Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • A wide range of petrols and diesels in the A-Class
  • Plug-in hybrid offers 40+ miles of battery range
  • Manual and automatic gearboxes available

There's a wide range of engines and transmissions available in the A-Class hatchback, all of which major on efficiency and refinement. This is a big leap over the old model, which could sometimes feel a little rough and ready – progress indeed.

Petrol line-up continues to grow

The base petrol engine on offer in the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a 1.3-litre turbocharged unit, badged A 180. It produces 136hp and 200Nm of torque. Acceleration takes 9.2 seconds from 0-62mph for the manual car, and 8.8 seconds in the auto. Top speed is 132mph. Despite being the entry-level engine we still enjoyed driving this model of A-Class. It’s not the most refined engine but it feels pretty muscular for its size, thanks to the turbocharged torque delivery – combined with the slick manual gearbox and it’s a fun combination to have.

Next up is the A 200. Offering up 163hp and 250Nm of torque, it’s good for 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds (manual, 8.0 seconds for the auto) and a top speed of 140mph. The 1.3-litre engine belies its small capacity by delivering reasonable real-world performance on all roads, though it is coarse and loud when worked hard – feeling out of place for a car that wears the Mercedes badge and the corresponding price premium. Ironically, it's the same engine found in the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar, being quieter in both of these cars than the Merc.

While stopping short of feeling quick, there’s enough oomph to dispatch A-road overtakes or get up to speed quickly on a motorway slip road – more so, certainly, than the A 180 d. However, the automatic gearbox doesn’t feel as well matched to this engine as the diesel, changing gear more often – despite the petrol offering similar low-down oomph – and regularly shifting into a lower gear than is necessary, making the engine feel noisier than it really is. 

An A 220 was added to bridge the gap between A 200 and A 250, offering 190hp and 300Nm of torque, available in a choice of front- or 4Matic all-wheel drive forms. In both set-ups, it cracks the 0-62mph sprint in 6.9 seconds.

If you’re in need of something a little quicker, the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol, badged A 250, delivers genuine Volkswagen Golf GTI-rivalling pace. Producing 224hp and 350Nm of torque, 0-62mph comes up in just 6.2 seconds while the top speed is 155mph.

Economical and swift diesel models

Of the diesels, the A 220 d is the most fun to drive, if not as quiet as the A 200 d and A 180 d. With 190hp on offer from its 2.0-litre turbodiesel, you get ample performance to keep up with the thrust of modern driving – how does 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds and a 146mph maximum speed sound to you?

As impressive as those figures sound on paper, they can't convey how rapid the A 220 d feels on the road, with hair-trigger throttle response and instant overtaking urge between 30-70mph.

Plug-in hybrid

The Mercedes-Benz A 250 e is aimed at turning an increasing number of buyers on to the notion of buying a plug-in hybrid. As with all PHEVs, this one has the potential for some impressive fuel economy but only if you keep it charged up. It'll run for 44 miles on battery only (which is notably further than all of its current PHEV rivals), and benefits from big tax savings for company car drivers.

Fuel consumption figures (with charge in its battery pack) are promising but only if you drive sensibly - not easy to do when there's a stout 218hp and 450Nm of torque on offer. Expect a 0-62mph time of around 6.2 seconds, making the plug in A-Class the second fastest in the standard range behind the 2.0-litre A 250 petrol. The PHEV makes do with a 1.3-litre petrol bolstered by electrical assistance - combined you can reach the lofty heights of 149mph; on battery power alone though 87mph is achieveable, which is realistically more than you need.

Like the punchier diesels this model gets the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, which goes about its business in the traditionally unflustered way we've come to expect from Mercedes cars. Shame the same can't be said for the hybrid system - in all modes except Sport it feels a bit hesistant to call upon petrol power, meaning there's a slightly laggy power delivery unless you absolutely floor it.

Still, this isn't a car designed for hot hatch thrills (although strangely it is able to deliver them if you want) and is all the more satisfying to waft around in without using fossil fuel at all. In reality the need to push the throttle hard before it reluctantly feeds in some petrol asssistance is a good thing - hybrids are often too keen to do so and this can make it tricky to move off quickly while remaining in electric mode.

Simplifying the driving process is the fact all of the hybrid controls - things like pure EV mode or battery hold etc - are grouped within the car's drive mode menu containing the usual Sport and Comfort set ups instead of a separate menu. Our only complaint really is that the brake pedal is a bit vague - feeling a bit dead at the top of its travel and bitey lower down. We reckon you'll get used to this reasonably quickly, though.

Mercedes A-Class transmissions

The sole transmission offering in the A-Class from launch was a seven-speed DCT (dual-clutch transmission) automatic, however an eight-speed variant and six-speed manual have since followed. Keeping things confusing, the A 180 d uses the seven-speed auto, while the A 200 d and A 220 d use an eight-speeder. All the petrol automatics use the seven-speed auto where specified in place of the six-speed manual.

The seven-speed DCT is a slick-shifting unit that works particularly well with the A 180 d diesel, getting the most from the engine and changing gear mostly imperceptibly. It does a good job of choosing gears for you, striking a good balance between shifting into a high gear when cruising for maximum economy and the least engine noise, and changing into a low enough gear for decent acceleration without whipping up too much engine noise.

This transmission is much less suited to the A 200 petrol, however. Despite this engine having a similar amount of low-down muscle to the diesel, the gearbox forever chooses a lower gear than you’d expect – resulting in much more engine noise than you’d hope.

This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the A 200 motor wasn’t as coarse and as loud as it is. Take into account the accomplished general refinement levels elsewhere and this engine and gearbox combination stands out as a weak link, feeling very out of place in a Mercedes complete with premium price tag.

Yes, the gear selector is mounted on the steering column, but it doesn’t take long to get used to this and once you have it’s easy to use. There are manual override paddles should you wish to change through the gears yourselves, and they’re impressively quick to respond, quickly knocking down two gears at a time if requested.

Opt for the six-speed manual gearbox and it comes with a short, stubby gearlever that’s a joy to use. The shift quality isn’t the slickest on the market, especially when compared with Ford or Honda, but it remains better than those from other German rivals. The heavily-assisted clutch pedal is a bit too light for some but this does at least this make town work easier.

Driving modes

All A-Classes come with a drive mode selector as standard, allowing the driver to switch between Comfort, Eco, Sport and Individual settings (plus Slippery on AMG A 35 models). The former two lighten up the steering and dull the throttle responses, while Sport does the opposite and also reduces the ESP (electronic stability program) intervention. Individual allows drivers to tweak each setting independent of one another.

Mercedes-AMG A35 performance

The top-of-the-range Mercedes AMG A 35 uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 306hp and 400Nm of torque – enough for 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. It’s an undeniably rapid engine, yet its short on outright excitement. There’s nothing wrong with the power delivery or throttle responses, plus the quick-shifting gearbox does its part, too, yet the ability to thrill is lacking.

The overall engine note feels artificial, and while it revs well, you rarely feel encouraged to explore much beyond 5,000rpm thanks to the ample torque on offer. Effective, yes, exciting, no.

Handling

  • Not the sharpest or most comfortable hatchback
  • Plenty of grip but could be more fun to drive
  • Pleasant town car thanks to standard automatic

The A-Class isn’t as focused towards sporty driving as, say, a BMW 1 Series, but it still conducts itself well out on the road. Bear in mind that the A-Class comes with different types of rear suspension, depending upon which version you go for. Pricier AMG Line models come with more sophisticated suspension, while SE and Sport trims use a cheaper configuration that doesn’t offer as accurate control of the back wheels. Mid-corner bumps can upset the latter ones, but it’s still fun up to a point - chiefly because the lack of outright power means you won’t overcome the chassis and trying to maintain momentum can be an interesting challenge.

There’s not a world of difference between the two – especially as the more sophisticated suspension of the AMG Line models is offset by larger alloy wheels, which make the ride firmer. However, you can expect AMG Line versions to do a slightly better job of separating driver and passengers from rough tarmac than Sport models.

Easy to drive around town

Around town, the seven-speed automatic gearbox means it’s easy to drive in heavy traffic, while the car’s exterior dimensions are still compact enough (this generation A-Class is longer and wider than the previous model) to thread through most narrow city streets. The turning circle is reasonably tight, and the steering light at low speeds, giving good overall manoeuvrability.

A rear-view camera is standard, though the large, fixed, solid rear headrests and broad rear pillars mean you have to rely on it to see where you’re going when reversing. Automatic parking with a 360-degree camera view of the car is available as an option and works very well, even if it’s not strictly necessary.

Lots of traction, but not especially sharp to drive

Gain a little more speed on a twisty country road and the A-Class displays ample stability and grip, even if the body does display a little roll at higher speeds. It’s not up there with some of its rivals for sheer responsiveness, but there’s enough feel and enthusiasm from the chassis to have some fun if you really want to.

A significant part of this is thanks to the well-weighted steering which is reasonably weighty around corners but very smooth – providing a good sense of how much grip the front tyres have.

It’s likely that most of the time, however, the A-Class will be driven in town or on motorways and this is where it feels most at home. Cruising at high speed, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were driving a larger vehicle thanks to the very low wind noise from around the windscreen – though it does produce a lot of noise from around the rear windows.

Tester's notes: AMG A 35 handling

Boasting Mercedes-AMG’s 4Matic all-wheel drive with variable torque distribution, AMG Ride Control adaptive dampers and Dynamic Select drive modes, the AMG A 35 has all the tools to make it a full-on corner crusher. And thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint. Traction is immense and the all-wheel drive system feels very active as it quickly distributes power between the front and rear axles.

The front wheels produce a huge amount of grip when turning into corners. This makes the A 35 an easy car to place when hurtling from challenging bend to challenging bend, especially in wet-weather conditions, but while all of the above is great for getting from A to B as quickly – and safely – as possible, it could do with being a little more fun.

When driven smoothly, you pick a line through a corner, and it goes exactly where you point it, regardless of speed. There's a lack of steering feel compared with its best rivals, so it’s not as appealing as the Honda Civic Type R, or even Volkswagen Golf R for enthusiastic drivers. The steering is too light and feels more like an SUV, leaving you with no sensation as to what the front wheels are doing.

There is a solution around this though. First of all, if you cycle through the drive modes into Sport+, the A 35 feels a little more alert in its responses. If you drive the A 35 in a more aggressive manner on more challenging bends, it begins to unearth its more fun side - grab the controls like a parent would their screaming toddler during a moment of discipline, and this performance hatch comes out of its sensibly-behaved shell and starts to be a little more playful.

It’s terrifying, but fun and a little more dramatic nonetheless. It’s as though the A 35 lets its hair down and replaces grip and traction to become more playful. We wouldn't say there's much panache to it, but it certainly does feel juvenile to suit your mood.