What is it?
It’s not the compact MPV it used to be, that’s for sure. Mercedes-Benz’s A-Class has been reinvented as the first regular-format, front-wheel drive, five-door hatchback in the company’s history, as a head-on rival for Audi’s A3, BMW’s 1-series and Volkswagen’s Golf. Only now, in 2012, has the world’s oldest car company finally decided to make a car in the most popular body style of all.
The idea is to attract youthful buyers of a “premium” persuasion, a lucrative buyer base that Mercedes failed to capture with the innovative, but insufficiently appealing, previous A-Class models. So there’s a sporting flavour to the new model, which is based on the same underpinnings as the new B-Class MPV plus future coupé and 4×4 variants. That shared base explains the high dashboard and the deep sculpting of the body sides, intended to disguise their height while the wide, SL-like front grille exaggerates the width.
Petrol engines are of 1.6 or 2.0 litres, diesels are of 1.5 (a Renault unit) or 1.8 litres, all are turbocharged. The range-topping A250s have 211bhp and a strong AMG flavour, the top “Engineered by AMG” version peaking at £28,775. Prices start at £18,945 for the cheapest petrol A180.
There’s certainly a keen edge to the way the A-class moves along the road, with quick, sharp steering, taut responses with little body roll, and a sportingly firm ride even in the supposedly more comfort-biased SE models. Big wheels and low-profile tyres are the reason for this apparent conceptual mismatch.
You can aim any new A-class at a series of twists and come out the other side smiling. The AMG Sport versions are almost too keen, in an artificial way, thanks to yet-faster steering with a variable ratio; the “engineered” version does the “sporty” thing more credibly, with a more natural feel and different suspension settings.
These top A250s come only with a seven-speed double-clutch gearbox, which shifts smoothly and very quickly to complement the turbo engine’s impressive energy. Many people, however, will be happy with a more “core” A-class, such as the A200 CDI with 134bhp and the alternative of a six-speed manual. It’s a smooth, punchy diesel in the modern idiom and our recommended choice.
The dashboard seems high and wide but there’s a better view out than you’d expect. Four round, metal air vents with cruciform vanes like an SL’s dominate the styling, and the quality is as Mercedes-flavoured as you would hope it should be with the exception of the gimmicky, cheap-looking instrument graphics.
Space is class-average, iPhone interfacing is impressively complete with the optional app. With it, you can control everything from the knob and buttons on the centre console.
The one to buy
Mercedes-Benz A200 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport 5dr
- 1796cc, 4-cylinder turbodiesel
- 134bhp @ 3600rpm
- 221 lb ft @ 1600rpm
- 6-speed manual (automatic available)
- 0-62mph in 9.3sec
- Top Speed:
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4292mm, W 1780mm, H 1434mm
Mercedes-Benz A-class rivals
BMW 335d M Sport (check BMW 3 Series used car prices on driving.co.uk)
Jaguar XF check (Jaguar XF used car prices on driving.co.uk)
Mini Countryman (check Mini Countryman used car prices on driving.co.uk)
Audi A1 check (Audi A1 used car prices on driving.co.uk)