Parkers overall rating: 4.1 out of 5 4.1
  • 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’s easily the best in class for design and 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.

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. They’re integrated nicely into the cabin and show off crisp, easy-on-the-eye graphics for the myriad menus.

The car’s all-new MBUX infotainment system can be controlled via touchscreen or using the central touchpad, however neither control method is as easy to use as the rotary dials found on the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. Even so, 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 be controlled through voice commands.

Yes, it doesn’t always successfully interpret your instructions, but requests such as ‘Hey Mercedes, navigate to 1 High Street, London’ are much quicker and simpler than prodding the touchscreen or using the clunky touchpad to enter a destination.

However, unless you phrase your request in the correct way, 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 offer multiple views

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, crisp analogue speedometer and rev counter and full-screen sat-nav view plus several other views.

The augmented reality for the sat-nav utilises the front facing camera to show a live feed of the road ahead of you and overlays graphical instructions to assist alongside the sat-nav instructions. This image is displayed on the centre screen beside the sat-nav map, but we found this live feed so distracting you’d risk driving for brief periods of time with your eyes solely focused on the screen and not your surroundings.

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, we imagine you’d get use to this quickly if you drove the car every day.

Build quality is mostly good

The central touchpad is a particular highlight, and together with its leather hand rest, feels particularly 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 feels several rungs below the previous-generation Audi A3 in terms of how well put together it is and the sheer quality of the materials. Our experience has found 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 look expensive, the A3 remains a far better choice and the BMW 1 Series also has a more substantial feel.

Comfort

  • Comfortable ride on smooth roads
  • Standard suspension floored by rough roads
  • 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 is the one to go for if you want 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 also the smallest in the range, so this helps bring the smoothest ride quality and, in conjunction with those 205/60 tyres, 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, though it’s still a little bobbly over rougher tarmac. Thankfully, they are still relatively-small and don’t generate a great deal more tyre noise.

You’d expect a more composed ride in a Mercedes, though it’s fine on the rare stretches of fresh tarmac. Disappointingly, we also noticed a few clonks from the suspension over bumps, which undermine the car’s upmarket billing. It seems that Mercedes has focused its attention on things other than the suspension in the A-Class.

Improved all-round refinement

Engine noise is noticeably less than in the previous generation A-Class, especially when it comes to the A 180 d diesel version. It’s still noticeable higher up in the rev range, yet represents a marked improvement elsewhere – proving extremely refined. 

The A 180 and A 200 petrols are quieter overall, yet they are far coarser than other small turbocharged petrols 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 or £400 per month on PCP finance. They remain quiet when driven gently but make quite a drone when worked hard at higher revs.

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

Comfortable seats, front and rear

Most drivers should be able to get comfortable in the A-Class thanks to supportive seats and reasonable amounts of adjustment.

However, particularly tall drivers may struggle to get comfortable behind the wheel thanks to a seat base that still sits fairly high, even on its lowest setting. Heated and ventilated seats are available as options on the A-Class.

Driving position could be lower

Most drivers will be able to get comfortable behind the wheel of the A-Class without too much trouble. There’s plenty of reach and rake adjustment in the wheel, plus the seats are reasonably comfortable and offer an adequate amount of adjustment. However, taller drivers – or those who simply prefer sitting very low down in the car – will likely bemoan the fact that the seat base is always quite high, regardless of how it’s set.

Unlike some, lumbar support isn’t standard either and lower back support is a little lacking, so make sure you can get comfortable before purchasing an A-Class. We did find the sports seats in the AMG Line models more supportive than the alternatives in Sport versions, which didn’t provide the most comfortable driving position with inconsistent back padding.

A 35 compromises on comfort

Those hoping the A 35 will be as easy to live as a Volkswagen Golf R will be disappointed. The ride on this performance hatch 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.