Mercedes A-Class (2015-2017) Review
The Mercedes A-Class is a great-looking small car that comes with some economical engines, but it’s uncomfortable to drive and not as practical as similar cars
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What's not so good
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The Mercedes A-Class is a good-looking little thing, and that alone may well be enough to tempt you to buy one. However, you do have to pay a price for those sleek looks, because the Mercedes isn’t as spacious or practical as alternative small family cars like the Audi A3 Sportback or BMW 1 Series.
Although there has been a Mercedes A-Class for more than 20 years, this particular version – the third generation – first came out in 2012, before some revisions in 2015 bolted on new front and rear bumpers. In contrast to the second-generation car, which offered a choice of two body styles, this version is only available as a five-door hatchback. However, one version that is worth mentioning is the excellent hot hatchback at the top of the range, which you can read about in our separate Mercedes-AMG A45 review.
Right across the range, though, the car has a sporty look, and that impression continues inside, where the driver sits low down, facing three circular air vents in the middle of the dashboard. The ambient lighting – with a choice of 12 colours – and realistic-feeling man-made leather seats give the cabin something of a lift, but a few of the buttons look rather dated and some of the materials aren’t as plush as you’d expect in a Mercedes. As a result, the A-Class doesn’t have the same high-quality feel as the Audi A3.
Likewise, the Mercedes’ infotainment system looks like a tablet that’s been stuck on the dashboard as an afterthought, and it’s not very easy to use. Still, you do get Apple CarPlay as standard, meaning you can mirror your iPhone on the car’s screen and use your phone’s media and sat-nav apps through it. This is preferable to forking out the £495 Mercedes wants to add its own sat-nav – which also isn’t very easy to use and looks dated.
To make matters worse, the A-Class also isn’t terribly practical, because its boot isn’t quite as big as that in an Audi A3 Sportback or BMW 1 Series, and it’s a tricky shape to load heavy suitcases into.
The A-Class just isn’t quite as good as it should be. Yes, it looks amazing, but it’s not as classy or as practical as the alternatives, and you’ll feel every bump in the road
In an ideal world, the A-Class would make up for these shortcomings out on the road – but it doesn’t. The biggest problem is the car’s firm suspension; and, while it makes the small Mercedes feel sporty, it also means that bumpy roads will test your patience.
There are plenty of engines to choose from, but if you spend a lot of time in town, go for the A180 with its 1.6-litre petrol engine – it’s smooth, fast enough and returns a claimed 50mpg. On the other hand, if you spend more time on the motorway or do high mileages, then go for the A200d. Its 2.1-litre diesel engine averages a claimed 71mpg and, although it’s quite noisy, you can’t argue with that economy. Whichever you get, it’s worth paying for the automatic gearbox – it’s smooth and changes gears quickly, unlike the manual gearbox, which is not so nice to use.
At least, the A-Class is a safe car, though. It got a five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP in 2012, and is available with active safety systems to help avoid collisions.
Overall, then, the A-Class is a mixed bag. There’s no denying it looks fantastic, and the diesel versions are economical , but it’s just not as good an everyday car as the BMW 1 Series or Audi A3 Sportback – and, you can see why in our video group test.
Anyone sitting up front in the Mercedes A-Class will be comfy – but the rear doors make access a pain, the back seats need more headroom and the boot is awkwardly shaped
The A-Class is almost identical in size to alternatives but somehow Mercedes has managed to extract less back seat and boot space
You’ll find the A-Class is quite comfortable up front – both front seats are adjustable on all models and man-made leather is standard across the range. Don’t fret that it isn’t real leather – it feels almost identical and you’ll be hard pushed to tell the difference without a microscope. Every model also gets a front armrest too, which helps take the stress out of long drives. Heated front seats aren’t standard on SE, Sport or AMG Line models – you’ll have to add them as part of expensive packages that also include things such as sat-nav and self-parking systems.
One niggle in the front is how the driver’s pedals are slightly offset to the right of the car, meaning your body can feel slightly twisted behind the wheel.
The back seats aren’t that user-friendly – for a start, the doors don’t open all that wide so getting into the back seats is a bit of a squeeze, and there’s not much headroom for anyone taller than six feet once you’re in. Kneeroom is good though, and the amount of space for three people is alright – better than in the back of an Audi A3 – and there’s only a small hump in the floor so rear passengers won’t be treading on each others’ toes.
If you feel claustrophobic though you won’t like being in the back of an A-Class, thanks to its small rear windows which don’t give a great view out – kids especially won’t like it. Speaking of which, getting a child seat into an A-Class isn’t the easiest because of the narrow door opening, but the exposed Isofix anchor points make it easy to actually attach it once positioned.
The A-Class’ cabin has quite a few storage spaces – the door bins are bigger than those in the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 Sportback, and can hold a two-litre and one-litre drinks bottle at the same time. The bins in the back doors are large too, and can each hold a one-litre bottle. Flip down the rear-seat armrest and you’ll find two cupholders, while the front armrest has a big cubbyhole under it. Front passengers get two cupholders and a flip-open cubby hole at the base of the centre console.
The only downside here is that the glovebox isn’t all that big.
If you like to carry lots of shopping or luggage then bear in mind that the A-Class’ 341-litre boot is smaller than that in similar cars such as the BMW 1 Series (360 litres) and Audi A3 Sportback (380 litres). The boot also has a narrow opening so it can be a bit of a pain to load wider items. You can just about fit a baby stroller with some wiggling, or two small suitcases. Golf clubs won’t fit, though – you’ll have to flip the rear seats down to open up 1,157 litres of space, which is plenty of room to slide a bike in with the front wheel removed.
The A-Class’ rear seats fold almost completely flat and 60:40-split folding seats are standard on all models. There’s no option to have three-way split folding seats which would allow you to seat two passengers in the back – without one of them having to perch in the middle – and still load long items into the cabin.
However, you do get some underfloor storage around the tyre repair kit, two tether points and a 12v socket so rear seat passengers can charge their phones. You also get nets on both sides of the boot, as well as one on the underside of the parcel shelf.
The diesel engines are economical and you can have four-wheel drive if you need it, but the suspension is too firm over bumps yet the car never actually feels sporty
The A-Class is just not as comfortable to drive as a Mercedes really should be, plus it lacks a fun factor
You can get the Mercedes A-Class with a range of petrol and diesel engines, as well as the option to have it with four-wheel drive – 4Matic, in Mercedes speak – and a smooth and quick-shifting automatic gearbox.
The best petrol engine is a smooth and quiet 122hp 1.6-litre engine in the A180 model. It’s quick enough for nipping around town or heading out onto the motorway and returns 52mpg with the automatic gearbox or 50mpg with the manual. There’s also a more powerful 156hp A200 1.6-litre petrol, but it’s not a whole lot faster than the A180 and costs more to buy and insure.
If you want a hot-hatch version of the A-Class then there’s the A250 with 218hp, but fuel economy suffers again, and it doesn’t look much sportier than any other A-Class. The fastest A-Class is the Mercedes-AMG A45 model that can get from 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds – faster than many sports cars. Do you need four-wheel-drive for extra grip on slippery roads? If you do then the A250 and A45 are the only petrol 4×4 A-Classes available.
If you do lots of motorway miles then a diesel is the best bet, and the A200d with its 2.1-litre engine is the model to choose. It has plenty of power for overtaking traffic and Mercedes claims it averages 71mpg. The only disappointment is that it’s a bit noisy when you accelerate hard.
If you want to tow with your A-Class then buy the A220d – why? Well, it’s the only diesel available with four-wheel drive, it’s pretty nippy, and still returns 70mpg. It’s only available in the sporty AMG Line version, however, so you’ll have to put up with feeling more bumps in the road than lower-spec models.
The A-Class is a bit of a contradiction when it comes to comfort and handling. Its combination of a sporty driving position and firm suspension leads you to believe it’ll be a hoot to drive fast around corners, but it doesn’t grip as well as an Audi A3 Sportback, nor does it feel as responsive as a BMW 1 Series.
Drive it at a more normal pace and you’ll still feel most bumps in the road – so you get the worst bits of a sporty car for very little driving fun – and top-spec AMG Line cars have even firmer suspension than entry-level SE and mid-spec Sport versions. It’s not the end of the world, however – spend an extra £600 and you can have your AMG Line A-Class with adaptive dampers, giving you the choice between a comfortable and sporty driving experience at the push of a button. You still feel fewer bumps in an Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, so consider them if comfort is your top priority.
Firm suspension aside, the A-Class does well on the motorway, thanks to a quiet cabin and comfy seats – again, it’s worth noting that you may feel a bit twisted behind the wheel because of the offset pedals, so take a long test drive before you buy.
Around town the A-Class is easy to drive, but your confidence is dented somewhat by the poor view out – there are fairly big blind spots at each of the car’s four corners and the rear window is so small that Mercedes includes a reversing camera as standard. Again, the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series are better in this regard.
The A-Class was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test score back in 2012 – the test has got more stringent since then, but the Mercedes will still be safe in a crash. If you add the optional £1,695 Driving Assistance Package you get a system that keeps you in your lane on the road and adaptive cruise control that can accelerate and brake in traffic to keep you the same distance from the car in front – a useful option if you do lots of motorway journeys.
The Mercedes A-Class’ interior’s minimalist design looks nice, but the quality of the plastics isn’t up to Mercedes’ usual standards and the infotainment’s tricky to use