The petrol options are 121bhp and 154bhp 1.6s, and a 208bhp 2.0-litre. Meanwhile, diesel buyers can choose from two 107bhp engines – a 1.5 that’s linked to a manual gearbox and a 1.8 that comes with Mercedes’ 7G-DCT dual-clutch semi-auto transmission. There's also a 134bhp 1.8 diesel, plus a 168bhp 2.1 that's strong and flexible.
The standard ‘Comfort’ suspension is anything but; the A-Class crashes over bumps, and shimmies around nervously on any road that isn’t perfectly smooth. Surprisingly, the firmer AMG Sport and Engineered by AMG set-ups actually improve things slightly because they cure the shimmy, although they are very firm. This is forgivable in the Engineered by AMG model because it resists roll well. By contrast, cars with AMG Sport or Comfort suspension lean over clumsily when you turn into a corner.
There’s a bit of wind noise down the sides of the car at motorway speeds, and quite a lot of road noise. However, it’s the diesel engines that really let the side down. The A220 sounds gruff when you accelerate, while the A200 is very coarse and rattly at all speeds. It also transmits quite a bit of vibration into the cabin.
The A-Class has a sensible starting price, but the diesels and higher spec petrols are expensive. Similarly, the fuel economy and CO2 figures look good at first glance, but the models that we’ve tested still fall some way short of the best rivals. For example, the A200 CDI pumps out 118g/km, whereas the equivalent Audi A3 emits just 106g/km.
The dashboard is similar to the one in the latest B-Class, which means it’s smartly styled, with circular air vents similar to those in the SLS supercar. However, the rotary climate controls have a rather lightweight feel and most of the plastics out of your direct line of sight are hard. It’s not that the cabin feels cheap, but it isn’t as plush as a Volvo V40’s, let alone the latest A3’s.
Every model comes with seven airbags, Attention Assist (which monitors driver fatigue) and a radar-controlled collision-prevention system, while the options list includes adaptive headlights, blindspot assist, lane-keeping assist and speed-limit assist (with speed sign recognition). The car has received the full five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. Deadlocks and an engine immobiliser help guard against theft.
As in other Mercs, you operate many functions by scrolling through menus with a single control dial that’s positioned between the front seats. Unfortunately, these menus aren’t especially well laid out, so the system can be distracting to use on the move. At least there’s a huge range of seat and steering wheel adjustment to help the driver get comfortable.
Front and rear space are on a par with rivals', although the curve of the rear side windows and the amount that the rear wheelarches intrude into the door openings mean it’s harder to get into the back than it is in a Golf. The boot is a little short, too, and it isn’t especially deep. However, the load lip is small, there’s some extra storage space beneath the floor and the 60/40 split rear seats fold down almost completely flat.
Standard equipment is pretty good, with every model getting alloy wheels, Bluetooth and some form of air-conditioning. The sporty Engineered by AMG model is distinguished by bespoke alloys, a more aggressively styled front grille and an AMG bodykit. Also, the A-Class is one of the most iPod-compatible cars yet, thanks to the involvement of Apple in its development.
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Not our favourite A-Class. We think most buyers will be better off with the entry-level petrol car.