The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has traditionally sold to a high proportion of female motorists. But will this improved third generation version have as strong an appeal to the fairer sex? June Neary decides
Will It Suit Me?
Early generation versions of the Mercedes A-class offered the small 'Benz model that admirers of the brand had been waiting for. Prior to the arrival of this car, you had to stretch up to a C or an E-Class you get yourself ownership of something with the coveted Three-Pointed-Star upon the bonnet. First and second generation A-Class models proved to be a quiet success, especially with female buyers and small families - but the Stuttgart brand wanted to chase the big sales that its prestige rivals were getting with their compact models. So was planned the third generation A-Class that first launched in 2012. This car aimed to be a zippy urban tool also capable of undertaking regular longer journeys if necessary. It also tried to be a bit sassier, in order to attract those wanting something a little sportier. All of which had to be achieved without alienating the A-Class model's traditional core female/family clientbase. It was a tough brief, but somehow, Mercedes delivered on it and the result has been strong sales that have threatened the market dominance of premium compact hatches like the BMW 1 Series and the Audi A3. The only fly in the ointment was a rather over-firm standard of ride, something the brand has addressed with the revised A-Class model I'm looking at this week, a car that also gets a smarter look and greater efficiency.
Does this dinky Mercedes still suit the female motorist? Certainly, I liked the looks at first glance. Someone has thought long and hard about this car. The first time you climb into one, you'll be astonished at the way that the A-Class manages to pack so much into such a small exterior length - just under 4.3m. Its dimensions are similar to a regular Focus-sized family hatch and there's almost as much front and rear passenger space in this five-door-only design as you'll find in Mercedes' C-class saloon, plus a decent 341-litre luggage bay. One of the things I really noticed about this improved third generation model was the vastly upgraded interior. The cabin has been enhanced with smarter instrument dial housings, more seat adjustment, sleeker metal switches, plus a fresh choice of materials and dash trims. As before, the instrument panel is divided into a wing profile-type upper section and an solid lower section. Perhaps the most interesting design touch is what looks like an iPad sitting on the upper part of the centre console but which is in fact an integrated touch-screen system. Higher end variants get this display in a larger 8-inch size, with Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone integration. This system is an option on lower models. The instrument cluster comprises two large round instruments, each of them with a small round instrument set within it. When at rest, the dial needles stand at 6 o'clock. The pointer inlays are generally white, although with the sportier design and equipment lines they are finished in red. The 3-spoke steering wheel comes with twelve function buttons and an electroplated bezel. It all feels beautifully built, in stark contrast to first and second generation A-Class models I remember trying. This improved third generation car is very different, featuring soft touch fascia surfaces, sleek switchgear and a glove compartment lid that closes like an Asprey's jewellery box rather than a CD case. As our Road Test Editor recently said, about the best compliment you can pay it is that it now actually feels much more like a Mercedes.
Behind the Wheel
Ride quality was always an issue in original MK3 model A-Class derivatives. Hence Mercedes' decision with this improved model to offer all variants from 'Sport' trim upwards with a 'DYNAMIC SELECT' drive dynamics system able to offer a softer 'Comfort' suspension setting at the press of a button. The set-up also offers 'Sport', 'Eco' and 'Individual' options, all of which, like the 'comfort' setting, also modify throttle, steering and auto gearchange response. Common to all models is the combination of direct injection and exhaust gas turbocharging, a more advanced combustion process and an efficient lean-burn system. The engine range is much as before, though small tweaks have been made to improve efficiency. At the foot of the petrol range lie the 122bhp A180 and 156bhp A200 models, with a 218PS A250 variant available for those seeking more power but not able to stretch up to the flagship Mercedes-AMG A45 4MATIC hot hatch version. Many though, will want a diesel, probably the frugally-minded A180d with 109bhp, but maybe also the A200d model with 136bhp. There's also an A220d derivative with 177bhp if you need more power but still want to fuel from the black pump. The engines can be combined either with the a six-speed manual transmission or, as an option, with the 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Value For Money
The A-class isn't cheap - but which Mercedes is? Prices start from around £21,000, but you can easily spend over £25,000 on one of these cars. So yes, it's pricier than that mainstream family hatchback you were considering - but you should get much of the difference back in better residual values at trade-in time.
Could I Live With One?
Certainly - if I could afford the car to start with. The A-class is still a classier way to buy into a compact car. I rather like it.