Sequels are rarely better than the original, are they? Beyond that thought, when an idea is strung out for a third or fourth instalment, it’s often a sign that a once-grand concept is now long past its sell-by date. However, the Mercedes A Class is out to prove that the fourth time is the charm.
The original A Class (1998-2005) was remarkably innovative and its successor (2005-2012) did things differently – and in some ways better than – the competition. The third-generation A Class (2012-2018), though, was very much the difficult second sequel. More stylish and mainstream, yes, and a considerable commercial success to boot. But, objectively, it was never a match for its main foes, the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series.
Which brings us right up to the present day and this fourth-generation A Class. Logic might lead you to assume that it's probably nothing special but, without wanting to give too much away, that isn’t the case at all. In fact, it’s really rather good.
No matter whether you're after a (relatively) affordable petrol, a super-frugal diesel, a fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid or a seriously rapid hot hatch (we've reviewed the fire-breathing A45 AMG separately), the A Class range offers something for you. But there are plenty of other fine family hatchbacks to choose from, so how does the latest Mercedes A Class compete with rivals – particularly those that wear an equally posh badge?
Click through the next few pages and we'll tell you everything you could possibly want to know, including what the A Class is like to drive, what it's like inside, how safe it is and the engines and trims that make the most sense. We'll also run you through the options that we'd recommend you consider adding.
Then, if you decide you want to buy a Mercedes A Class, we can help you with that, too. Just click here to find out how much you could save on the brochure price without any awkward haggling.
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Most will be perfectly happy with the diesel-powered A180d; it earns our recommendation with a power delivery that’s progressive rather than coming in one big surge like in some rivals. It’s not spectacularly quick (0-62mph takes 10.5sec) but performance is on a par with an equivalent Audi A3 1.6 TDI.
If you can afford it, the A250 is the best non-AMG petrol model. It uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine that packs an impressive 221bhp – enough to take you from 0-62mph in just 6.2sec. This makes it a close match for a Volkswagen Golf GTI in a sprint and, thanks to plenty of urge at low revs, it still feels pleasingly brisk when you’re not thrashing it.
The 1.3-litre A180 and A200 are the other two petrol options. We’d avoid the A180, because it needs to be worked quite hard to keep up with traffic. The more powerful A200, meanwhile, is just about punchy enough, but it doesn’t seem enthusiastic to be revved hard, and that might stifle your enjoyment.
If you’re looking for an eco-friendly plug-in hybrid, it’s worth having a look at the A250e. It uses the 1.3-litre petrol engine from the A200 and pairs it with an electric motor for a total power output of 215bhp. This makes it quite brisk (0-62mph takes 6.6sec) while providing you with about 40 miles of fully electric range. You can charge the A250e from 10% to 100% in an hour and a quarter using a 7kW wall charger.
Suspension and ride comfort
The previous-generation A Class wasn’t exactly famous for its smooth ride but, thankfully, this latest model is a lot more relaxing. It's certainly a more comfortable choice than the BMW 1 Series, which is decidedly firm – particularly if you choose an M Sport model.
The differences in ride quality between the A Class and most versions of the Audi A3 are fairly minor; the A Class is a little less settled at high speeds but is generally more supple over patchy town roads. It's the Volkswagen Golf, though, that remains the most comfortable car in the class.
Of course, resisting the temptation to fit big wheels to your A Class is advisable if ride comfort is a priority. However, the relatively sporty A250 model is no less comfortable than the cheapest models in the range, because it features a more sophisticated rear suspension setup. Meanwhile, the fact that the A250e is heavier than all the other A Class models also seems to make it slightly more comfortable over bumps.
The A Class handles pretty well. Yes, there’s a bit of body lean through faster corners, but this happens so progressively that things never feel unstable during quick changes of direction. Even the steering impresses; it builds weight in a natural way as you turn in to corners, and the fact that it’s always accurate allows you to place the car just where you want it on the road. It’s also light enough to ensure town driving isn't a chore.
It runs out of front-end grip quicker than the sharper-handling Audi A3, but we'd happily recommend most A Class models to keen drivers over the 1 Series. The A250e is the exception to this; at around 200kg heavier than the rest of the range, it exhibits more lean in corners and runs out of grip sooner.
The more sophisticated rear suspension of the A250 (and the AMG Line version of the A200) is designed to improve handling. Our experience of the A250 is that it corners flatter and grips harder than cheaper variants of the A Class. It’s not quite as sharp as a Volkswagen Golf GTI but, judged as a quick yet comfortable luxury hatch, it’s rather appealing.
Noise and vibration
Refinement isn’t the A Class’s strongest suit, especially if you choose the A180 or A200. Their 1.3-litre petrol engines are rather boomy and generally a bit uncouth, especially when you work them hard. Likewise, while the A250e is whisper-quiet in electric mode, the tranquillity evaporates when that same 1.3-litre petrol engine springs into life.
The more powerful A250 petrol comes across as rather more cultured, combining smoothness at low speeds with a fairly sporty rasp if you work it hard. The A35 AMG, meanwhile, sounds racier still. By contrast, the diesel engine in the A180d is smooth and quiet by the standards of most rivals; it's smoothest at low to medium revs but does sound a little strained higher up.
The six-speed manual gearbox that's standard on lesser versions of the A Class is a little notchy. However, automatic versions choose their gears wisely and promptly most of the time.
Fortunately, helped by the car’s superb aerodynamics, wind noise is very well suppressed and you’re not plagued by a constant whistling and fluttering at motorway speeds. And while there’s a noticeable amount of road noise at speed, it's no more intrusive than in an equivalent Audi A3. It's most noticeable on models with 18in AMG wheels, but you'll still experience some background drone on cars with smaller 17in wheels.