Mercedes-Benz A Class Hatchback (2012 - ) review
Read the Mercedes A-Class car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.
- Good looking and desirable
- High-quality interior
- Good on safety
- Poor driving experience all round
- Ergonomics are woeful
- Expensive to buy
At a glance
The entry-level SE car comes with a decent level of kit, including air-conditioning, alloy wheels, a stereo with USB port and Bluetooth, a leather steering wheel and seats partly covered in artificial leather. Sport versions get automatic lights and wipers, cruise control and a few more styling goodies, while AMG Sport versions have still more styling goodies and a lowered suspension. The Engineered BY AMG version has more styling goodies than you can shake a stick at, plus an even firmer suspension.
For the latest A-Class, Mercedes has ditched the boxy, MPV-like lines of previous versions and gone for something much more conventional. Stood alongside other prestige hatchbacks, the A-Class looks very smart, too, with big, angular headlamps, big air intakes and a grille-mounted three-pointed star. Cars in the base trim actually look quite anonymous with their small wheels and balloon tyres, but you get more and more spangly styling bits the further up the range you go, and range-topping version really do look very sharp indeed.
You expect a Mercedes, even a cheapish one, to have a classy interior. The A-Class doesn’t disappoint. The materials in your eye-line have a nice touchy-feely finish, there are some lovely metallic details, and the plastics lower down feel sturdy without being too functional. Ergonomically, though, the cabin is a mess, from the counter-intuitive way that the electric parking brake switch works to the dashboard that’s covered in similar-looking buttons, despite having most functions controlled by on-screen menus. Rear visibility is pretty poor, too.
Aside from the A45 AMG hot hatch version of the A-Class, you have three petrol engines and three diesel engines to choose from. Two of the petrols are 1.6-litre turbos with 120bhp or 154bhp, while the 2.0-litre engine has 208bhp. The most powerful one feels very perky, but the other two are disappointingly lazy and have some flat spots in the power delivery. The 1.5, 1.8 and 2.1-litre diesels deliver between 107bhp and 168bhp, and again, the lower powered units feel a little flat. The diesel engines aren’t as quiet or as smooth as they should be, either.
There’s enough headroom and legroom in the back of the A-Class to comfortably accommodate a couple of six-foot passengers, but the narrow cabin means that carrying three across the rear bench will be pushing it. Getting into the back takes some dexterity, too. The door openings are narrow, and because the rear wheelarches cut into them, they’re also an awkward shape. And, because the roof curves downwards at the sides of the car, you have to be careful not to bang your head. The boot is a decent size at 341 litres, but that’s not as much capacity and you get from rivals like the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series or Volkswagen Golf.
The A-Class’ interior quality gives you plenty of confidence about how well the car will stand the test of time, but Merc’s recent performances in various reliability surveys won’t back that up. The brand currently ranks in a disappointingly low position in Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings, for example. However, these results are based mainly on older Mercs, and the more recent models seem to be better built. Only time will tell.
Ride and handling
This is where the A-Class really disappoints. Low-end models have a ‘Comfort’ suspension, while AMG Sport cars are lowered and Engineered by AMG versions are stiffer as well. All the versions we’ve driven have a ride that’s both crashy and unsettled at most speeds, and it gets worse the further up the range you go. The firm ride doesn’t translate into agile handling, either, because the body control is disappointingly sloppy. The steering is rather slow to react, too.
The A-Class has a range of brand-spanking new engines, so it’s right up there with the best cars in the class for fuel economy and CO2 emissions. You’ll have to keep a watchful eye on which trim you choose, though, because the bigger wheels on higher-spec versions increase the car’s official CO2 output, meaning you might have to pay more in taxes on your car. Purchase prices aren’t cheap, and crucially, they’re higher than those of other premium-badged rivals. At least resale values will be strong.
The A-Class has achieved the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests, largely thanks to its seven airbags to protect occupants and the pop-up bonnet to protect pedestrians. Stability control is also provided as standard, as are ISOFIX child seat mounts and a fatigue sensor. There’s also a range of more sophisticated safety kit available from the options list.