Wow-factor dash, fully connected, wide engine range, efficient PHEV
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 car 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. The same platform lives under the B-Class, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake, GLA and GLB.
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 221bhp A250.
Diesel options are heavily revised over the old A-Class and comprise the 114bhp A180d, 148bhp A200d and 187bhp A220d, while if you want something that’s less sensible, more sporty, you’ll be after the 302bhp AMG A35, which gets its own review right here. Or the mad 415bhp AMG A45, which you can read about by clicking on these blue words.
There's also a plug-in hybrid, which pairs the 1.3-litre petrol motor with a 15.6kWh battery for more than 40 (claimed) miles of electric range. Its own review is hidden behind this link.
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 hybrid, A200d and A220d, which get 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.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The A-Class, especially with the enormo-screen option, has the potential to be a feelgood car. It's solid, quiet if you don't nail it, smooth-riding if you spec carefully, 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 small petrol engine might be all-new but it's unrefined and not even very economical. The A180d is a bit of a slug. The cornering is none too engaging. Back-seat room is nothing special. In these fundamentals, it hasn't moved the class on.
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. When its rivals catch up in terms of screen acreage, though, it could be in serious trouble.