We Review the Mercedes A-Class

We Review the Mercedes A-Class
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The Car.co.uk verdict:

4.1

You’re right to be apprehensive about a new A-Class; the old one was disappointing a best – a car that really didn’t feel worthy of its prestigious badge. Now though, the tide has turned; Mercedes has gone back to the drawing board and produced a car that’s better in every way.

The new A-Class is no longer just a cheaper way to get a Mercedes; it’s a car that genuinely embodies the luxury that we’ve come to expect from the prestigious German manufacturer. Does it compare to Audis and VWs? If you’re basing your answer on pure driving prowess – probably not; but if you’re deciding based on comfort, luxury, and next-generation tech, the A-Class reigns supreme.

Pros

  • Unbeatable technology – MBUX makes the already good infotainment system perfect
  • Outstanding level of interior equipment and comfort
  • A much-improved boot makes the A-Class a useable hatchback

Cons

  • If you’re just looking at cost – the A-Class is pricier than respective Golfs, 1 Series, and A3s
  • Without buying the £36,000+ AMG car, you won’t find breath-taking performance
  • Agility is replaced by sure-footedness and slightly dull steering

At a glance

  • Looks
  • Practicality
  • Engine and power
  • Reliability
  • Equipment and options
  • Interior
  • The drive
  • Cost
  • Safety
  • Why buy

Looks

4 out of 5

An improvement on the already sought-after looks of previous models

Since its debut in 2012, Mercedes’ new A-Class has been a popular car. Given that its drive and practicality has generally been outclassed by other premium hatches, it’s fair to assume a lot of that popularity has been based on the way it looks. The A-Class is a handsome machine – and Mercedes have done a commendable job of building on those good looks with this redesign.

It’s worth noting that this really is a redesign – rather than a facelift. The new car is longer and wider (more on that when we talk practicality later) with a front end that brings the small hatch into the aggressive looking world of the C-Class and S-Class coupés. The whole car is smoother than it previously was too; panel lines are noticeably more aggressive – or wiped clean, in favour of large, smooth expanses of German-engineered steel.

At the back of the car, new light clusters look smoother and more purposeful – and the bumper is more angular – and the mock exhaust outlets that Mercedes still insists on for AMG spec models are set wider, giving the car a more planted looked. All in all, most of the range won’t make jaws drop – but they’re certainly as pretty as the Golfs, 1 Series, and A3s that they line up against. 

If you do want to make heads turn, the A35 AMG 4Matic is likely to be the car for you. As well as a host of performance upgrades, you’ll get the AMG grille, LED lamps, 19-inch alloys, a deep splitter on the front, deeper skirts around the sides, a more purposeful looking diffuser at the rear, and an optional spoiler that wouldn’t look out of place in the British Touring Car Championship. The A35 AMG looks a bit of a beast – which is useful - because it’s got stiff all-round competition against Golf Rs and Audi S3s.

Practicality

4 out of 5

Significant improvements vs. previous A-Class designs

The last incarnation of the A-Class was not a practical car. In fact, the very limited boot aperture and cramped back seats made the little Mercedes into a thoroughly disappointing affair - especially if you’d bought one without bringing your family and weekly shopping to the test drive.

Fortunately, the Mercedes A-Class dimensions have been overhauled for this new model, it’s got 30mm additional wheelbase length and a front track that’s 14mm wider – and it improves things significantly. The boot is now very obviously more accessible, owing partly to the rear light redesign. Now the space is useable, you get full access to 370l of space with the seats up, or 1,210l with the seats flat; that’s 10l less than the Golf and A3 Sportback, but 10l more than a 1 Series. The 40/20/40 split seats actually sit flat too – so there’s no awkward lumps or bumps to work around if you’re squeezing flatpack furniture in.

It’s not just your shopping that gets to enjoy extra space in the A-Class either. The rear seats now afford passengers extra leg and headroom – although the high, one-piece backs to the AMG seats do mean the back can feel slightly claustrophobic. The design team who’ve squeezed this much-needed extra space out of the A-Class deserve a big pat on the back; these were much-needed improvements.

Engine and power

3.5 out of 5

Plenty of motorway friendly options – but no real performance before the AMG car

In the standard A-Class range, you can choose from 3 engines. At the base ‘SE’ spec, you can pick between a 1.3-litre petrol that produces 134bhp and returns a claimed 51-54mpg – or a 1.5-litre diesel, producing 114bhp and a claimed 68mpg. Both engines are good; the petrol’s fairly nippy and will take you to 60mph in around 8.5-seconds. If you’re someone who does over average miles, the diesel’s smooth and refined – and offers a good eco choice, creating just 111g/km in the CO2 stakes.

Step up to ‘Sport’ level with your A-Class and you unlock an additional engine – a 2.0l diesel that offers the same economy as the 1.5l – but with a bit of extra poke; hauling you to 60mph in 8.1-seconds. In reality, the 1.5 performance is going to be enough for most high-miles motorway drivers – so the 2.0’s really just for people who fancy a little more performance while keeping economy in mind. 

Before you get to the real-deal AMG car, there’s the top-of-the-range ‘AMG Line’ spec level that serves up an additional 2.0-litre petrol and diesel options on top of the engines already covered. The 224bhp petrol powerplant offers around 45mpg – and a 0-60mph time of 6-seconds – whereas the more-tuned diesel is good for 187bhp and 0-60mph in 7-seconds. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a sporty hot-hatch though, as frankly, driving the 2.0-litre petrol AMG Line car with either engine feels more like a nicely powered saloon than it does a brisk little hatch.

If you want a genuine hot-hatch A-Class you’re going to need to dig into your wallet for the AMG version of the car. This time, there’s a 2.0-litre petrol engine that’s fit to spar with the Golf R, Civic Type-R, and Audi S3 – generating 306bhp, 400NM of torque, and snarling its way to 60mph about 4.5-seconds.   

Reliability

3 out of 5

Will the new A-Class perform better than the older version?

With a fair number of problems occurring in the old (2013-2018) version of the A-Class, it’s hard to come at this new car with a totally open mind. That said, this is a new car, so problems inherent with the previous version have hopefully gone toward creating a better vehicle this time around.

It’s too early to get solid reliability stats from the A-Class, but if you’re researching now for a purchase in a few months’ time, you will want to keep an eye on any electric issues cropping up – as they tended to be the previous car’s sticking points. 

Equipment and options

4.5 out of 5

Totally redesigned interior with some great high-tech options

It doesn’t matter which Mercedes A-Class spec level you’re aiming for – you’re going to get a great looking interior that’s loaded with impressive tech. 

Although SE spec is considered entry-level, you still get nice looking 16-inch alloys and Mercedes’ ‘MBUX’ interactive infotainment system. It’s worth dwelling on MBUX, as it really does feel like the next generation of in-car infotainment control. When you’ve got the car’s attention by saying “Hey Mercedes” – you can then control it with your voice. Until now, the Google and Alexa have led the way with voice – but honestly, it feels like Mercedes have produced a system here that doesn’t ever seem to mishear or misunderstand what you’re asking for. 

The SE car comes with two 7-inch screens housed in a very attractive dash – one screen replaces your traditional dial cluster, the other replacing the tablet-style screen in the previous model. It may seem like a costly upgrade – but the additional £2,300 that the larger 9-inch screens cost feels like money well spent when you’re sitting in front of them; they’re ultra-crisp, very high-quality displays that are intuitively placed and react perfectly to touch inputs.

MBUX continues through the range – and alloy wheels increase in size with spec level; 17-inch on the Sport, and 19-inch on the AMG Line; with both cars also getting uprated LED lights and dual-zone climate control. 

As Mercedes buyers have come to expect, there are plenty of options that you can explore – but the stand out is definitely the augmented reality sat nav system. At £495, it’s not cheap – but again, it’s the next generation of tech that sets a benchmark for other manufacturers. Rather than show you traditional maps, Merc’s augmented system overlays your directions onto footage that the forward-facing camera is capturing that very moment – so your screen shows exactly what’s happening in front of you – and exactly where you should be heading.

Interior

5 out of 5

One of the very best interiors in the small family car market

Even when the overall product has been underwhelming, Mercedes have never been guilty of producing boring interiors – so this 2019 A-Class is building on an already excellent starting point. 

Frankly, the A-Class interior is awesome, and you’d be bold to argue that there’s a better-looking interior to be found among its rivals. In front of you, you’ve got a stepped dash that’s dominated by a huge 2 screen display – and your hands fall naturally onto a steering wheel that’s identical to the one you’ll find in the S-Class. 

Unlike the interior from the previous A-Class, this one doesn’t just look good; it feels high-quality too. There’s more space, lovely soft-touch materials, metal trims, and plenty of quality feeling switches and vents. There are plenty of cubby holes for stashing phones, purses, wallets, chargers, and drinks too.

You can even customise the interior lighting in your new A-Class – cycling through different hues until you’ve found one that suits the ambiance you’re looking for. There’s no doubt about it; if you want a small family car with an interior that’s going to impress, this A-Class should be at the top of your shopping list.

The drive

4 out of 5

A much-improved luxury drive compared to previous cars

While the old and new A-Class cars look similar, there’s nothing similar about the way they drive. The old car was a disappointment; it felt like a generic mundane car had been quickly badged as a Mercedes and turned loose to satisfy a growing audience. This time around, you get a legitimate Mercedes for your money – a drive that’s worthy of the three-pointed badge.

Every A-Class comes with adaptive suspension. Comfort mode is very comfortable indeed – whereas Sports mode makes you feel more connected to the car, adding a bit of weight to the steering and firming up the suspension. Comfort mode creates a car that’s every bit as forgiving as a small SUV – whereas Sport mode brings genuinely impressive handling to the A-Class – although it’s fair to say it does fall a little short of the connection you get with a Golf. 

When driving gets enthusiastic, the A-Class struggles to keep up as well as some other hatches would. Steering is solid – but not overly sharp, and until you get into the multi-link suspension you’ll find on the AMG Line cars, the lower spec cars get torsion bars, which just don’t do the same job when the A-Class is pushed. 

The A-Class feels happiest with Merc’s 7-speed auto box handling the gears. Shifting is fast and accurate, making you wonder if many people will favour a manual over such a great auto. 

Of course, the 306bhp AMG car is something entirely different to the rest of the range. Solid mounted wishbones put pay to any handling concerns, and an angry sounding torque-happy engine pushes plenty of power through a rather fine feeling intelligent 4WD system. Once again, if you want an A-Class that’s going to get your pulse racing, it’s the AMG for you.

Cost

4 out of 5

A slight premium for a lot of luxury

Mercedes A-Class prices’ start at £23,080 on the road. At that price, you’ll get an SE with the 1.3l petrol engine. Step up to Sport spec and you’ll be getting toward £28,000 – and the AMG Line spec with the 2.0l petrol engine will start just a touch over £30,000.

So, how does that compare? Well, a 1 Series is likely to cost you about £22,000 at entry level – whereas a Golf can be bought for another £1,000 less – around £20,945. 

Why spend more money on an A-Class then? Well, if you’re thinking about it, it’s probably the level of luxury that’s going to win you over. A base-line A-Class comes with more bells and whistles than the respective VW or BMW – and even SE spec doesn’t feel left-behind as you climb into posher versions of competitors’ cars. It’s not the cheapest family hatchback – but it’s very possibly the nicest to sit inside.

Safety

5 out of 5

Every specification is loaded with safety equipment

The onboard technology that comes with the A-Class is next level – and the same can be said for the safety equipment too. The driving assistance is as good as (if not better than) anything you’ll find on an S-Class. Intelligent cruise control takes the anxiety away from motorway driving – and as long as you’ve got your hands on the wheel, the car does a fantastic job of keeping your lane for you. Engage an indicator and the A-Class will check your blind spots and move you over safely. If a problem occurs, auto emergency braking is on-hand to help.

Combine this industry-leading tech with a 5-star Euro NCAP test result and you’re in very safe hands if you choose an A-Class. 

Why buy

4 out of 5

A small hatch that’s defined by luxury

The new Mercedes A-Class is an interesting prospect. It would be easy to say it doesn’t stand up to the Golfs, 1 Series, and A3s of the world – but to make these comparisons is missing the point of the car somewhat. This isn’t the gap-in-the-market-filling car that Merc seemingly rushed out a few years ago; this is a bona fide luxury Mercedes – just smaller than the rest. 

When you view the A-Class as a miniature luxury car, you start to see the market it’s aimed at. If you’re looking for endless comfort, exceptional technology, a sturdy and predictable drive, and an interior that feels fit for a £60,000 car, then the A-Class is the car for you. The A-Class doesn’t aspire to be a hot-hatch, it aspires to be an S-Class – and it’s doing a good job of it.

Of course, there’s a performance option if you’d like it. The AMG does a pretty good job of tangling with other 300bhp hatches, but still, there’s a feel of AMG S-Class brute to it, rather than the bend-hugging agility that you get from a Golf R. 

If you’re looking for a smaller luxury car and you’ve not quite found what you’re looking for elsewhere, go and sit in a new A-Class; in terms of class at least, it’s a touch above the rest.