Goodwood Motor Circuit. Snow on the ground. A 1961 V12 icon. Need we say more?
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£28,280 when new
How long is it before I start seeing these EVERYWHERE? Not long. The new A-Class has officially arrived in Britain – its biggest market. Customers will start getting their cars this month, and history teaches us most of them will be ones like this – powered by the 1.5-litre, four-cylinder ‘180’ diesel engine and in ‘AMG Line’ trim. That offers 114bhp and 191lb ft for 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 125mph. Mercedes claims 108g/km of CO2 and 68.9mpg on small wheels. But our car has big ones, so CO2 emissions are 111g/km but mpg stays the same. In day-to-day driving you’ll see high-Forties to low-Fifties, which is pretty good. A six-speed manual gearbox is coming, but for now the only option is a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. The latter, meanwhile, means that in addition to a standard spec that includes LED headlights, DAB, climate control and the new ‘MBUX’ infotainment system, you get 18-inch alloy wheels, more aggressive bodystyling, a pair of sports seats and a chunky three-spoke steering-wheel that looks identical to the one you get on bigger, more expensive Mercs. Wow. That interior looks ace. Doesn’t it? That new MBUX (‘Mercedes-Benz User Experience’) infotainment system is standard on every A-Class, and in its most basic form features two 7-inch screens arranged side-by-side atop the dashboard – one for instrumentation, the other for media, navigation and so-on. You can upgrade one or both to 10.25-inchers – and we would because while the smaller ones work just as well and don’t miss out on much functionality, the effect the bigger screens have on the look and feel of the interior as a whole is profound. Proper wow-factor. But whichever setup you go for the graphics are slick, and the interface quick-responding and easy to master. Two little touchpads on the steering wheel correspond to the two screens, just like in the S- and E-Class. There is no other way to control the driver’s screen, but the other one can also be manipulated via touch. It’s a bit of a stretch from the driver’s seat, and some small icons mean you need good aim. We preferred the touchpad on the centre console, which gives haptic feedback and responds cleanly to inputs. It’s the safest and most accurate of the three physical control options to use while driving. But safer still is the voice control which, shocker, actually works. Not infallible, but well on the way to Siri/Alexa levels of good. Elsewhere inside material quality is generally very good – with a few notable exceptions, like the indicator and gear-selector stalks. The new A-Class is a bit bigger than the car it replaces, but curiously not that much bigger inside. While it feels more spacious than the old car, with more head- and knee-room, the AMG-Line’s front-seats (themselves quite comfy) make it feel quite dark and claustrophobic in the back. At 370-litres the boot is fine, if marginally smaller than a VW Golf’s. What’s it like to drive? Mixed bag. The steering is inoffensive but ultimately uninvolving, and while generally well-controlled, the ride has a firm, occasionally fidgety edge to it that may surprise you if you’re thinking about switching from a late-model Golf. There are a couple of contributing factors – the AMG Line’s 18-inch wheels (we haven’t tried an A-Class on anything smaller just yet) and the fact this A180d gets a torsion beam rather than the A200 and A250’s multi-link rear-suspension. We’ve tried the A200 and it handles and rides better than the diesel. In any case, this is not a sporty car. It drives solidly and dependably, like a Mercedes ought to, but isn’t as dynamically engaging as we hoped it would be. Not that its buyers will care much. It’s quiet on the motorway – wind noise is minimal but the big wheels introduce a mite more tyre-roar that we expected – comfy and reassuringly steady at high-speed, making it a good thing in which to cover many miles at a time. Fast it isn’t, but there’s enough performance here to keep pace with traffic. Yes overtakes require planning, but it’s not that bad. For the most part the seven-speed DCT is a good match for the engine – using the torque where it can and downshifting smoothly and swiftly when it can’t. Better here than in the A200 petrol, in fact. Active Lane-keeping Assist and Speed Limit Assist are both standard. They work, too, but the former can be a bit hyperactive. Should I buy one? This is a cleverly pitched car. It’s not without fault, but the things it does really well are, we think, the things that will matter most to the people who’ll buy it – things like the infotainment and interior. It’s just a shame it’s only those areas where it moves the game on. Prices start at £25,800 – a car like this one costs £28,540. Pricey, yes, but mostly justifiably.
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