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Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • Eight engines available in the A-Class
  • Four petrols and three diesels plus AMG version
  • Manual and automatic gearboxes available

The A-Class’s engine choices were relatively sparse from launch, consisting of just one diesel and two petrol options. Fear not, as in Autumn 2018 the range was expanded to include two more diesels and an AMG performance variant, with further petrol and hybrid options on the way.

Petrol engines

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 134mph. 

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. 

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. Until the AMG A-Classes comes along, the A 250 is expected to be the fastest derivative on offer.

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. 

Diesel engines

The A-Class is available with three diesel engine variants. Starting off with the biggest seller, the A 180 d is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit that puts out 116hp and 260Nm of torque. That’s enough for a 0-62mph time of 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 125mph.

While it feels perky at low speeds – and has a surprisingly sensitive throttle pedal that makes it feel more responsive – the A 180 d doesn’t offer much in the way of speed. It’s not slow, but you do have to plan overtakes well in advance. It’s fine for cruising – and will likely deliver excellent fuel economy in the process – but we can’t help but think that many drivers will be longing for just a little more real-world performance from this engine – especially considering the steep pricing.

Upgrade to the A 200 d and you’ll benefit from a larger 2.0-litre engine producing 150hp and 320Nm of torque, enough for 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds and a top speed of 137mph. Meanwhile, the A 220 d uses the same engine to produce 190hp and 400Nm of torque, giving a 0-62mph time of 7.0 seconds and a top speed of 146mph.

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 expect.

This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the engine were smooth and quiet, but the A 200 motor is surprisingly coarse and loud. Take into account the accomplished general refinement levels 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.

Mercedes A-Class driving modes

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 gearbox does its part, too, yet the ability to thrill is lacking.

The overall engine noted 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.

Mercedes-AMG A35 rear

Even more power for Mercedes-AMG A 45 S

 

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.

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.

Mercedes A 250 AMG Line red

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.

Clinical 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, while the front wheels produce a huge amount of grip when turning into corners. There’s also next to no understeer (where the front of the car pushes wide during cornering) or oversteer (when the rear of the car steps out during cornering), making the A 35 an incredibly tidy steer when hurtling from challenging bend to challenging bend.

However, 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. The chassis isn’t particularly adjustable – once you’ve picked a line through a corner there’s little chance of adjusting it on the throttle – plus there’s also the constant feeling that the car finds everything a little too easy. 

For enthusiastic drivers, this lack of communication through the chassis and controls means it’s not as an appealing proposition as a Honda Civic Type R, or even a Volkswagen Golf R.