Solid, rides well, wow-factor dash, fully connected, efficient PHEV
Dull to drive, cramped rear, fewer engine options now, PHEV can be clunky
What is it?
The A-Class is a huge seller for Mercedes in the UK. Entering mid-life, it has undergone a mild facelift for 2023. Along with it, so have all the related cars: (deep breath) the A-Class saloon, CLA four-door coupe, CLA Shooting Brake, GLA coupe-SUV and GLB seven-seat SUV.
It's a hatchback or saloon, and all specs can be had in both body styles, except the PHEV which is saloon only. The A-Class isn't cheap, but a fancy interior and auto transmission are standard across the range. Although it's quite big, it's quite cramped in the back, but it does feel like a big car on the road. In other words, it's refined and stable, easy to guide, and the ride is soft. So it's a trad Benz.
What’s new for 2023?
Main changes outside are grille and lights – and the headlights are available as a matrix adaptive system now. In other words, nothing you'd notice without a very close inspection.
Inside, the full-size double-screen dash becomes standard across the range, and there are operability changes too. We say changes: with the loss of the central pad, most things can only be done by touchscreen or voice activation, and we think the tiny gain in storage space isn't worth the loss of the control pad.
It's a sign of the cost of certifying engines, and the effort being diverted into EVs, that the number of engine choices has been cut. The range now consists of the 1.33-litre petrol in the A180 (136bhp) and A200 (163bhp), both with a seven-speed DCT and an additional temporary 14bhp from a mild-hybrid motor.
That 48 volt mild-hybrid setup can start the engine in the blink of an eye, and also let the engine declutch and shut down on the over-run, a function the Germans picturesquely call sailing.
Is diesel still a thing?
It is, but only barely. Another sign of shifting buyer taste is that there's just one diesel, the A200 d, which gets an eight-speed DCT.
Since the A-Class is a massive company-car seller, you can be sure the A250 e plug-in hybrid will be a big part of the mix, even if that powertrain comes only in the four-door saloon and not the hatch. It uses the same 1.33-litre engine. There are significant improvements to the battery, allowing more range and slightly more electric power, for a total engine-plus-motor power of 218bhp. You're supremely unlikely to hit the 50-mile notional range of course, but it does mean you'll be using significant grid-supplied energy even on a long trip, greatly helping the fuel economy.
You won't have forgotten the pair of hot all-drive AMG cars, the A35 and A45, but we review them separately. TL;DR on those – the A35 is fast but a bit dull, but the A45 S is a truly engaging scorcher.
How did they get away with such a light-touch facelift?
Well, the A-Class is still a smart-looking car and any wrinkles aren't yet showing. It's also incidentally a notably low-drag machine, in the search for motorway economy and quietness. 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.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The A-Class, thanks to its well-built cabin and its highly-developed screen system, has the potential to be a feelgood car. It's solid, quiet if you don't nail it, smooth-riding, well-made, safe. There's more affirmation in the fact that if you buy a Mercedes-Benz, no-one will question you.
But pick away at it and the argument has holes. The 1.33-litre engine is uncharismatic. The cornering is safe but soggy, and nowhere near as effortlessly enjoyable as a BMW 1 Series. Back-seat room is short too.
Still, it doesn't pander to the traditional road-test criteria. It has some real wow factor with the connectivity, which to some people is a greater priority than any of that ‘handling’ palaver. If you look at the way most people drive, the A-Class probably does what will make them happy. Its problem is, rivals are catching up with that digital stuff, and the facelift hasn't advanced the dynamics one whit.