The Mercedes-Benz A 180 CDI ECO is a Mercedes that has an official combined fuel economy figure of 78.5mpg, which looks impressive on paper, but what’s it like to drive?
We’ve already driven the new Mercedes A-Class – see our review – but this is a new ‘ECO’ A-Class, with an official combined fuel economy figure of 78.5mpg. This sounds good, but does this level of economy have a price to pay in the area of the driving experience?
The A-Class no longer looks like a mini-MPV, instead it’s designed along the lines of a BMW 1 Series – in other words, it has a lower, more sporty stance, with a long bonnet and most of the passenger compartment sits visually at the very rear of the vehicle.
The cars that we drove on the A-Class launch had large alloy wheels, and their overall appearance looked good. In the interest of fuel economy and emissions, the A 180 has small, 15-inch wheels, and the car sits lower to the ground. The result is that, despite the attractive blue colour of our test car, it just doesn’t look as attractive as A-Class models with larger wheels.
Of course a key difference between the A-Class and the 1 Series is that the Mercedes is front-wheel drive, rather than the rear-wheel drive layout of the BMW. Surveys have shown – somewhat worryingly in the event of the car being pushed beyond its limits – that the majority of people who buy a car in this class don’t know if their car is front or rear-wheel drive. So most people are unlikely to buy such a car due to the wheels that are driven, but this means that the BMW remains one of the few cars in this class that is likely to appeal to keener drivers.
The A 180 has a 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine, with fuel saving features such as start-stop and long gearing.
Once you’re underway at a constant speed, then the A 180 is an acceptable place to be. Of course, it’s designed to be economical, but it’s also reasonably comfortable.
However it’s the issue of getting to a constant speed that’s the problem. If you need to pull quickly out of a junction then you’ll find that there’s not much immediate response. Thereafter, the acceleration doesn’t get much better – getting up to a cruising speed takes a while. If you then need to make rapid progress for whatever reason, you’ll find that this isn’t the best car for such requirements; neither the powertrain nor the chassis provide rewarding, agile responses.
The A-Class has an attractive interior that provides the Mercedes feel-good factor – which is likely to be an important buying factor for many motorists. However there are some issues with ergonomics. Firstly, the main stalk on the left of the steering column features indicators and wipers (due to the gear selector being on the right hand side in automotive models). And this stalk is in a similar position to the cruise control. All of which can get confusing.
Also, the heating controls are far too low down – probably due to the interior being designed around the prominent air vents at the top of the dashboard. And finally the handbrake is hidden away under the right hand side of the dash and it feels like it works the wrong way round – you would expect to pull it on to engage the handbrake, but instead you push it, which feels counter-intuitive. You’re often not sure if the handbrake is on or off.
A couple of other practical considerations are that the A180 sits quite low, so it can easily catch speed bumps, and the rear three-quarters visibility is poor due to the thick pillar.
The official combined economy figure for the A 180 is 78.5mpg, equating to an impressive 92 g/km CO2. We achieved 60.1mpg over 250 miles of touring on motorways and A-roads, but our average economy after a week with the car was 53.2mpg. Like the majority of modern cars, the A 180 proved to be economical under low load conditions similar to the NEDC test, but it falls way short in the mixed driving of real life.
Business drivers will appreciate the company car tax liability of just 13% – there aren’t many premium-badged cars that have such a low figure.
The A 180 costs £21,965. Our test car had a number of options fitted, including COMAND Online system with Media Interface (£2,100), Memory Package (£790), Lane-Tracking Package (£770), Active Park Assist (£690), metallic paint (£570), and automatic climate control (£530) – all the options took the total price to £29,705 – which, in our view, is a lot for this car.
There’s a wide range of other petrol and diesel engines, trim levels and options.
The A 180 CDI ECO will appeal to company car drivers who want a premium badge and low Benefit in Kind rates. For travelling up and down the UK’s motorway network in style, and economically, the A 180 CDI ECO is ideal.
In terms of private buyers, we’re obviously in favour of cars that are economical, but primarily we stand for cars that are class-leading in terms of emissions but that are also good to drive. In our view the A 180 CDI ECO is a step too far – it may have an impressive official economy figure, but the driving experience suffers too much as a result; it’s awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 6 out of 10.
Thankfully we’ve driven other models in the A-Class range, and if we were a private buyer who doesn’t cover too many miles in a year, we’d opt for a petrol engine rather than this diesel.