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The Top Gear car review:Mercedes-Benz A-Class
For:Wow-factor dash, fully connected, wide engine range
Against:Not especially good to drive, occasionally dozy auto
What is it?
The A-Class has become a huge seller for Mercedes in the UK, so this replacement matters. It’ll do well – the old one certainly had issues, but that didn’t stop it.
This is pretty much an all-new platform, longer in wheelbase than before, but most of the changes are fundamentally evolutions. It’s stronger and lighter, and an extravagant 12cm longer. Funnily enough there’s little extra passenger room to show for the swelling.
Fortunately there are on-road improvements too: the poor ride and unrefined transmissions of the old car have been banished, though only if you spec carefully. AMG Line suspension still makes for a clumsy, crashy car, especially over pock-marked urban roads.
But we’d forgive you for not noticing. What you can’t miss is the dash. Mercedes has installed what a pilot would call a ‘glass cockpit’ – no conventional dials at all, just highly configurable screen displays. It’s called MBUX for Mercedes Benz User Experience. Because everything’s an experience these days.
On base cars it includes two seven-inch hi-res screens, running navigation and connected services including detailed live traffic. The voice activation system, also standard across the range uses both in-car (for when you’re out of signal) and in-cloud decoding. “It accepts natural language – ask it anything” the engineers urged us. The results were spotty.
On upscale A-Classes, you get a 10.25-inch central screen, or even a pair of them, the driver’s display going to a big one too. That produces a truly spectacular cinemascope.
There are several engines; the 134bhp A180 and 161bhp A200 are both 1.3-litre petrol turbos that shut off two cylinders on light throttle. Then there’s an actual 2.0-litre engine, also all-new, and unrelated to the 1.3, in the 187bhp A220 and 221bhp A250.
Diesel options are heavily revised over the old A-Class and comprise the 114bhp A180d and 148bhp A200d, while if you want something that’s less sensible, more sporty, you’ll be after the 302bhp A35 AMG, which gets its own review right here.
Manual gearboxes are standard on the lowlier engines but most get an automatic as standard, with a seven-speed DCT attached to all engines except the A200d, which gets a better eight-speed auto.
Those new engines, plus the lighter weight, do help cut consumption. So does a remarkably low drag. In fact the CdA (drag coefficient times cross-sectional area) is lower than a man on a racing pushbike. Drag-lowering measures include detail shaping at the rear end, and alloy wheels with black-painted smooth blanking areas that almost close off the spokes. In fact the detail was more obsessive than that: a diktat was sent to the tyre makers that the lettering on their sidewalls may stand proud by no more than 0.2mm.
All models start with active lane-keeping assist, collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. Nothing out of the ordinary there. A more advanced driver assist package is optionally available, including blind-spot warning, active cruise control and lane-centring steering support. Even then, its spec is no higher than what’s available on a Focus.