Mercedes-Benz A-Class offers hi-tech luxury for a small premium
- Credit: Justin Leighton for Mercedes Ben
Most car-makers debut new features and technology on range-topping flagships, but Mercedes-Benz chose to do so on the new 'baby' A-Class.
Some brands still have badge cachet – and the three-pointed Mercedes-Benz star is certainly one of them.
My grandfather aspired to own a Mercedes-Benz, and finally achieved it, and nearly five decades later Mercedes is still a desirable brand, the UK's fourth biggest seller.
One popular model key to the brand's success is the A-Class – one in four Merc sales in the UK – so Mercedes has put great effort into the new model, introducing new tech to a mass market rather than saving it for a range-topper.
LOOKS AND IMAGE
Each generation of the A-Class has got sleeker and this is the best yet – from the front, although more evolutionary than revolutionary. The hatchback's rear-end is not quite so stylish, looking dumpy by comparison, but I'm more taken by the saloon version that has now joined the range.
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UNDER THE BONNET
Think Mercedes and you tend to think diesel but not after driving the new 1.3-litre turbo petrol unit.
The more powerful 163hp launch engine (a 136hp version is now available) is a cracker. The launch seven-speed automatic transmission, with paddle-shifters, is now being joined by six-speed manual.
With a healthy 250Nm of torque from 1,620rpm, it picks up cleanly from low revs which helps economy – 45mpg overall and topping 50mpg on a run – but it's happy, if a little boomy, being worked for brisk top-end performance.
There's also a wide range of 1.5 and 2.0-litre diesels and a 2.0-litre petrol.
HOW IT DRIVES
The A-Class faces stiff competition from the likes of the Audi A3, BMW 1 Class and even upmarket Volkswagen Golfs so, to raise its game, has been engineered for a more dynamic drive and comfortable ride.
Petrol AMG Line models get a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension and the handling feels crisper and more agile than those models that use a simpler torsion beam set-up.
Despite the AMG Line, topping the range above SE and Sport, having larger 18in wheels, the ride is still commendably composed, whether motorway cruising or travelling slowly on roadwork-scarred urban roads, but there's a lot of tyre noise.
SPACE AND COMFORT
Beautifully finished inside, it uses quality, soft-touch materials where you see and touch them, and has a classy look which sets the tone for what is coming up on future Mercedes models.
A wider, longer body means more space inside and enough rear legroom so you can carry four large adults if those up front are greedy. The well-shaped 370-litre boot is made all the more versatile with 40/20/40 split rear seat backs which fold flat to create a 1,210-litre cargo compartment. The saloon has a 420-litre boot.
My only gripe is that the AMG Line's integral rear head rests on the seat backs won't clear the front seats if set well back.
AT THE WHEEL
I love the hi-tech, futuristic fascia with its turbine vents and optional, customisable larger 10.25in media and instrument screens controlled by intuitive touch pads on the steering wheel. Seven-inch screens are standard but upgrade to the £2,395 Premium pack for the larger ones which give a full-size, panoramic widescreen display. This also includes other comfort, convenience and safety features such as auto parking, heated front seats, keyless entry and ignition, 64-colour ambient cabin lighting and electric folding and dimming mirrors.
A highlight is the new Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) – which is standard. Just say 'Hey Mercedes', what you want it to do, what you want to listen to or where you want to go or find and it's sorted. It makes most other voice-control systems very old hat and clunky.
When small cars are this good, this premium, this hi-tech, it really does drive home whether you need a big luxury model to feel special. The A-Class can offer everything you want.