First drive review: Mercedes-Benz A-Class
What is it?
Mercedes-Benz calls this the most important car they've offered for a generation – and that's quite some statement. But it's easy to understand their enthusiasm as the firm can finally tackle the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series head-on for premium hatchback honours.
Everything – only the "A-Class" name is the same. The new A is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. There's also a whole new range of engines and transmissions and, the biggest change of all, are the looks. Gone is the old A-Class's mini-MPV styling and safety-first packaging, and in comes a more conventional premium hatchback look. It's only available as a five-door version, but there's a coupe and mini-SUV on the cards.
What's under the bonnet?
Kicking off the line up is the A 180 BlueEFFICIENCY – a 1.6-litre, 120bhp petrol which emits 129g/km of CO2 and can achieve 51.4mpg combined. There's also a 154bhp 1.6 and a 209bhp 2.0-litre. For diesel the line-up ranges from a 98g/km, 1.4-litre unit with 107bhp, right up to a 2.1-litre, 168bhp unit.
The most popular engines are expected to be the 1.4-litre diesel and the 1.8-litre diesel.
Coming next year is the hot A 45 AMG with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol.
What's the kit like?
There's a vast range of models. The line-up starts with the A 180 for £18,945 which comes with air conditioning, a multifunction steering wheel and stop/start. For now, the range peaks with the Engineered by AMG at £28,775. The pick of the line-up is the mid-spec Sport – which ranges from £21,240 to £24,720, and has niceties such as 17-inch bi-colour alloys, cruise control, carbon-fibre-like interior trim and twin exhausts.
Well, the A-Class ploughs head-long into the inter-German premium hatchback battle between the BMW 1 Series and the new Audi A3. Don't forget the new Volvo V40, either. That brings with it its own unique Swedish charm.
Is it any good?
It is, yes. It may share the same name with the old A-Class, but there's no wobbly body control with the new one; this is a very competent machine. Mercedes has worked hard to give the A-Class a neutral driving experience – no understeer or oversteer – and it has worked. Cornering is flat, the steering weighty, the driving position is close to spot-on and the new seven-speed dual clutch gearbox is a peach.
The AOL Cars verdict
Mercedes has built a-class act here. The firm has sold 2.1 million units of the A-Class since its introduction in 1997 – but, interesting looks aside, both the Mk1 and Mk2 never got your pulse racing. This new one does; it's not as fun to drive as a BMW 1 Series, but it's far more stimulating than the new Audi A3. It's one of the best Mercedes in recent years.
Model: Mercedes A 200 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport Automatic
Price: £33,240 (as tested)
Engine: 1.8-litre, diesel
Power: 134bhp, 600Nm
Max speed: 130mph
MPG (comb'd): 65.7