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The Top Gear car review:Mercedes-Benz A-Class
On the inside
Layout, finish and space
It’s not like any other car, especially not in a sensible class like this. The dash is a low-bulk piece of furniture, with the huge screen system on top. The centre console is pushed away from you too, so the overall effect is of pared-back lounge luxury rather than anything too ‘automotive’. At night, illumination of strategic interior parts adds a nicely theatrical (and practical) note.
Two sets of steering-wheel controllers let the driver do anything on the screens. Driver or passenger can use a pad instead, resting their wrists on what looks like a leather-padded accessible-toilet flush lever (we said this isn’t an ‘automotive’ cabin). Anyway, ergonomically it’s all pretty satisfactory once your fingertips have had time to learn it, though that oversensitive touchpad can brush you right back to the start of a song or podcast if the phone cable goes awry, which can be colossally frustrating.
General material quality is high, though it’s annoying that among the flimsiest and cheapest-feeling mouldings are the two you often use: the column stalks, which operate wipers, indicators and transmission selection.
The big-screen option is massively impressive for graphics, snappy-responding smoothness, contrast and freedom from reflections. The setup can be configured in so many ways Mercedes has a demo app for customers’ iPads so they can try it out at home. After a couple of long journeys you’ll have figured out your favourite layout.
The optional augmented sat nav – which plays a video of the road ahead with big arrows pointing you down trickier to spot streets, like it’s a big computer game – is hugely impressive. Just a shame the nav app on your phone will nigh on always know a better route, making the car’s system a bit more style than substance.
Merc’s entry-level option taunts you by putting smaller, squarer displays within the same widescreen frame, so you’re constantly reminded of what you’re missing out on. It all still works well – and with less confusion, because there’s less customisation – and if you’re not bothered about having huge nav displays it all functions very nearly as well. Just be prepared for frequent FOMO.
Voice activation then. We asked the most common question in any car: “Are we nearly there yet?” It didn’t get it. But “when will we get there?” did produce our ETA, so that’s not bad. And destination entry by voice was good too. Anyway, it has ‘learning software’ so it might understand our first question better next time.
It also learns habits – so say you tend to switch from music to Radio 4 for the news at 6pm, it’ll start suggesting you do that after a while. The caveat is – from experiences of everyone in the office having a go – anyone with a regional accent may struggle a little. Perhaps the car can adapt to that, too, but if it doesn’t respond the first three or four times you try it, you’ll give up and use buttons before you get too angry.
A £495 option pack adds phone mirroring if you don’t care for the Mercedes navigation, plus a wireless charging pad. Standard is a USB up front and two in the rear, but note they’re the titchier C-type, so you’ll have to use adapters or buy different cables entirely. Is there such a thing as too forward-thinking?
The seats are in Mercedes’ usual firm and strangely flat-feeling style, but again as in any good Mercedes you soon stop noticing them because they’re built for long-haul support.
Life’s less good in the back. The poor headroom of the old A-Class has been resolved, and knee-room is a little better too. But foot space, often the real determinant of back-seat comfort, is pretty tight unless the front seats are raised several notches. Basically this isn’t the car for lanky families, and a Golf will do you better if you rely on a car like this for practicality.