The Mercedes-Benz A-Class now offers a stronger proposition to buyers in the premium compact hatch segment. The experts at Car & Driving check out the revised version.
The improved third generation Mercedes A-Class distils the essence of its famous brand and puts it into a compact five-door hatch. Offering distinctive looks and a quality feel, the miniature Merc has proved a hit with consumers, but it's needed to up its game in the face of tougher competition from key rivals in the premium compact hatch segment like Audi's A3 and BMW's rejuvenated 1 Series. Hence this revised version, with its smarter looks, extra equipment and greater efficiency.
Mercedes' A-Class has transformed itself in recent years. Original first and second generation version of this model were clever, but quirky, with neat, spacious packaging but tall, boxy and resolutely un-sporting looks. In 2012 though, the Stuttgart brand got with the programme and bought us this more dynamic MK3 version. It's proved to be a strong seller, but with the competition also upping its game, the Three-Pointed Star has decided to introduce a package of key enhancements to keep it competitive. The styling hasn't changed much but standards of efficiency certainly have, with the base A180d variant able to return 80.7mpg on the combined cycle while emitting just 89g/km of CO2. At the other end of the line-up, the frantically-fast A45 4MATIC hot hatch continues on, able to hit 60mph in 4.2 seconds thanks to a staggering 381PS. It seems that all bases are covered.
This MK3 model A-Class has always offered much more of a sporty drive than its predecessors but many reviewers thought that the original version of this car was just a tad too sporty. It certainly offered a firmer ride than some buyers were expecting. 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. 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.
This third generation A-Class delivered a design that was longer, wider and lower than before, with sharply defined edges and tautly-drawn convex and concave surfaces which seem to constantly change as the light catches them. Not too much has changed in this regard, except at the front where there's a smarter, more angular front bumper below a standard 'diamond' front grille. At the rear, the exhaust pipes are now integrated into the rear bumper while the tail-lights are revised. Overall, though the changes may be subtle, they do sharpen up the styling nicely. Inside, the interior has been upgraded with smarter instrument dial housings, more seat adjustment, sleeker metal switches, plus a fresh choice of materials and dash trims. Higher end variants also benefit from a larger 8" touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone integration. This system is an option on lower models. Boot space remains competitive at 341-litres. If you want a bit more attitude from your A-Class but can't quite stretch to the top Mercedes-AMG A45 model, there's a 'Motorsport Edition' package available on the pokier mainstream diesel and petrol variants, the A220d and the A250. This adds a large rear wing along with splashes of green trim inside and out that reference the livery of the Mercedes Formula 1 team.
As before, prices for mainstream models sit in the £20,000 to £30,000 bracket. The A220d and A250 variants can both be had with all-wheel drive for around £1,500 extra. If you want the pinnacle of the range - the Mercedes-AMG A45 4MATIC - you'll need almost £40,000. Whichever A-Class variant you choose - 1.6 or 2.0-litre petrol or the 1.8-litre diesel - all models come the basic equipment features you'd expect. At the 'SE'-trim level most customers want, that means 16" alloy wheels, a decent quality CD stereo, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, a USB port, air conditioning, a multi-function steering wheel and a 5.8" infotainment touchscreen. 'Sport' trim adds a larger 8" touchscreen, 17" wheels, cruise control, rain sensing wipers and sports seats. 'Sport Edition'-spec models gain sat-nav, KEYLESS-GO push-button starting and luxury seats. While the 'AMG Sport' trim is all about looks, with 18" wheels, lowered suspension and carbon trim. Extroverts might also like the 'AMG Night Edition' trim, which tints the windows and features different 18" wheels. Safety kit available includes 'DISTRONIC PLUS distance control' radar cruise control, a 'COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST PLUS' system that'll stop you from rear-ending the car in front, 'ATTENTION ASSIST' to alert you against drowsiness and the usual suite of airbags and electronic aids.
The economy champion is the A180d variant, which exhales just 89 g/km of CO2, while only drinking a gallon of fuel on the combined cycle every 80.7 miles. With respectable performance figures, it's a tempting package - albeit one that 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. As for the pokier engines, well the relatively powerful A220d manages 104g/km of CO2, with this increasing to 121 g/km with 4MATIC 4WD added. Even the A45 super-hatch manages 40.9mpg on the combined cycle and 162 g/km, remarkable figures for such a fast car. 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. Insurance groups are 15 for the A180 rising to 43 for the A45. Mercedes generally hold their value well, with the A-Class no exception. Just remember that a mid-range diesel is the sensible option for high resale figures. With that in mind, something like an A200d Sport Edition model might well represent the sweet spot of the range. On the other hand, an 4MATIC petrol variant with every option thrown at it will lose a lot more of its value over the years.
Starting afresh in the premium compact hatch segment has worked well for Mercedes and this A-Class continues to represent a strong proposition in this aspirational sector. This thoughtful package of updates hasn't dramatically changed the proposition on offer here, but the extra efficiency and technology included will do enough to keep the car competitive against impressive rivals from Audi and BMW. In summary then, if the objective here was for Mercedes to distil all that's exciting, fresh and modern about its business into one small package, then we don't think it could have done much better. Those who can afford A-Class asking prices will find this car sporty, self-assured and possessed of a feel-good factor that really does make you feel special if you've specced your model right. Which is exactly what owning a car of this kind is all about.