The all-new, fourth generation A-Class hatchback marks a major change for Mercedes-Benz, as it introduces some of the company's latest technology, typically reserved for the flagship S-Class, into its smallest car. A sharper image helps evolve the exterior appearance, but inside it's a revolutionary step change that should worry rivals Audi and BMW.
In the Metal:
Almost everything in this fourth-generation Mercedes A-Class is new. Compared to its bloated looking predecessor, the new A-Class is much sharper. It is wider by 14mm and 30mm longer and sits much better on the road. The face is similar to the style to the new Mercedes-Benz CLS, and the grille helps to differentiate the various specification grades. Mid-range models upwards get LED headlights with a distinctive daytime running light signature.
If you think the new A-Class looks good from the outside, sitting in the driver's seat reveals what is easily the best cabin design, not only in this class, but arguably in the one above it too. The standout feature is a new dashboard layout that is devoid of a traditional instrument binnacle. Instead, it uses two display screens that in all but the entry-level version are housed behind a single piece of glass. Base models use two seven-inch displays, with upgrades bumping the infotainment screen to a 10.25-inch unit, while the top equipment package gives you the two 10.25-inch screens you see in the car reviewed here. It's that top spec screen in the A-Class, combined with the new MBUX operating system, that sets it apart from its rivals.
The new baby Benz is no one trick pony though. Throughout the rest of the cabin there are fantastic design elements, a multifunction steering wheel lifted from the S-Class and more space for passengers than before. A new voice control system lets you interact with the car by merely saying "Hey Mercedes", as you would with Alexa, Siri or Google. You can tell the car to switch on your heated seat by saying you're cold, for example, or enter a destination in the satnav. One other cool piece of technology is the Advanced Navigation package. A windscreen-mounted camera displays the real-time view on the infotainment screen and uses augmented reality to overlay mapping information such as what turn to take, street names or to highlight the exact building you're going to. What might seem like a gimmick at first quickly becomes extremely useful, especially when you're not in familiar surroundings.
On a practical note, knee and shoulder space are improved, while at the rear, boot space is up by 29 litres to 370 litres. Not class leading, but an improvement that is further helped by an aperture that is now 20 m wider.
If that sublime interior still left you questioning the premium credentials of the new Mercedes A-Class, then driving it confirms that this is every bit the real deal. From launch, the A 180 diesel will come with a seven-speed automatic transmission, with a manual version following later. For this diesel model, Mercedes pinched a 1.5-litre engine from its partner Renault, to which it then applies its own software.
The refinement levels are very good and come as a result of improved aerodynamics and more sound insulation than in the previous A-Class. Less road noise and a quieter diesel engine add to what is a pleasant driving experience. It isn't as driver-focused as the BMW 1 Series, using front-wheel drive like the Audi A3. The ride quality doesn't feel as firm as its rivals', even on larger diameter alloy wheels. Aside from the A 250 variant, which gets multi-link rear suspension, the rest of the range sticks with a new torsion beam at the back. For the most part it serves the car well, with only the harshest of bumps making themselves known in the cabin. The bulk of surface imperfections are nicely absorbed, and through bends the five-door hatch holds its line well with little body lean.
As for the diesel engine, well that pulls the A-Class along with ease thanks to its 260Nm of torque. It isn't massively powerful, but it gets the job done adequately, and if the official fuel economy of almost 70mpg rings true, then most owners should be happy. The A 180 d gets away from the lights with ease and the automatic gearbox shuffles through the ratios smoothly. A choice of different drive modes can be selected to suit your preferred style and, in Eco mode, there's a coasting function when you lift off the throttle that helps to save fuel.
What you get for your Money:
At launch, A-Class pricing starts at €31,600 in Ireland, for the A 180 d automatic in Style specification. That includes rear USB ports, auto lights and wipers, a leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloys, keyless start, cruise control, a reversing camera, heated front seats, air conditioning and the MBUX interface with touchscreen and touchpad. Above that is the A 180 d Progressive, from €34,235, which adds 17-inch rims, a significant exterior makeover, LED headlights and Artico (man-made leather) and fabric upholstery. The range-topping AMG Line cars (costing €35,505 in A 180 d guise) gain 18-inch wheels, a sportier steering wheel, AMG body kit, Artico and Dinamica (suede-like) upholstery and plenty more AMG-influenced upgrades. The A 200 petrol model starts at €33,910.
Like all cars pitching to the premium segment, you'll have to spend more money on the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class if you want to have the best toys and technology. The good news for buyers, and not so good news for rivals, is that the core car is very good with no shortage of refinement and appeal.