Mercedes A-Class is the one to beat in the premium hatchback class
The A-Class was always a contender in the compact hatch marketplace. With its quality interior and new engines, it's now the car to beat.
The A-Class has received a comprehensive overhaul. The fourth-generation car was renewed from the ground up for 2018 with larger dimensions, new engines, and an impressive infusion of the latest Mercedes technology.
In fact, in places, the A-Class is now the most technologically advanced car in the range.
Notable features include artificial intelligence, so the car learns your habits, a Google-like 'Hey Mercedes' verbal interface and augmented-reality navigation which overlays data like street names and directional arrows on to the stream from the car's forward-facing camera.
Plus there's a plug-in hybrid A 250 e model on the way that promises some battery-only zero emissions driving as well as petrol power.
LOOKS AND DESIGN
All traces of some of the quite ungainly MPV-shaped A-Class models of old have been banished.
This is a thoroughly modern, dynamic-looking hatchback (or compact saloon as Mercedes sometimes styles it).
Like the third-generation car, it remains a five-door hatchback, but the new look is sportier than before, giving the vehicle a sleeker and more purposeful feel.
There is a low bonnet, flat LED headlamps with chrome elements and torch-like daytime driving lamps.
The famous three-pointed Mercedes star rests within a striking radiator grille that includes features pins in a diamond look and a slick central silver louvre.
The new car has a longer wheelbase than the outgoing third generation model. Consequently, there is more space for people and things. The luggage capacity has grown to 370 litres - 29 litres more than before.
Helpfully, the boot aperture is 20cm wider than before - useful for loading luggage - and there are new seat folding configurations to assist with bulky loads.
You'll notice significantly more knee and shoulder room over previous models, too.
INSIDE THE CABIN
The cabin gets a complete overhaul, and the style is modern and fresh. This is greatly helped by the removal of the cowl above the cockpit, and the installation of a wing-shaped main body of the dash, which extends across the driver area to the centre without any breaks.
The free-standing widescreen display is available in three versions, depending on options/spec: with two 7-inch displays, with one 7- and one 10.25-inch display and with two 10.25-inch displays.
The result is that information is displayed seamlessly, clearly and rapidly, allowing the driver to make quick, informed decisions. All-round visibility is excellent.
Three different front seats are available: basic, comfort and a sporty integral seat available in combination with the equipment lines. New seating features have been incorporated from higher Merc models and there are nifty options like striking ambient lighting effect around the dash and doors.
UNDER THE BONNET
There are new, more efficient engines to celebrate the new generation car.
The diesel offering is a 180 d version with 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission. The two petrols are 200 and 250 versions also with 7G-DCT transmission.
These engines are more pump-friendly than before, with a range of 51 - 68 mpg depending on which unit you go for.
For those who want a hot hatch feel, the AMG A 45 S model is very fast, with a 0-62mph time of 3.9 seconds, and an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph. Just below this model sits the not-quite-as-fast AMG A 35 which will do the 0-62mph sprint in 4.7 seconds.
The car can be specced with a 4MATIC all-wheel drive system on request.
A choice of suspension systems is available, depending on engine and personal choice.
Handling is excellent, and the suspension firm without being hard.
It's is particularly suited to motorway cruising and urban motoring, but this is a car that can tailor itself to almost any situation seamlessly.
The model line-up is fairly standard Merc fare. First up is SE, then Sport, AMG Line, AMG A 35 4MATIC, AMG A 4s 4MATIC+ and topping out with the annoyingly titled but incredibly highly specced AMG A 4s 4MATIC+ PLUS.
The A 250 e plug-in hybrid which arrives soon will combine a 75kW electric battery with a 1.33-litre four-cylinder petrol engine together outputting 218hp.
(If you prefer your small cars in SUV crossover style, check out the Mercedes GLA, which is based on the A-Class and contains most of its features but is more rugged and has a higher ride height.)
The new A-Class was the first Merc to feature the completely new multimedia system MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) which the manufacturer says ushers in a new era in Mercedes me connectivity. MBUX is standard across the range.
A unique feature is its ability to learn individual patterns thanks to artificial intelligence. It "creates an emotional connection between the vehicle, driver and passengers", says Mercedes.
There is a high-resolution widescreen cockpit with touchscreen operation of the media display, the navigation display with augmented reality technology plus intelligent voice control with natural speech recognition, activated by saying "Hey Mercedes".
The touchscreen is part of the comprehensive MBUX touch-control concept - a triad consisting of the touchscreen, touchpad on the centre console and touch control buttons in the steering wheel.
Another feature that sets the A-Class apart in this segment is the sheer level of new technology, again some of which hasn't even landed in higher Mercedes models yet and many of which are adopted from the S-Class flagship luxury saloon.
For the first time, the A-Class is able to drive semi-autonomously in certain situations using improved camera and radar systems to see up to 500m ahead.
The A-Class also uses map and navigation data for assistance functions. For example, the optional Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC is able to predictively bends and adjust speed.
Also on board are Active Emergency Stop Assist and intuitively understandable Active Lane Change Assist. Extended Active Brake Assist is standard.
WHO WOULD BUY ONE?
In short, pretty much anyone. This new, roomier car with a bigger boot is more family-friendly than earlier models.
And with all that technology and safety kit, this is a car that would suit many different kinds of drivers, from singles to couples, families and business users. Prices currently start from £23,710 for the well-equipped A 180 d SE.