- Updated 06 August 2020
- 7 minute read
- By Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
Nothing encapsulates Britain’s desire for an upmarket badge quite like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. In 2018, it was the eighth best-selling car in Britain, with around 43,500 finding new homes, making it the country’s most popular ‘premium’ car.
That puts the A-Class ahead of more down to earth cars, such as the Vauxhall Astra and Fiat 500, not to mention its two fiercest rivals: the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. So what’s the appeal?
Partly, it’s about the badge. A small Mercedes-Benz will generate more Instagram likes than a Vauxhall – and look far better parked outside the gym.
Affordable finance is another factor. PCP deals means the difference between an anonymous hatchback and an A-Class could be less than your monthly spend on takeaway lattes.
If image, cutting-edge tech and one of the best interiors on the market are high on your list of priorities, the A-Class is hard to ignore.
There are two body styles, hatchback and saloon. The majority of UK buyers will opt for the five-door hatchback, even if the four-door A-Class is one of the best looking compact saloons on sale.
Looks, tech and design
Like a celebrity trying to stay relevant in the modern world, the current A-Class is almost unrecognisable from the original of 1997. Gone is the frumpy and upright styling in favour of something wider, lower and sleeker, if a touch generic.
Cutting to the chase, you’re going to fancy the A-Class in AMG Line trim. The entry-level SE has the look of a rental car, with small 16-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlights and a complete absence of cosmetic excitement. You’d be better off putting your badge snobbery aside and opting for a top-spec Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra.
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Having said that, the list of standard equipment on SE is rather generous and includes sat-nav, cruise control, air conditioning, two screens, push-button start, a multi-function steering wheel and a touchpad controller.
Upgrading to the Sport adds 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior accents, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control and a leather steering wheel. But AMG Line trim seals the deal by delivering sporty AMG styling, including 18-inch wheels, a bodykit, darkened privacy glass, sports seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel finished in Nappa leather.
In all cases, the really clever tech comes at extra cost. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are part of an advanced smartphone package and will add little to your monthly payments. However, more desirable option packages will add a four-figure sum.
The Executive equipment line adds a highly impressive 10.25-inch touchscreen display, reversing camera, parking assist, electrically folding and dimming mirrors and heated seats. The Premium pack comprises a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, illuminated door sills, 64-colour ambient lighting, keyless entry, an upgraded audio system and a rear armrest with two cupholders.
Add these packs to an A-Class in Sport or AMG Line trim and you’ll enjoy some of the trappings of a big Mercedes in a smaller package. The pair of 10.25-inch displays combined with the turbine-style central air vents deliver a wow-factor that’s unrivalled in this segment.
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Other standalone options are worthy of a mention. Firstly, ‘augmented reality’ for the sat-nav overlays directions and street information onto a real-time video of the road ahead. Meanwhile, a full suite of advanced safety systems is offered as part of a driving assistance pack.
If that’s not enough, the flagship Mercedes-AMG 35 and 45 high-performance hot hatch versions come with many of the desirable options as standard alongside extra style and powerful engines. The AMGs feature four-wheel-drive, 18- or 19-inch alloys to fill the wider wheelarches, sports suspension, big exhaust pipes, voice control and a host of toys.
You might find you’re too busy marvelling at the interior and basking in the warm glow of the badge to care too much about how this car drives. But it’s worth paying attention, because the A-Class is outclassed by rivals in two key areas.
If you’re after an exciting drive, the BMW 1 Series remains the default choice, with direct steering and neat handling. Even in its rapid AMG A 35 and A 45 versions, the A-Class seems devoid of excitement, feeling unwilling to let its hair down.
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The small four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines in basic A 180 variants are best reserved for those who prioritise efficiency over performance, although they’re perfectly adequate for city driving and cruising on the motorway.
That buyers are drawn to AMG Line spec like moths to a flame is understandable, but the penalty for the added style is a firmer ride, which ruins the comfort and joy associated with the interior. On the flipside, the suspension on SE and Sport models is far less polished, as if Mercedes had trouble finding the right balance.
If your heart is set on the A-Class just be sure to take a couple of test-drives before discussing expensive options with the dealer.
Cost and economy
One of the things that makes PCP offers so exciting is that you’ll often find a premium car like this Mercedes is just a few pounds a month more than something much more ordinary. The A-Class is also a popular company car, benefiting from cheap lease deals and low exhaust emissions.
Fuel prices are unlikely to give A-Class buyers too many sleepless nights, with the official figures suggesting basic diesels will do comfortably more than 60mpg, while even the least efficient petrol can top 35mpg – though that isn’t counting the super-fast AMG models.
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Sure, such figures look good on paper and what you actually achieve depends on how much control you have over your right foot. But the monthly running costs shouldn’t mean you’re forced to live on lentils, rice and water.
Not unless you opt for the AMG A 45 S, which is expensive to buy and costly to run. Still, this £50,000 hot hatch has the most powerful four-cylinder engine in the world, and if you can afford that you probably aren’t worried about expensive tax and insurance.
While it’s fair to say that the A-Class has benefited from the nation’s desire for image-boosting badges and affordable finance, it’s not the number one premium hatchback without good reason.
The interior is a class act, even on the basic models, while a few well-chosen options can deliver big Mercedes levels of satisfaction in a more modest footprint. It’s hard to imagine how Mercedes or any of its rivals could deliver a superior cabin.
Is it the best premium hatchback? It’s certainly right up there, not least because it offers a greater sense of occasion than the Audi A3 and more flair than the outgoing BMW 1 Series. Not just top of the class but A+.
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- Detailed review of the Mercedes A-Class on our sister site Parkers