like an intelligent move from Mercedes, leaving the A-Class free to concentrate on what it does best.
The A-Class prioritises safety and comfort over power and exhilaration. As a result, it's well suited to the kind of driving most of us are forced to do most of the time. The tall shape facilitates a high driving position with a good view out that inspires confidence when you're threading the car through crowded streets. The light steering and soft suspension also help to make the car an amiable companion but it won't reward drivers who are hell bent on extracting maximum pace. High cornering speeds provoke considerable body roll but take things easy and the experience is pleasant and relaxing.
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 interior has been upgraded with larger stowage compartments and new fabrics. Passenger space remains first class considering the car's modest footprint and the Mercedes can certainly teach the BMW 1-Series a thing or two on this score. The rear seats can tumble forwards to extend luggage space and there are some neat storage areas dotted around the cabin. Build quality too is tough to criticise as well but aside from redesigned cup holders and some revised trim materials, the facelifted interior holds no surprises.
The A-Class looks more attractively priced these days and that's despite the unceremonious axing of the entry-level Classic trim level. These days, it all kicks off at just over £14,000 which isn't cheap but it gets you a well specified Classic SE derivative helping the A-Class score bonus points from a value for money standpoint. There are also Elegance SE and Avantgarde SE derivatives.
A series of advanced technological features are available on the A-Class. The car has a good reputation for safety these days, having put its famously unfortunate encounter with an elk well and truly behind it, and to the standard haul of ESP stability control with hill start assist, four airbags and active head restraints, it now adds adaptive flashing brake lights and emergency interior lighting that comes on following an accident. There's also the possibility for the well-heeled of ordering an A-Class with active parking assistance (a clever feature that helps you identify a parking space, then steers you into it). There's also a surround sound stereo and Mercedes' latest voice controlled navigation system.
Perhaps the most salient addition to the latest 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 and, the highlight, a stop/start function that turns off the engine when the petrol A-Classes are stationary. An A160 with the BlueEfficiency modifications can return 49mpg and emits just 139g/km of CO2 but an A160 CDI with the technology gets an outstanding 63mpg with 119g/km emissions.
The Mercedes A-Class continues to plough a lone furrow in the premium hatchback sector. With other manufacturers favouring the sporty approach, Mercedes continues to attack the market from a more family-friendly angle. The A-Class trumps its direct rivals for interior space and cabin versatility while offering a comfortable, if uninvolving driving experience. Buyers seduced by the lure of the three-pointed star won't feel short changed by the most accessible Mercedes, the standards of safety, build and engineering are impressive while running costs are now comparable with top rivals.
The latest A-Class largely sticks at what it does best but the BlueEFFICIENCY technology keeps it competitive with BMW's finest. The car remains a unique proposition and buyers seeking a compact premium badge car with generous space for rear seat passengers will continue to gravitate in the direction of their Mercedes dealership.
The results below show the top A CLASS deals on buyacar
|Mercedes Benz A Class A200 [2.1] CDI Sport 5dr Auto diesel hatchback|
|Mercedes Benz A Class A200 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG Sport 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Mercedes Benz A Class A180 [1.5] CDI Sport 5dr Auto diesel hatchback|
|Mercedes Benz A Class A45 4Matic 5dr Auto amg hatchback|
|Mercedes Benz A Class A180 BlueEFFICIENCY Sport 5dr Auto hatchback|
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|For A-CLASS RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.0 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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