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The Top Gear car review:Mercedes-Benz A-Class
What is it like on the road?
First things first, the A-Class is not as sporty to drive as it looks. It sits bang in the middle of the class in terms of dynamics – not plush enough to feel luxurious, not taut enough to be fun – and thus it lags notably behind class-leaders like the Ford Focus, VW Golf and BMW 1 Series.
Quite how non-plush or non-taut it is depends on how you spec it. The sub-2.0-litre engines get a less sophisticated rear suspension set-up, so an A220 or A250 will feel notably more alert in corners. Though not necessarily comfier; select AMG Line trim, as the resulting fancier bodykit and wheels will likely convince you to, and you’ll endure a very unsettled car over rough roads. Try and resist those big alloys and a base SE is a much more likeable car to drive, if not look at.
The A180d is quiet for a diesel, but painfully slow for open-road overtaking. The A180 and A200 petrols have a surprisingly keen-sounding 1.3-litre that also appears in Renaults and Nissans, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a game little engine and is more than enough to haul something as small as the A-Class around.
Even though Merc is far from a pro at manual gearboxes, that’s your best bet; the optional seven-speed DCT auto is smooth and attentive most of the time, but occasionally dim-witted and normally at the worst possible moment, as you’re trundling through traffic and it drops you screaming into a low gear to the startlement of nearby pedestrians.
The A250 has the stats and performance of a junior hot hatch, but the chassis it’s attached to doesn’t let it complete the job. You’re better off with a lowly specced A35 AMG if you’re after something resembling fun.
On motorways it cruises solidly, happy to munch miles with not too much tiring road vibration or tyre roar, though as you head expensively up the A-Class food chain you might forgive the noise it does make a little less easily.
Overseas, the A-Class is available with clearly optional adaptive dampers that add a welcome sharpness in bends while maintaining reasonable urban suppleness. A shame they don’t come to the UK, really, as they might just sort out our qualms with the littlest Merc’s unremarkable dynamics in a stroke.