If you’re impressed by the latest technology, you’ll probably love the new Mercedes Benz A-Class; and in 180d form, it’s also economical.
The A-Class opens up Mercedes ownership to a younger market – people that Mercedes hopes will stick with the brand for years to come. As such it has to hit two contradictory targets. Firstly it needs to be relatively affordable and work as a family hatchback. Secondly it has to feel like a real Mercedes and provide an excellent first impression of the brand.
The latest A-Class adheres to the class handbook for car design. It is inoffensive, not too flashy, and ultimately not too memorable either. This is what buyers of executive hatchbacks require. However the memo clearly didn’t make it to the inbox of the interior design team where something radical lurks.
As soon as you open the door the floating display screens make their presence felt. Depending on how much cash you are willing to hand over you can get two seven-inch screens, one for the instruments and one for infotainment, two 10.25 inch screens, or a mix of both. All configurations house the screens under a single sheet of glass providing what Mercedes calls ‘a widescreen cockpit display’.
It’s a bold and modern look, but the more time you spend looking at the display the more you notice the odd quirk. Firstly the dashboard has been designed to accommodate the screens with the addition of a ‘shelf’ which runs the full width. This looks particularly odd from the passenger seat as the top of the dash is significantly lower than the base of the windscreen necessitating a large vertical section to fill the gap.
Secondly, despite being designed to accommodate the display screens, the whole unit looks to have been plonked on the aforementioned shelf as an afterthought as it doesn’t align with any of the other major features such as the really rather nice bank of circular air vents.
And finally, if you don’t pay for the 10.25 inch screens, the unit includes large redundant black areas to fill in the resulting gaps, which doesn’t quite deliver on the premium theme.
As suggested by the techie displays, Mercedes has gone to town on the user interface with the A-Class featuring the catchily-named MBUX or Mercedes Benz User Experience with ‘Hey Mercedes’ intelligent voice recognition allowing Mercedes to claim several first-in-class features.
There are a range of options available to interact, with the system allowing touchpad, voice control and, for the first time, touchscreen.
The oily bits consist of a 1.5 litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, channelling power to the front wheels via a 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. If you fancy a diesel A-Class with a manual gearbox you’re out of luck, but you can get a manual with a petrol, which we’re sure makes perfect sense to someone in Stuttgart.
They say that first impressions count, and the A-Class does have the odd quirk which becomes apparent as soon as you start driving. Despite being a proudly German company, Mercedes prefers to place the gear selector on a stalk behind the steering wheel, which is something that we associate with American cars. Of course there is nothing wrong with this arrangement but it is unfortunate that the stalk feels – well, how can we put this – cheap. The same applies to the remaining stalks which is a shame as you come into contact regularly with these controls.
Once you have worked out how to select a gear, the A-Class performs competently. The ride quality is reasonable and body control is orderly. Refinement is a strong point, the A-Class does deliver a more relaxing experience than a mainstream hatch with road, wind and engine noise all contained very well.
Our A-Class featured ‘Sport’ trim which hints at something with a bit more focus, but in this case it is a marketing tag rather than a statement of intent. If you do fancy pressing on a bit the Mercedes AMG range is more likely to be your thing, but it is a shame that there isn’t more spark in the conventional models. In truth the A180d is safe and competent but it isn’t going to light up your morning commute.
Part of the problem is the 7-speed DCT gearbox which doesn’t always deliver perfect shifts, and when left to its own devices is too eager to shuffle into the highest gear possible which stunts performance. You do have the option of selecting gears yourself via paddles behind the wheel but we would still prefer a manual or a slicker auto ‘box.
It will come as no surprise that the widescreen cockpit is one of the defining features of the new A-Class. With so many different configurations of display options available it is easy to suffer from information overload. We’re firm believers that technology should add to the driving experience but in this case it can be a distraction.
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the A 180d Sport is 58.9 mpg, with CO2 emissions of 111 g/km. Across a week of mixed driving we found the official figure was not only easily achievable but could be comfortably surpassed.
The best we achieved was 72.4 mpg with the worst being 62.7 mpg which is an excellent result no doubt helped by the 7-speed gearbox.
It is impressive that the Mercedes blends a premium experience with such restrained fuel consumption which proves that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
The A-Class offers a wide range of specification and mechanical options including petrol, diesel, 4-wheel drive and high performance driver-focussed options. It is also available in either hatchback or saloon configurations which is refreshing. The range starts at a very reasonable £22,855 for the A180 SE and extends to £35,010 for the AMG A35.
The A180d Sport sits in the middle of the range with an asking price of £27,340 or £27,935 as tested. The standard specification includes KEYLESS-GO, satnav, two-zone climate control, LED headlights and part-leather seats. If you’re a fan of the widescreen cockpit it’s worth noting that you get two 7-inch screens as standard, so you will need to delve into the options to get the full experience. The ‘Executive package’ includes just the 10.25 inch media display for £1,395, whilst the ‘Premium package’ delivers both the 10.25 inch instrument display and the media display for £2,395.
The A 180d Sport offers a refined driving experience combined with a highly advanced cockpit which offers endless configuration options. It also delivers excellent fuel consumption in the real world, and the option of hatchback and saloon configurations is laudable. However the A-Class is more focussed on technology than the driving experience. Mercedes presumably knows its market and we assume this is what Mercedes buyers want. The A 180d Sport earns a Green Car Guide rating of 7 out of 10.