The Mercedes A-Class has traditionally been a practical, high-riding family car. However, Mercedes has decided to aim this new, third-generation model at younger buyers; people who are more interested in style than space.
The result is a car that’s longer and lower than its predecessor; making it a more direct rival for other posh hatchbacks, such as the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and VW Golf.
We’ve now driven the majority of engine and suspension combinations on UK roads.
What's the 2012 Mercedes A-Class like to drive?
SE and Sport versions come on 'Comfort' suspension, but they don't ride particularly comfortably. In fact, the A-Class tends to crash over bigger bumps, and shimmies around nervously on any surface that isn't perfectly smooth.
New Mercedes A-Class is longer and lower than its predecessor
The optional 18-inch alloys (which have run-flat tyres) make the problem worse, but even on 15-, 16- and 17-inch wheels, the Mercedes isn't anywhere near as comfortable as the best small family hatchbacks.
Surprisingly, the firmer AMG Sport and Engineered by AMG set-ups improve things slightly because they cure the shimmy, although both are very firm – the Engineered by AMG excruciatingly so.
At least these models resist body roll well and are quick to change direction. By contrast, cars with Comfort suspension lean over clumsily in corners.
It's a shame, because the A-Class's steering weights up nicely when you turn in and there's loads of grip.
Steering is precise and well weighted
The new A-Class comes with six engine options. The petrols are the 121bhp A180 and 154bhp A200 1.6s, and a 208bhp 2.0-litre, badged A250. The best of these is the entry-level A180; it’s cultured at low revs, but happy to rev smoothly, although it’s underpowered compared with rival models from Audi and BMW.
Diesel buyers can choose from three power outputs: a 107bhp A180 CDI, a 134bhp A200 CDI and a 168bhp A220 CDI. We prefer the A180 CDI with a manual gearbox. It’s a bit clattery at tickover and there’s a delay before the turbocharger kicks in, but after that there’s a decent amount of pulling power.
The A220 CDI is smoother and quieter, but it’s available only with a seven-speed dual-clutch semi-automatic gearbox, which is a bit jerky and slow-witted.
The A-Class is available with six engine options at launch
What's the 2012 Mercedes A-Class like inside?
The materials aren't as plush as those in the latest Audi A3, but the dashboard is smartly styled, with heater vents similar to those in the SLS supercar and an iPad-style central display.
The interior is smartly styled, with a 'floating' infotainment screen
As with bigger Mercs, you operate most infotainment functions by scrolling through menus using a rotary dial between the front seats. However, the menus aren't especially intuitive, so the system can be frustrating to use – particularly on the move.
Interior space is more impressive; four six-footers will be comfortable and a fifth can squeeze in for short journeys. You just have to be careful not to bump your head when getting into the back due to the curve of the rear side windows.
The boot is a decent size, but it is quite shallow, and the narrow opening can make it tricky to load larger items.
Should I buy one?
Although running costs are competitive, the A-Class isn't anywhere near as comfortable or refined as the Audi A3 or BMW 1 Series. Ultimately, it's a disappointment because of this.
However, it you choose the right version, the A-Class does handle reasonably well, which is why if you're a private buyer, we'd recommend going for the A180 Sport on optional sports suspension.
If you're a company car driver, stick with the A180 CDI Sport with a manual gearbox – also on sports suspension. That way you'll still get reasonably sharp handling and low company car tax.
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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