Few people will forget the A Class Mercedes, the first truly small car from a brand with an enviable reputation for quality and durability. The decision to increase overall sales by heading down market to a segment where sales volumes are much larger was almost certainly correct and indeed was the path that arch rivals BMW and Audi both chose to follow at around the same time, and also the decision to offer something that was markedly different rather than a “me too” sort of car was probably not a bad shout. Sadly, though, this impressively packaged and spacious yet small car quickly gained a notoriety after failing the so-called Elk test in spectacular fashion, which unquestionably cost it sales, even though its maker moved very fast to improve the stability of the car. Sales were respectable but not massive and a second generation car which looked like a cautious evolution of the first fared little better. The ingenious construction which allowed the car to be so roomy was also very costly to produce so it was perhaps not a surprise that the third generation A Class of 2012 was a much more conventionally proportioned C-segment hatch that took aim at the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3, and all those non-premium badged rivals from just about very volume car maker you can name. Although perfectly worthy, it never wow-ed anyone and it never came top of comparison tests in this fiercely competitive class, though it still achieved a respectable sales volume. With typical teutonic thoroughness, Mercedes concluded that a thorough rework was called for with the fourth generation W177 car which made its debut in the spring of 2018, going on sale a few weeks later. The new A Class was based on the MFA2 platform, and attention had been paid to the aerodynamics and a lot of sound deadening featured to make the car quieter and more refined. It shares a number of components with the Renault Megane, though Mercedes definitely do not want you to know that. The coupe de grace was the flashy interior and a heap of nes safety features. It was well received by the press at launch. I never managed to sample a third generation A Class, so was quite keen to try the fourth one, knowing it would be very different from the second generation A170 I drove back in 2008. The chance came when Hertz at Heathrow offered me one as an alternative to the Group D (Skoda Octavia or similar) that I booked, though as they explained to me, because this is a Mercedes and therefore very premium, there was a hefty upgrade fee compared to the Group C and D cars. Question is: was it worth it?
Like most modern Mercedes, the numeric identifier is not indicative of the engine size of the car. Although badged A180, this car is actually powered by a 1.5 litre 4 cylinder diesel engine that is closely related to ones used by (whisper it quietly), the Renault Megane. It puts out just 116 PS, which is on the low side for a car of this class these days. There is keyless starting. Press the button and the engine is very refined on start up, with very little evidence that this is indeed a diesel. It remains impressively subdued once underway. Much effort has been made to keep all noise sources at bay though I did detect some road noise but generally this is a quiet car. A manual gearbox is standard but the test car, like most A Classes had the optional 7 speed DCT automatic ‘box. It works quite smoothly, but it proved very eager change up which rather took the edge off any acceleration. Performance in any case is on the acceptable side of modest. Whilst take off from rest was OK, when you need bursts of acceleration out on the open road, the car does feel a bit wanting. If you want a brisk A Class, this is not the version for you, though most will probably find it acceptable in everyday motoring. The payback would appear to be with fuel economy. I covered 585 miles during my time with the car and it took just 36 litres when I filled it up, which computes to an astonishing 73.75 mpg, which, although impressive, I find hard to believe and wonder if on this occasion I actually returned a rental car less full than it was when I received it.
This A180d was labelled Sport, but if you think that will make it feel sporty to drive, prepared to be very disappointed, as it certainly was not. I think the word “average” would better characterise the driving dynamics. The steering was on the light side, as is the case with so many cars these days, and did not have much in the way of feel, but it did mean the car was easy to manoeuvre. Most A class models have a conventional torsion beam rear suspension, but if you upgrade to an A250 model you get a more sophisticated multi-link setup. The Sport trim of the test car gets what is called Comfort suspension, which means that the car is lowered by 15mm and settings are altered to make it more sporty to drive. Or so they claim. The reality is that this A180d Sport handled tidily enough and there seemed to be plenty of grip and not much in the way of body roll. More importantly, the ride was decent, so the car was comfortable when going a long distance on a motorway and also civilised on the A and B roads. There were no issues with the brakes which did what needed from them. There are plenty of so-called safety features in the car, many of which I found irritating. Lane Departure systems almost always irk, and this one did just that with plenty of false alarms. There was a warning if you were perceived to be too close to the vehicle in front and it also beeped at you telling you that the driver was tired based solely on time of a journey. Some of these things can be turned off, but they reactivate when you start the car again. Rather more useful was the rear parking camera which helped to judge the back of the car, as the glass area is quite small and visibility is not the A Class’ strongest suit.
When the W177 generation A Class was announced, the press went into superlative mode, saying how classy the cabin was. I am pretty sure that was based on looking at a few photos, as when you get to see it in person, you may be a trifle disappointed in the reality of the execution. There is quite a mix of materials used, some of which, such as the leather, perforated leather and carbon fibre are fine, but the gloss black bits are very plasticky and quickly show every speck of dust and fingerprints, and those metal effect air vents are also so obviously plastic and quite tawdry to behold. To some extent, I would say the interior is a simile for the whole car: potentially a selling point, with perceived quality that’s more about impactful showiness which rather disappoints on close-inspection. If you like a list of the latest kit even if you won’t ever use all of it, and you want that ritzy technology ambience you might just love it, but if you are like me, you won’t be that impressed. As with some other recent Mercedes models, the cabin of the A-Class is dominated by two 7.0″ screens that are mounted side-by-side in front of the driver. These take most of the car’s various functions, plus the information that would usually be delivered on conventional analogue instruments, and presents them all in one integrated unit, which looks a bit like two elongated smartphones on their side, Accordingly, the instruments are all electronic. The graphics are crisp, though. There is just one “dial”, a speedometer, with the fuel level indicated in a bar chart inset in the lower left of the display. Posher trim versions have larger 10.25″ screen and a lot more complexity tan featured here. What appear to be matching column stalks are most definitely not that, as the A Class now follows the rest of the family with a gear selector in the position that you would expect to find a right hand stalk, leaving the left hand one to operate wipers as well as indicators. Lights are on a rotary dial on the dash to the right of the wheel, as is the electronic handbrake. The boss of the steering wheel has buttons for the phone and audio repeater as well as cruise control. The central part of that display is used for the infotainment functions. In SE, Sport and AMG Line trims, both screens measure 7.0 inches, and the MBUX system supports DAB radio, Bluetooth and hard-disk navigation, but not Apple Carplay/Android Auto. Smartphone integration is provided – along with wireless phone charging – if you upgrade to Sport Executive or AMG Line Executive trims, and what’s more your left-hand screen is upgraded to a bigger 10.25-inch item. Upgrade further to AMG Line Premium or Premium Plus, and your right-hand screen is upgraded to the same size, and you also get an upgraded 225W sound system and augmented reality for your sat-nav. This overlays instruction graphics over a camera image of the road ahead of you, pointing out precisely where you should be going The system is controlled by tapping and swiping at the left-hand screen, or by using the laptop-style touchpad and shortcut buttons located on the central partition between the front seats. I found the screen a bit of a stretch for tapping at it using the touch interface. The graphics are really sharp and the menus have a fairly logical layout, so it is relatively easy to find your way around the system, but the touchpad controller is less precise, and more distracting than the iDrive rotary dial you get in a BMW 1 Series. As an alternative you can use the “Hey Mercedes” voice control system that’s designed to recognise natural speech rather than specific commands. Below this are those three turbine like air vents and then buttons for the dual zone climate control. This does mean that there is a relatively clean and unfussy look as there are not vast number of buttons.
The seats appear to be part faced with leather, but of course, the material used has not come from a cow but is instead Mercedes’ Artico with what they call Fléron fabric for the seat outers. You probably would not realise that it is not real leather and it proved nice enough to the touch. All seat adjustment is manual, but there should be no difficulty in finding the settings that you want. The under thigh cushion will pull out for those who are longer than average in this regard (that’s most definitely not me!). There is a telescoping steering column as well. The seats proved comfortable and there is a feeling of space even though this is very different from those early A Class models. Getting into the back is not as easy as on some cars as the door opening are quite small, a problem carried over from the previous generation cars and most manifest with the CLA. Once inside, though, space for those in the rear seats is class competitive. Leg room will depend as to how far forward the front seats are set. If they are to the rear of their travel, then there is not that much space, though it should suffice for children and even adults on short journeys. Three adults will be a bit tight, from a width point of view but not out of the question and there is sufficient headroom. Similarly, the boot if very much on a par with the Mercedes’ rivals. There is some additional space under the floor for odds and ends. The rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split 40-20-40 and drop down to give an almost flat and quite long load bay. Inside the cabin, there are door bins, an under armrest cubby and recesses accessed from under sliding lid as well as modest glovebox. Just about enough for the odds and ends likely to accumulate in a family car. Those in the back get pockets on the rear of the front seats and some very pokey bins on the doors.
At launch in 2018, there were three available engines, two petrol units, the 163 bhp A200 and 224 PS A250 as well as the diesel-engined A180d like the test car. In advance of the fire-breathing A45 AMG model that will top the range, a hot-ish A35AMG with a 2 litre turbo four arrived in the autumn and later in the year, three further options were made available: an A180 petrol with 136 PS, and a pair of dieseles, with an A200d with 150 PS and an A220d generating 190 PS, both coupled to an 8 speed DCT auto box, These used a new and cleaner engine that will see service across more of the Mercedes range over time. A traditional saloon model was also added to the range for those who wanted something more practical than the still compromised CLA. AMG models come with 4MATIC all-wheel drive whereas the rest of the range are front driven. There is a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension for the higher end cars. 16-inch wheels are standard equipment. DYNAMIC SELECT is standard equipment, and at the touch of a button also provides an individual driving experience in conjunction with the suspension with active damping control (optional). The entry-level trim is the SE and it actually comes with a very good level of standard kit. Aside from all the infotainment and safety kit which includes DAB radio, hard-disk navigation; Active Lane Keeping Assist; Speed Limit Assist, you get alloy wheels, four powered windows, cruise control, part-leather-effect upholstery, a leather steering wheel, heated front seats, keyless go, a reversing camera and single-zone climate control. Upgrading to Sport trim gives you larger 17-inch ten-spoke alloy wheels and comfort suspension and adds dual zone climate control, LED headlamps and a chrome strip actress your radiator grille, but that’s about it, although it adds plenty to the car’s price. AMG Line trim adds a more comprehensive range off sporty styling upgrades, along with privacy glass and sports seats. AMG Line customers will benefit from 18-inch five-twin-spoke AMG alloy wheels; diamond radiator grille; AMG bodystyling; Artico and Dinamica microfibre upholstery; and three-spoke sports steering wheel. There are a number of option packages available. The Executive equipment line costs £1,395 and includes 10.25-inch media display; Active Parking Assist with PARKTRONIC; Heated front seats; and mirror package which includes electrically folding exterior mirrors and automatically-dimming driver’s side mirror and rear view mirror. The £2,395 Premium package – only available in conjunction with Sport or AMG Line trims – adds 10.25-inch instrument cluster; ambient lighting with a choice of 64 colours; illuminated door sills; Keyless-Entry (lock/unlock); Mid-range sound system; and rear armrest. For £3,595 customers can opt for the Premium Plus equipment line (in conjunction with Sport or AMG Line trims) which, in addition to the Premium equipment line, adds electrically-adjustable front memory seats; Multibeam LEDs with Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus; and a Panoramic glass sunroof. The Driving Assistance package is available for £1,695 – only in conjunction with the Executive, Premium or Premium Plus lines – and comprises Active Blind Spot Assist; Active Braking Assist with cross-traffic function; Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC; Active Emergency Stop Assist; Active Lane-change Assist; Active Speed Limit Assist; Active Steering Asist; Evasive Steering Assist; Pre-Safe Plus; and route-based speed adjustment. The £495 Advanced Navigation package can be added, only in conjunction with the Executive, Premium or Premium Plus lines, and includes MBUX augmented reality for navigation; and traffic sign assist. The Advanced Connectivity package (in conjunction with the Executive, Premium or Premium Plus lines) costs £495 and includes smartphone integration; pre-installation of digital vehicle key for smartphone; and wireless phone charging.
In A180d guise, there is nothing remotely sporty about this A Class. but that’s equally true for a lot of other cars that have had the Sport label applied to them, where it is just that, a label and nothing related to the spec of the car as used to be the case with badges such as S or SRi on family cars of the 1970s and 1980s. Look past this and what do you have? If I am being brutally honest,you have something really rather ordinary. There is nothing seriously wrong with the A Class, but equally there is nothing that stands out as manifestly better than any of its rivals, so I would have to conclude that really you are buying the badge and a glitzy interior. Given how competitive Mercedes finance deals are, you probably can get one for a similar monthly payment as on the non-premium class rivals from Ford, VW, Vauxhall and the French trio of 308, Megane and C4 as well as a host of Japanese and Korean cars, and judging by the sales figures in the UK, that clearly appeals to a lot of people. In prestige badge land, I’d pick the Audi, but the sales figure in the UK place this well behind both the Mercedes and the BMW. At the rental car counter, though, where the A Class is in a separate category, priced quite a bit higher than they will charge you for a Focus, an Astra or an Octavia, I have to say that I really did not think it was not worth the extra money that was charged.