Parkers overall rating: 3.9 out of 5 3.9
  • Appealing cabin design
  • High-tech instruments and infotainment
  • Driving position isn't perfect

Mercedes-Benz has gone all out on the A-Class’s cabin and it really shows. Demonstrating a marked improvement over the old model, it packs in outstandingly modern design and cutting-edge technology – although much of this will cost you extra.

The A-Class comes with two 7.0-inch displays as standard – a central media system display and a widescreen driver display in place of regular dials. Laid out in a single upright slab that starts in front of the driver and extends across the top of the centre console, this immediately sets the A-Class apart from rivals, even more recently introduced ones.

However, for the full effect, the Premium equipment line (available on Sport, AMG Line, AMG Line Premium, Premium Plus and AMG Line Executive models) replaces the standard screens with larger, 10.25-inch displays. These fill the space much more completely, and show off crisp, easy-on-the-eye graphics across all of the menu options.

Powering all this is Mercedes' latest MBUX infotainment system, which can be controlled via touchscreen or using the central touchpad. The menus are slick and relatively easy to navigate – even on the move – and give the car a grown up, high-tech feel. Should you wish, most of the car’s auxiliary functions can also be controlled through voice commands, which generally work very well.

Yes, it doesn’t always successfully interpret your instructions, but requests such as ‘Hey Mercedes, navigate to Oxford Street, London’ are much quicker and simpler than prodding the touchscreen or using the somewhat clunky touchpad to enter a destination.

You do need to phrase your request in the correct way, however, otherwise the system can fail to understand, leading to many frustrating exchanges. Still, it will only improve with software updates and as the system 'learns' your voice.

Digital instruments and augmented reality sat-nav

It’s not just the media system you can play with in the A-Class. Digital dials are standard, too, giving you the choice between several displays. As with the media system, the standard 7.0-inch system looks low-rent compared with the 10.25-inch optional system, which provides the choice between a large analogue speedometer and rev counter, full-screen satellite-navigation, and other views.

What's more, there's an 'augmented reality' (AR) function for the sat-nav, which uses the front facing camera to show a live feed of the road ahead of you and overlays graphical instructions to assist alongside the spoken directions. This image is displayed on the centre screen beside the sat-nav map. It's a nice party trick, but this live feed can be so distracting you may find your eyes solely focused on the screen and not your surroundings.

We also found the way it relegates the map to a small section of the screen whenever the AR kicks in rather annoying, especially as the steering wheel then gets in the way of viewing that. Fortunately, it's easy to toggle the AR on and off, and it only springs into life when directions are imminent.

As with pricier Mercedes models, you can control the dials and media system with touch pads on the steering wheel. Swipe these and you can shift between infotainment screens on the central display and through menus on the digital dials. While initially a little fiddly to use, you do get used to this quickly once you've driven the car for a short while.

Build quality is mostly good

The central touchpad is a particular highlight, and together with its leather hand rest, feels premium-grade solid and high quality. The dashboard sits on two levels and creates what Mercedes-Benz calls a ‘ditch’ between the upper and lower deck. It’s a nice idea and allows the central screen to appear as though it is floating, however we’d question how long it would take for the ‘ditch’ to fill with dust and/or other bric-a-brac.

The dash itself features a raft of materials including shiny black plastic, metal-look trim, artificial leather and several types of hard plastic. It looks good at a distance, but several parts feel cheap, including black plastic trim that quickly becomes covered in finger prints, scratchy feeling interior door handles and sharp-edged plastics on the edge of the transmission tunnel and steering column.

Overall, it often doesn't feel like it quite matches up to the quality found in the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 in terms of how well put together it is and the sheer quality of the materials. We've experienced loose bits of trim buzzing around the steering column and seatbelt adjuster on the side pillar, annoyingly right by the driver’s ear.

If you want a car that feels expensive rather than just looks expensive, the 1 Series has a more substantial feel.

Comfort

  • Comfortable ride on smooth roads
  • Becomes fidgety on rougher surfaces
  • Refinement good, though road noise noticeable

How comfortable your A-Class is depends upon the version you go for. AMG Line versions come with a sophisticated rear suspension set-up, while cheaper SE and Sport versions have a compromised cost-saving format that hinders ride quality. In reality this is balanced out by SE and Sport versions featuring 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels respectively, with more rubber separating passengers from the road compared with the 18-inch ones on the AMG Line cars.

As a result, you can expect AMG Line models to prove firmer but quicker to settle over scarred roads, while SE and Sport models are softer but less able to smooth away bumpy surfaces.

Suspension set up for comfort

The A-Class has been set up for comfort over sportiness, but it’s far from cushy in normal driving and is more than agile enough around corners for most drivers. That said, whichever A-Class you go for, road noise is often quite loud on anything other than perfect roads.

The SE offers maximum comfort, chiefly because you’ll be in the rare position of having an A-Class that comes without low-profile tyres. The 16-inch wheels are the smallest in the range, which helps bring the smoothest ride quality and the cabin suffers from the least amount of road noise as well.

Go for a Sport model on 17-inch wheels and the ride is still more compliant than with the AMG Line alternative, if a little bobbly over rougher tarmac. You might expect a more composed ride in a Mercedes, but the A-Class has always struggled in this area.

The AMG Line's fancier rear suspension does help with composure over bumpier surfaces, however. You might feel the jolts a little more, but the car also deals with them in a slightly less skittish manner - a compromise that more enthusiastic drivers may be happy to make.

Improved all-round refinement

Engine noise is noticeably less than in the previous generation A-Class, especially when it comes to diesel versions. You'll still hear the engine higher-up in the rev range, but there's a marked improvement elsewhere, proving extremely refined for the most part. 

The petrol engines available are coarser than those fitted in rival vehicles and don’t like to be worked hard – which is disappointing for a car that could easily cost you more than £30,000. They're quiet when driven gently but make quite a drone at higher revs.

Wind noise from around the rear windows was surprisingly present, too, though this is partly because there is very little noise from around the windscreen at speed. Passengers should be able to have a relatively hushed conversation, nonetheless.

Seat comfort

The seats in the A-Class look very impressive, but we've found them not as comfortable as those fitted in rivals - particularly the Audi A3 - when driving long distances. This is more of a problem for those in the front than the back, though.

Particularly tall drivers may struggle to get comfortable behind the steering wheel, thanks to a seat base that sits fairly high, even on its lowest setting. The BMW 1 Series offers greater adjustability in this regard.

Heated and ventilated seats are available as options on the A-Class.

A 35 compromises on comfort

Those hoping the Mercedes-AMG A 35 hot hatch will be as easy to live as a Volkswagen Golf R will be disappointed. The ride on this high-performance model thumps over bumps and jolts in and out of potholes in such a way that it’ll make some passengers wince.

The level of refinement leaves much to be desired too, with so much road noise making its way into the cabin the stereo can barely drown it out on motorways. If you have the panoramic roof, you’ll need to close the blind to help quieten things down a little.