First launched in 1997, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class has taken quite a journey from a somewhat awkward mini MPV to a less awkward mini MPV to a much less awkward semi MPV, or in other words: a hatchback, the automaker’s first real competitor in the premium hatch market.
It has become something of the poster child for a Mercedes on a roll, a car popularised by its desirable badge and more accessible pricing. This third-generation W176 A-Class was launched in 2012, immediately perceived as a rival to the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, and Volvo V40.
It has grown into a smart looking five-door that does come with a posh interior and some decent handling characteristics, paired with a range of turbocharged petrol and diesel four-cylinder motors and the expected level of practicality for a car of this size - et voila - the German OG automaker now has a smash hit on its hands.
But 2012 was a whole 5 years ago, and despite the minor update in 2016, the third-generation A-Class hasn’t changed all that much. Can the small Merc maintain a strong identity as a premium choice especially when more and more mass market automakers are adopting luxury levels of quality, materials, and design?
In Australia the A-Class is available as the A180, A200, A200d, and A250 Sport 4Matic.
“…the A-Class now matches its major competitors in overall proportions, on-road ability, passenger comfort and street cred.” - Motoring.com.au
The first thing you’ll see when approaching the A-Class is that huge badge sitting boldly in the centre of the grille, which are more than often flanked by diamond-shaped mesh inserts. The fascia itself is quite snub-nosed and upright and from here the belt line is more or less maintained until the rear of the car.
It’s side profile does have some subtle creases to it but most prominently is the noticeably short rear overhang and the noticeably long front overhang that gives the A-Class a disproportionate took that customers evidently are not bothered by.
In base form, the A-Class looks unassuming, sedate, even a little boring despite not really being shaped like any other car out there. Step up to the A200 or A250, though, and things get more visually interesting with larger wheels, body kits, spoilers, and the rest, usually courtesy of a trim level-based exterior package.
Engine and Drivetrain
“…a smooth transmission so long as you don’t try to hurry it, where it can get a bit flustered. Fiddle with the optional modes and it’s less satisfying.” - EVO
Four-cylinder petrol and diesel motors are what powers the A-Class range exclusively, all mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. It kicks off with the turbocharged 1.6-litre engine that lives in the base A180, producing a modest 90kW and 200Nm and sipping just 5.8-litres/100km on a combined cycle.
Next up is the A200 which uses the same engine but instead tuned to deliver more power at 115kW and 250Nm and an appropriately raised fuel consumption (6.1-litres/100km). The A200d the diesel-powered alternative to this, substituting the smaller turbo-petrol for a 2.1-litre turbodiesel that cranks out 100kW and a healthier 300Nm of twist. Another up shot is the claimed 4.2-litres/100km fuel consumption.
The A250 Sport 4Matic is the only one among the non-AMG range of A-Class to feature all-wheel drive over the front-wheel drive layout found in the rest. Having the word ‘Sport’ does also entail a performance bump, and this is where its more powerful 160kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged engine comes into play.
The petrol engines are generally strong and smooth performers, though they’re not the most economical. However, the sole diesel option might be the best for highway lovers though keep in mind that the oil burner here is known to be noisier than equivalent diesels in rivals.
“…high beltline, small windows and rear screen, and thick pillars make looking out of the A-Class a bit of a struggle compared with some rivals.” - What Car
Matching the A-Class’ posh exterior and prestigious badge is an classy cabin that’s decently plush even if the base model is selected. Of course, the servings of soft luxurious materials is increased the higher up the variant list we climb but on the whole, it’s a comfortable place to be in.
The dashboard layout is quite sporty, as is the driving position, reinforcing the idea that Mercedes-Benz wanted this to be a much more fun car than any of its predecessors were. However, have a little poke around and the cost savings become more apparent with lower quality plastics to be found lower down. Still, there’s more than enough expensive touches littering the interior that these niggles are soon forgotten.
Also, the fit and finish are quite good when compared against more mainstream automakers but odds gaps in design and the odd break in design cohesion breaks the interior’s perceived quality. Audi, with the A3, is still the benchmark in this regard.
Space for the two front passengers is good, though visibility is compromised by a thick A- and C-pillar as well as quite a narrow rear windscreen. Speaking of, life in the rear seats is actually quite good - comfortable and wide enough to allow for three children or two adults for a long-haul journey. However, the sloping roofline does mean headroom may be compromised for taller occupants.
Getting to the boot is just as easy as in any other hatch, but the complaint here lies with the wide tail lamps greatly reducing the load aperture once the hatch is open. You’ll either have to load an item lengthways before reorienting it once it’s inside the boot or remove the parcel shelf and gain a better entry that way. The 340-litre boot capacity isn’t anything to brag about either, and is less than nearly all of the competition. Of course you could fold the seats down to reveal 1,157-litres of cargo room, but again you’d have to navigate past that woefully narrow opening.
Behind The Wheel
“…a nicely balanced thing to chuck about, but the front tyres run out of grip quickly and the whole experience is a bit remote.” - Top Gear
No matter which A-Class you get, you’re in for impressively direct steering and a surprisingly firm (or ‘sporty’) suspension that mars what could be a luxurious city cruiser. Even the base A180 with its smaller 17-inch alloys are subject to this setup. Granted, we reckon that without it the car would lean a little too much during high compression corners, but the compromise in ride quality is perhaps uncalled for.
The fact is that Mercedes-Benz needed to find a legitimate way around the A-Class’ inherent weaknesses instead of throwing extra spring rate at all variants. The range-topping A250 Sport’s suspension is firmer still, and the AMG-branded A45 even more than that, but at least it’s controllable via the adaptive suspension system, which are now optional on other A-Class models.
The BMW 1 Series, in a like-for-like variant comparison, would always embarrass the A-Class in terms of driving thrills and engagement behind the wheel. And while that ride is also firm in the Bimmer, it’s rarely uncomfortable. But get the A-Class settled into a cruise, and its quite a refined and habitable place to find yourself in.
Safety and Technology
“Inside the cabin, previously optional tech like satnav, blind spot detection and keyless ignition are now standard across the range, as is a reversing camera.” - CarsGuide
ANCAP tested the Mercedes-Benz A-Class back when it made its local debut in 2013, whereupon it took away a 35.80 out of 37 overall score. It scores highly for active safety features too, with autonomous emergency braking as an option but collision prevention assist standard.
Also standard are front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, a reversing camera, and 9 airbags. Infotainment with Garmin-sourced navigation info is also on the cards for all A-Class variants along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, displayed through a 7-inch central panel while audio comes via a six-speaker audio array.
In the range-topping A 250, Benz includes an upgraded COMAND Online system with a larger 8-inch touchscreen along with a premium 12-speaker harman/kardon sound system.
Mercedes-Benz’s first real entrant into the premium hatchback market made quite a impact back when it first introduced, rocketing the marque to contention with class leaders. In 2017, that dynamic has pretty much remained unchanged, and still the A-Class keeping Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series - along with the larger 5-door MINIs - honest.
The good looks and desirable badge do amount to great showroom appeal for the car, coupled with it being the most accessible entrance point into Benz ownership. It might not be the kind of practical all-rounder at the Audi is or the scintillating drive the Bimmer is (at any grade), but the A-Class has a good-enough combination of both that, judging by its popularity, resonates well with many buyers.
Motoring.com.au - 76/100 - “…the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is not only the cheapest way of gaining entree into the three-pointed-star fraternity – it is also an unquestionably worthy member of what still remains as an exclusive club.”
Top Gear - 8/10 - “Mercedes has at last turned the A-Class into a real contender. Third time lucky, you could say.”
What Car - 2/5 - “A stylish car with some nice features but most rivals are better value, better to drive and more practical.”
CarsGuide - 4.5/5 - “With improvements to the way these baby Benzes drive, steer and react, as well as how they interact with the driver, the updated A-Class is anything but botched.”
EVO - 3.5/5 - “Aside from the badge, and the fact it has four wheels, this generation of the Mercedes-Benz A-class couldn’t be more removed from its lofty, sandwich floored and space efficient predecessor.”