Mercedes-Benz A-Class review

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

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Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

This revised version of the fourth generation Mercedes A-Class now offers a stronger proposition to buyers in the premium compact segment. Jonathan Crouch drives it.

Ten Second Review

This improved version of the fourth generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class offers an even stronger proposition to buyers in the premium compact hatch segment. If you define luxury in terms of technology, you're going to like it a lot..

Background

Want a case study in how to change brand perception? You're looking at it right here with this fourth generation Mercedes A-Class, in this case usefully updated five years on from its original launch in 2017. This car continues in its aim to make this famous marque one that more younger buyers could consider.

As before, we're told to regard this A-Class as what the market calls a 'compact premium family hatchback' - in other words, a Focus or Astra-sized car with superior quality and a bit of extra badge equity. It's the kind of very profitable product that all the mainstream makers wish they could sell but which is primarily defined by this car and its two closest competitors, the Audi A3 and BMW's 1 Series. The frumpy first and second generation A-Class contenders didn't really threaten these two rivals in any meaningful way, but this car's MK3 model pre-2017-era predecessor really did. With its successor, particularly in this revised form, Mercedes has sharpened up the looks and dialled in more safety and media connectivity.

Driving Experience

There aren't any handling changes as part of this mid-term update; as before, this MK4 A-Class feels precise and quite sporty to drive. The 'Direct-Steer' steering system still enables you to place the car where you'd want through the curves and really enjoy this Mercedes if you're a keen driver. Body roll's kept well in check and you're favoured with prodigious grip that's impressively untroubled by mid-corner bumps. What Mercedes has done is to introduce its 48V EQ Power mild hybrid tech into the 1.3-litre four cylinder petrol unit that most customers choose. As before, this engine comes in two states of tune, with 136hp in the base A180 or with 163hp in the A200 variant we tried. Either way, you now have to have the brand's 7-speed dual clutch 7G-TRONIC auto gearbox.

The electrified tech adds a belt-driven starter-generator, there to give you a 14hp boost when moving off or accelerating in the mid range. It also makes the engine start-stop system work more smoothly and allows for longer periods of what the engineers call 'sailing' - cruising with the engine off when you're not accelerating at highway speeds. If you happen to be coming to this car from pre-facelift A180 or A200 versions of this MK4 A-Class, you'll need to concentrate hard to appreciate the differences; and you'll need to concentrate even harder to notice the differences in fuel consumption, rated at 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and 133g/km of CO2 for both models. If you want greater A-Class efficiency, you'll need either the 150hp A200d diesel, which uses an 8-speed auto. Or, if you can afford more, the A250e Plug-in Hybrid, which now offers a gutsier 75kW electric motor powered by a slightly larger 16.0kWh battery offering an EV driving range of up to 51 miles (7 miles more than before). The A250e has a similar combined system output as before (218hp) but now only comes as a saloon. There aren't any mainstream AWD A-Class models any more; for that (and the all-independent suspension set-up that comes with the 4MATIC system), you have to stretch to one of the 2.0-litre turbo petrol 8-speed auto Mercedes-AMG hot hatches, either the 306hp A 35 or the 421hp A 45.

Design and Build

As before, there's a choice of five-door hatch or saloon body shapes. And you have to look very closely to see the facelift update changes - a pair of power bulges in the low bonnet, a revised front bumper design and a smarter star-pattern radiator grille. The angular LED High Performance headlamps are also flatter. And the 'AMG Line' trim levels that almost everyone chooses get a revised rear diffuser. As before, large wheel arches house big rims (ranging from 17 to 19 inches) that sit this A-Class squarely on the road. Also as before, this MK4 design has a wide look at the rear end thanks to a heavily waisted greenhouse and at the back, there are slim, two-section tail lights.

Now let's cover off the cabin updates made to this facelifted model. The key differences lie with updates made to the MBUX infotainment system, the main change being the deletion of the previous central touchpad, which means that you've either got to stretch to the screen surface with your finger (which is a bit of a stretch) - or use the improved voice activation system (now class-leadingly intuitive). The MBUX system can now be ordered with fingerprint sensor access. And it also gains a more convenient wireless version of the 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring system. Just as significantly, the smaller 7-inch screens for the instruments and the infotainment that used to be fitted to entry-level models have now been junked. Which means that all A-Class models now get the better 'widescreen'-style cockpit set-up, which sees a 10.25-inch centre-dash infotainment monitor joined with a 10.25-inch virtual instrument screen to create one continuous monitor, much as you get in larger Mercedes models What else do you need to know about this cabin? Well Mercedes has updated the steering wheel, though we're not sure if that's an improvement. And all variants now get the 64-colour ambient lighting package, so you'll be able to play with cabin illumination to your heart's content. Getting comfortable on the supportive seats is easy thanks to plenty of seat and wheel adjustment. They now come with cushion height adjustment too. And there's improved cabin storage, with an extra shallow tray on the centre tunnel.

This fourth generation model's relatively lengthy wheelbase means decent interior space in the rear, where there's 720mm of leg room. Let's finish with a look at the boot. It's 350-litres in size in petrol hatch model (it's 345-litres in the diesel hatch). You're looking at a boot capacity of 395-litres for conventional petrol and diesel versions of the alternative saloon (a figure which falls to 345-litres in the PHEV saloon). Fold down the seats completely and 1,190-litres of total capacity can be freed up in a petrol hatch or 1,210-litre in a conventionally-engined saloon.

Market and Model

The A-Class costs quite a lot more than when you probably last looked. Prices in the mainstream line-up start from just under £32,000 and range up to around £42,000 and there's only a fractional premium to own the Saloon version rather than the five-door hatch. You'll need the Saloon variant if you want the A 250 e Plug-in Hybrid model, which is priced from around £41,500. There are four mainstream trim levels - 'Sport Executive', 'AMG Line Executive', 'AMG Line Premium' and 'AMG Line Premium Plus'. This updated model now offers a wider choice of paint colours and interior trimming options. And the 'Parking Package' many customers want has been improved, now supporting longitudinal self-parking and offering a 360-degree camera system with 3D visualisation modes. And the Driver Assistance Package has been updated with better Active Steering Control.

As you'd want for the money, every A-Class model comes well equipped. All variants get a 10.25-inch central touchscreen with a MBUX multimedia system featuring 'Hey Mercedes' voice activation. There's a 10.25-inch instrument cluster screen too. Plus there are 17-inch alloy wheels, Artico man-made leather upholstery, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Speed Limit Assist, LED High Performance headlights and a wireless 'phone charging mat.

This improved fourth generation A-Class is of course very well connected. Navigation functions, for example, can be based on traffic feedback from so-called 'Car-to-X communication' where information gets fed in from other similarly-equipped road users. As usual, there's a dowloadable 'Mercedes Me' app that connects you into your car and can tell you things like local fuel prices or the availability of parking spaces at your destination.

Cost of Ownership

Let's get to the WLTP figures. As usual with mild hybrid tech, don't get your hopes up too high for the difference it'll make: full-Hybrid and powertrains in rivals cost more for a reason (namely that unlike MHEVs, they allow the engine to run fully electrically). Anyway, the A 180 and A 200 in manual form both manage up to 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and up to 133g/km of CO2.

The economy champion of course, is still the A 200d diesel variant, which in base trim manual form exhales up to 130g/km of CO2, while only drinking a gallon of fuel on the combined cycle every 57.7 miles. With respectable performance figures, it's still a tempting package - albeit one that in its standard form, forgoes the big wheels and aggressive bodykits of more dynamic-looking versions. If you plan on adding the extra features, then economy will obviously take a hit.

With the A 250 e Plug-in Hybrid, the 16.0kWh battery can be charged with AC or DC current via a socket located in the right-hand side wall of the vehicle. This A 250 e can be charged at a 11kW charging station with alternating current (AC) within 1 hour 15 min from 10-100%. Using an 11kW wallbox, it'd be one hour and 45 minutes. Keep everything charged up and Mercedes reckons that 90% of regular commuting journeys can be completed without using the petrol engine. One important comfort feature is the pre-entry climate control prior to starting a journey, which reduces energy usage and can also be activated conveniently by smartphone. The quoted WLTP combined cycle fuel figure is between 282.5 and 353.1mpg and WLTP CO2 emissions are rated up to 19g/km. That means a 8% BiK tax rating; compare that to 30 or 31% for a conventional diesel or petrol-powered A-Class.

Across the A-Class range, the warranty may be an industry standard 3 years but is for unlimited miles, handy to know if you spend a lot of time on the road. Just remember that a mid-range diesel is the sensible option for high resale figures. With that in mind, something like a mid-spec A 200d model might well represent the sweet spot of the range. On the other hand, a Mercedes-AMG 4MATIC petrol variant with every option thrown at it will lose a lot more of its value over the years.

Summary

With the A-Class, Mercedes sets out to distil all that's exciting, fresh and modern about its brand into one dynamically compact premium package - and the sales figures seem to suggest that it's succeeded. More than any other model in the company's range, it's the one that's most changed the marque's image in recent years. Once, Mercedes was merely known as a purveyor of traditional luxury: today, its products champion modern luxury. As any rival brand will tell you, the difference is important.

And what of this update to the fourth generation model? Well it's not especially far-reaching. But if you wanted an A-Class before, you'll probably want one even more now. Those who can afford the asking prices and like the driving experience will find this contender sporty, self-assured and possessed of a feel-good factor that really does make you feel special if you've specced your chosen variant correctly. Which is exactly what owning a car of this kind should be all about.

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