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Review: New Mercedes A-Class 'sets benchmark for next generation'

Mercedes’ premium hatch in league of its own, says Ryon Hirons

Mercedes-Benz is the first to release the next wave of premium hatches, but is it enough to get ahead of the game?

What is it?

Premium hatchbacks have fast become one of the most popular segments on the market, with three leaders — the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and the Mercedes A-Class. Mercedes is the first to pull the trigger on the new generation of luxury hatches. Not only does the three-pointed star have its sights set on getting an early lead in its class, but also on setting a new technological benchmark.

What’s new?

This is recognisable as an A-Class, despite a new design to bring it in line with Mercedes’ latest offerings. There’s plenty of new tech and engineering. The biggest selling point is a new infotainment system, dubbed MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience). It offers a more immersive experience, bringing a new Mercedes Me voice assistant, tons of customisation and augmented reality features. There’s also semi-autonomous technology and a range of new engines — two petrol and one diesel.

What’s under the bonnet?

Powering our test car is a new 1.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine, paired with a seven-speed automatic dual-clutch gearbox. If you want a manual gearbox, other options will be available down the line. It develops 114bhp and 260Nm of torque, capable of taking the A-Class from 0-60mph in 10.3 seconds and on to a 126mph top speed. As for economy, Mercedes claims 62.7mpg can be achieved on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions of 108g/km. It’s not the most powerful of units, but it’s brisk enough for daily use and feels well-refined on longer cruises, with little noise in the cabin. It holds on to the gears a little when pulling out, but the seven-speed unit is otherwise faultless.

What’s it like to drive?

The Mercedes A-Class is a no-frills driving experience, going about its business in a muted but capable manner. If you want to drive enthusiastically, the car will allow you to, but it won’t be the most fun you’ve had behind a wheel, with the vehicle better suited to long-distance cruising. Its semi-autonomous driving technology, which comes in the form of adaptive cruise control with road sign recognition, means chewing up the motorway miles can be a stress-free experience, although not the most comfortable as a result of firm suspension. Take it around town and a short turning circle combined with good all-round visibility makes it easy enough to use.

How does it look?

The A-Class is the latest Mercedes to take on the more angular design introduced on the CLS. It remains instantly recognisable as member of the German firm’s hatchback model line, but the new look brings it up to date. Buyers will want to know their car will still stand out on the road in the same way its predecessors did, and it does, thanks to sharp lines and a subtly aggressive look. The A-Class brings a presence to the road that rivals fail to deliver on.

What is it like inside?

As you should expect with a car of this calibre, the A-Class is luxurious and comfortable. There’s tons of premium-feel materials throughout the cabin, such as synthetic leather upholstery, metal-effect trim pieces and a Nappa leather steering wheel. Not only does it all feel good to the touch, but it’s solidly put together. As for space, four adults can sit in the car in relative comfort, although rear space may be limited for those on the taller side. The boot is bigger than its predecessor too, now boasting 370 litres of luggage space.

What’s the spec like?

Our test car came in AMG Line trim, with standard equipment including 18-inch alloy wheels, AMG bodystyling, LED headlights, keyless start and the MBUX system displayed on a seven-inch touchscreen. Highlights on the options list include heated and ventilated seats, active parking assist and two 10.25-inch displays — one for the instrument cluster, the other for the MBUX system, which is the real highlight. Not only is it intuitive, but the customisation options really bring a real touch of personalisation. A Mercedes Me voice assistant has been added here too — similar to the likes of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa — which allows some functions of the car to be controlled by voice, as well as providing deeper levels of information. In theory, it’s a great idea, but it could do with some refinement and often struggles to pick up basic phrases. As it’s cloud based, it’s likely to be a fast-improving feature, though.

Verdict

The new Mercedes A-Class has set a benchmark for the next generation of premium hatchbacks, and one that may prove tough to crack for impending competitors. It offers a seriously well-equipped package with technology that perhaps wouldn’t be seen on cars twice the price, although the attempt at revolutionizing voice control with Mercedes Me may take some time to prove its worth. For the image-conscious and tech-focused buyer, there may not be a better car on sale today.

Facts at a glance

Model as tested: Mercedes A180d AMG Line

Price: £28,540

Engine: 1.5-litre diesel

Power (bhp): 114

Torque (Nm): 260

Max speed (mph): 126

0-60mph: 10.3 seconds

MPG (combined): 62.7

Emissions (g/km): 108

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