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Hi-tech, grown-up new Mercedes-Benz A-Class now more A*

Fourth-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class raises the bar for prestige, small-car quality and image, debuting big-car innovation and efficient new engines. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

Fourth-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class raises the bar for prestige, small-car quality and image, debuting big-car innovation and efficient new engines. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz

With the UK the biggest market for Mercedes-Benz's A-Class, this new hi-tech, hi-spec fourth-generation hatchback's more grown-up feel is set to make it an even bigger hit, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Downward slanting lights make back of Mercedes-Benz A-Class look sad. Picture: Mercedes-BenzDownward slanting lights make back of Mercedes-Benz A-Class look sad. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

We love the A-Class, baby of the Mercedes-Benz range, in the UK – its largest market globally with 43,717 registered here last year, nearly a quarter of total sales.

This fourth-generation model raises both game and image, with a more grown-up feel and equipment including automatic transmission across the board for launch models – manuals will follow – and sat-nav, more safety kit and debuting the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) touchscreen interface and excellent ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice recognition. Hence the price hike.

Looks and image

It’s an evolutionary look with a smart face but a rather anonymous back end with slanting rear lights slant that make it look sad.

AMG Line's air vents get extra brightwork and look great. Picture: Mercedes-BenzAMG Line's air vents get extra brightwork and look great. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

Inside, you’ll be happy with the upmarket ambience which would do much more expensive cars proud – it borrows finishing touches from the flagship S-Class – with a quality, hi-tech fascia, twin seven-inch instrument and infotainment displays on entry models and optional twin 10.25in screens which create one panoramic display – this is the future of fascias.

Under the bonnet

Efficient, new engines are 116hp 1.5-litre turbo diesel A 180d, developed with Renault and Nissan, 224hp, 2.0-litre turbo petrol A 250 but the star is the 163hp, 1.3-litre turbo petrol A 200.

The little cracker’s 250Nm of torque is almost as strong as the diesel but peaks lower at 1,620rpm. It spins freely at high revs for perky performance with the seven-speed automatic box responding readily to the throttle yet returned 47mpg, not far short of the less-refined, less responsive diesel’s 54mpg.

Rear legroom adequate for six-footers but AMG Line's tall head rests can snag font seats when folded down . Picture: Mercedes-BenzRear legroom adequate for six-footers but AMG Line's tall head rests can snag font seats when folded down . Picture: Mercedes-Benz

How it drives

Designed to be better to drive and more comfortable, the petrol-powered A 200 felt crisper turning into corners with better steering feel with the lighter engine compared to the A 180d diesel. Petrol AMG Line models, with multi-link rear suspension rather than torsion beam, feel livelier through twists and turns with a flat stance.

With either set-up the new A-Class is more of a driver’s car without sacrificing comfort, ironing out poor roads, but AMG Line’s bigger 18in wheels create more tyre noise.

Boot space has grown to 370 litres, and the opening is wider. Picture: Mercedes-BenzBoot space has grown to 370 litres, and the opening is wider. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

Space and comfort

The new A-Class is wider and longer and, combined with clever packaging, you feel the benefits inside with more shoulder, elbow and headroom all round. Front-seat occupants are well catered for but rear legroom is just adequate for tall passengers.

Boot space has grown to 370 litres, with a wider opening, but while 40/20/40 split rear seat backs fold flat, AMG Line’s integrated tall head rests snag the front seat it too far back.

At the wheel

Optional twin 10.25in displays create widescreen fascia of the future. Picture: Mercedes-BenzOptional twin 10.25in displays create widescreen fascia of the future. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

The dashboard surpasses all expectations with air vents more works of art and those high-clarity, colour display screens. The seven-inch units look good, although there is a lot of gloss black surround, but the 10.25in ones, especially the optional double screens, are the bee’s knees, functional and highly versatile in how and what is displayed where. It’s easy to navigate the menus via responsive touchpads and home and back buttons each side of the steering wheel to control individual screens or a central control pad – you can also save your profile.

Shame the indicator and gearshift stalks on the steering wheel look cheap by comparison.

Technology highlight

You expect new innovations to be launched on flagship models but the A-Class debuts MBUX with intelligent voice control – no more staccato-like, two-way interrogation to get what you want.

Touchpads and buttons each side of steering wheel control twin displays. Picture: Mercedes-BenzTouchpads and buttons each side of steering wheel control twin displays. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

Just wake up your ‘virtual valet’ with the keywords ‘Hey Mercedes’ and simply say what you want – where you want to go, who you want to phone, music choice, weather forecasts, writing and hearing messages and convenience functions such as climate control and lighting. It’s enough just to say ‘Hey Mercedes I am cold’ to change the temperature. It’s even got a wry sense of humour – ‘Hey Mercedes, tell me a joke’ elicits the reply ‘Sorry, my engineers were German’.

Active lane-keeping assist, to steer the car back if drifting off course, and autonomous braking are standard.

Final say

The latest A-Class in an even more desirable first rung on the Mercedes-Benz ladder – more grown up with innovative big-car technology which will appeal to drivers down-sizing. The higher price is one many will pay, especially on monthly finance packages.

Steering wheel control stalks look and feel cheap compared to rest of fascia. Picture: Mercedes-BenzSteering wheel control stalks look and feel cheap compared to rest of fascia. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

SPEC AND TECH

MERCEDES-BENZ A 200

Engine: 1,332cc, 163hp, four-cylinder turbo petrol with seven-speed automatic gearbox

Performance: 0-62mph 8.0 seconds; top speed 139mph

Evolutionary styling but new Mercedes-Benz A-Class feels more grown up. Picture: Mercedes-BenzEvolutionary styling but new Mercedes-Benz A-Class feels more grown up. Picture: Mercedes-Benz

MPG: 51.4 to 53.3 combined

CO2 emissions: 123g/km

MERCEDES-BENZ A 180d

Engine: 1,461mm, 116hp, four-cylinder turbo diesel with seven-speed automatic gearbox

Performance: 0-62mph 10.5 seconds; top speed 125mph

MPG: 65.7 to 68.9 combined

CO2 emissions: 108 to 111g/km

Price: A 180d SE £25,800, Sport £27,340, AMG Line £28,540; A 200 Sport £27,500, AMG Line £28,700; A 250 AMG Line £30,240

Warranty: Three years or unlimited mileage

Will it fit in the garage? L 4,419mm; W (excluding door mirrors) 1,796mm; H 1,440mm

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