What is it?
Goodbye, high-rise oddity, hello lower, wider and more conventional five-door hatch alternative to Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series rivals. Mercedes has at last turned the A-Class into a real contender. Third time lucky, you could say.
It’s a good looking design, with a lot going on: rising swage lines, bonnet creases, LED clusters… you certainly couldn’t call it anonymous. It’s especially head-turning with optional big wheels, black glossy bits, pointy ‘Sport’ grille and huge sunroof. The lure of the options list is compelling.
Beneath it is a brand-new front-drive chassis, a new engine line-up and, says Mercedes, availability of extras you normally only find on a C-Class and E-Class. You can turn your A-Class into a futuristic high-tech utopia, if you have the cash.
It’s very Mercedes-ish to drive, and we mean that in a good way. The A-Class feels brilliantly solid and expensive – not bulky, just superbly built and cosseting. You’re isolated from the outside world to an astonishing degree. Road and wind noise are near non-existent, the A-Class hushing along like a far bigger, pricier machine. Bumps are absorbed expertly, miles are devoured with relish: as we say, just like a Merc. If you’re after a lithe, snappy rival to the BMW 1-Series, then, look elsewhere: it’s fun to drive, but in its own way. With multi-link rear suspension and quick, accurate steering, the A-Class is a nicely balanced thing to chuck about, but the front tyres run out of grip quickly and the whole experience is a bit remote.
It is very, very quiet though. So far, we’ve mainly driven the mid-range A 200 CDI, a 1.8-litre diesel, and kept bashing it into the rev limiter. Not because the four-cylinder diesel is particularly low-revving, but because it’s so well insulated that you’ve no idea it’s reaching its redline.
On the inside
It’ll be no surprise to discover it’s not as practical as the old A-class. That’s why it doesn’t look like a small commercial vehicle, but the rear is still (just about) acceptable for six-footers anyway. It also has a bigger boot than a 1-Series.
The dash is good, blending sporty SLS cues with the elegance of bigger Mercs. Wavy surfaces, lots of soft-touch plastics and soft leather all help.
The sub-£20k base spec A-Class has been deleted. Now, the range starts from £20,715; the ones you want, a few thousand more. There are five trims, with SE and Sport taking most sales but Engineered by AMG most interesting. You’ll also want the optional iPhone Siri kit. Economy and emissions are good: there’s even now an ECO model that will do over 78mpg.