What Car? says...
Sequels are rarely better than the original, are they? And when you string an idea out for a third or fourth instalment, it’s often a sign that a once-grand idea is now long past its sell-by date.
On first inspection, it can certainly seem that way with the Mercedes A-Class. You see, the original A-Class was remarkably innovative, but its successors (particularly the third-generation model) were a lot less recommendable. So, logic might lead you to assume that this latest fourth-generation car is nothing special but, without wanting to give too much away, that isn’t the case at all. In fact, it’s really rather good.
No matter whether you're after a (relatively) affordable petrol, a frugal diesel, a plug-in hybrid or a seriously rapid hot hatch, the Mercedes A-Class range offers something for you. But there are plenty of other fine family cars to choose from, so how does the A-Class hatchback compare with rivals – particularly those that wear an equally posh badge, including the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series?
In this review, we're focusing on the A-Class hatchback; we've reviewed the Mercedes A-Class Saloon seperately.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
If you're after diesel power for your A-Class, the only engine choice is the A200d – and it’s a cracker. It’s nippy and earns its spurs with a progressive power delivery that’s spread evenly through the rev range, taking as little as 8.3sec to get to 62mph from a standstill.
What about petrol options? Well, the entry-level A180 needs to be worked quite hard to keep up with traffic. The automatic gearbox does a pretty good job of keeping you in the right gear to maintain momentum, but the more powerful A200 is noticeably pokier, and is our pick of the engines. Officially, it’ll cover 0-62mph in 8.2sec – quicker than the A3 35 TFSI and BMW 118i.
Suspension and ride comfort
The A-Class has a softer suspension setup than the A3 and 1 Series, making it one of the comfiest family cars over pockmarked town roads and sleeping policemen.
Despite that, for the most part, the ride is well controlled and it settles down nicely as speeds increase. True, there’s a touch more float and bounce along undulating country roads than you'd experience in its two key rivals, but not enough to prove a real problem.
If you really value a cosseting ride, the best car in the class is the VW Golf fitted with optional adaptive suspension.
The A-Class handles pretty well. There’s a bit of body lean through faster corners, but it happens so progressively that the car never feels unstable during quick changes of direction.
The steering impresses, too: it’s responsive, builds weight naturally and, combined with good accuracy, means you can place the car easily on the road. It’s also light enough to ensure town driving isn't a chore.
Even so, if you’re after something more fun that isn’t a hot hatch, the 1 Series is noticeably more agile on a country road and generally more entertaining to drive.
Noise and vibration
The 1.3-litre petrol engines in the A180 and A200 aren’t the most refined, but that's noticeable mainly when you work them hard. There’s some vibration through the steering wheel in the A180 at higher revs, while the A200 suffers from a noisier turbocharger hissing away. The engine in the BMW 118i is smoother and quieter, as is the one in the Audi A3 35 TFSI.
The A200d is relatively hushed for a diesel, although its eight-speed automatic gearbox can be a little jerky in traffic. Fortunately, the seven-speed auto that comes with the petrols is smoother.
There’s more wind noise at speed than in the A3 and 1 Series, but road noise is better tempered than in both those rivals, so overall the A-Class is slightly quieter at motorway speeds.
Strengths Comfortable ride; pleasant to drive; relatively hushed at motorway speeds
Weaknesses Petrol engines sound thrashy when worked hard; auto gearbox on the diesel can be jerky
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
You’re unlikely to have much difficulty getting comfortable behind the wheel. The steering wheel has plenty of height and reach adjustment, and the driver’s seat, which adjusts manually on all trim levels, supports you in all the right places.
The sports seats in AMG Line models are our favourite for all-round comfort, with plenty of lower back support – although you might find that the integrated headrests push your head forward more than you'd like.
The most regularly used dashboard buttons are easy to operate, although the touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel are very fiddly to operate. All models come with a crisp 10.3in digital instrument panel behind the steering wheel, which is joined to another 10.3in infotainment screen in the centre of the dashboard.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
All-round visibility is pretty good. The windscreen pillars are relatively narrow, so you can see around them easily enough, so it's only over-the-shoulder vision that could be described as 'iffy'.
To help remove any guesswork when manoeuvring, all models come with a rear-view camera and all-round parking sensors as standard. The top-spec AMG Line Premium Plus trim gets a 360-degree camera instead.
All versions have LED headlights, with adaptive LED headlights (which can remain on main beams without dazzling other drivers) fitted to AMG Line Premium Plus.
Sat nav and infotainment
Using the touchscreen is fine if you're parked, but with a lot of swiping and sub-menus to get through, it can be distracting while driving . In theory, you can use touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel to navigate around the infotainment system, but this is extremely fiddly. The rotary controller interface that features in the 1 Series is far more intuitive.
As in the 1 Series, you get a Siri-style personal assistant as standard. To wake it up, you say "Hey Mercedes" then, in theory, use normal speech to control various aspects of the car, from the sat-nav to interior temperature. It’s fun to use and mostly gets things right, but less so if someone else is talking in the car.
If there’s one thing the A-Class has nailed, it’s the visual appeal of its interior. It’s eye-catching and more in keeping with what you’d expect to find in a luxury car than a hatchback family hatchback, thanks to lashings of gloss-black plastic, faux leather and metal inserts.
Turbine-style air vents also lift the overall impression above most other premium-badged rivals, especially at night because they glow like afterburners.
Unfortunately, the build quality isn't as good as the looks might suggest. For example, the climate control panel flexes when you press a button, while the outer heater vent surrounds don't appear to be very well secured. Overall, the A3 and 1 Series feel better screwed together.
Strengths Eye-catching interior; good basic driving position; plenty of infotainment tech
Weaknesses Fiddly touch-sensitive steering wheel controls; interior build quality could be better
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
You’re unlikely to grumble about space in the front of the A-Class, even if you tower over most of your friends and colleagues. The seats slide back a long way and there’s plenty of head room, if not quite as much as in the 1 Series.
It's worth bearing in mind that the panoramic sunroof (standard with the AMG Line Premium Plus trim) reduces head room by about 6cm, so is best avoided if you're really tall.
The door pockets are big enough for a couple of 500ml bottles and there are two suitably deep cupholders, as well as some storage under the large centre armrest.
Anyone over six feet tall will be comfy enough in the back; they won’t exactly be sprawled out, but neither will they be packed in with knees tucked up under their chin.
Indeed, there’s roughly the same amount of rear-seat space as you’ll find in the rival A3, while the 1 Series and Golf are a little bit bigger. If you can live without a premium badge, there are far roomier family cars including the Ford Focus, Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia.
The A-Class has a lower hump running down the centre of its floor than the A3 and 1 Series, so the middle rear passenger has more foot space. Mind you, getting in through the relatively small rear door apertures can be a bit of a struggle.
Seat folding and flexibility
All versions of the A-Class come with 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, giving you greater flexibility than the 60/40 split that you get in most cheaper family hatchbacks.
This means you can carry a passenger on each of the outer rear seats, while slotting a longer item (such as a golf trolley) in between them.
There’s nothing spectacular about the boot of the A-Class and, while its 355 litres of space (below the parcel shelf) is enough plenty for a weekly shop or the luggage that you’ll need for a weekend away, both the A3 and 1 Series offer a bit more room. Meanwhile, if you need maximum space from your family hatchback, check out the gargantuan Skoda Octavia.
With the split-folding rear seat backs dropped down, you get a large, flat, extended load area. The big lip at the boot entrance is a bit annoying, though, and there's no height-adjustable boot floor to mitigate this.
Strengths Plenty of space for taller drivers; enough head and leg room for six-footers in the back
Weaknesses Small rear door apertures; key rivals offer more boot space; no height-adjustable boot floor
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The majority of buyers won’t be paying cash for their A-Class; they’ll be signing up to a PCP finance deal. If you’re planning to do just that, expect to pay slightly more a month than you would for an equivalent A3 or 1 Series, although prices do vary from month to month depending on manufacturer and dealer incentives.
If you’re a company car driver, all three engines command a similar rate of benefit in kind (BIK) tax. There's no plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of the A-Class hatchback, but there is of the A-Class Saloon – it's called the A250e.
Anyone who pays for their own fuel will appreciate that the A200d promises to be usefully economical, officially managing more than 57mpg. Bear in mind, though, that equivalent diesel versions of the A3 and 1 Series are, officially at least, even more frugal. Even the range-topping petrol A200 is no gas-guzzler, promising up to 48mpg.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level Sport Executive trim gives you the basics, including 17in alloy wheels, LED headlights, rear privacy glass, climate control, heated front seats and wireless phone charging.
AMG Line Executive adds 18in wheels and sportier styling, while AMG Line Premium brings two-zone climate control, illuminated door sills and an upgraded 225W sound system.
Range-topping AMG Line Premium Plus (quite a mouthful) adds even more luxuries, including larger (19in) alloys, adaptive LED headlights and a sunroof. You'll still need to pay extra is you want adaptive cruise control, though, which is pretty galling in a car this expensive.
In the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, the A-Class didn’t fare very well at all. It finished well down the pecking order in the family car class.
Things didn’t get much better for Mercedes as a brand, with the manufacturer placing a disappointing 23rd (out of the 32 brands). For comparison, Audi came 21st and BMW 16th.
Every A-Class comes with a three-year/unlimited mileage warranty as standard, to help give you some peace of mind. That level of coverage is par for the course.
Safety and security
Euro NCAP awarded the A-Class a five-star (out of five) safety rating in 2018, and while it scored higher marks for adult occupancy and pedestrian protection than the A3 and 1 Series, they were tested in 2020 and 2019 respectively, when the tests had become more stringent – so it’s hard to compare directly.
Even the most basic versions of the A-Class come with a host of safety features, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance and a driver alertness monitoring system.
Blind-spot monitoring comes as standard with AMG Line Premium trim and above, while an optional Driver Assistance Pack (available only on range-topping AMG Line Premium Plus) adds more active safety assistance, such as Active Lane-change assist, Active Steering assist and Evasive Steering assist.
Buying & owning overview
Strengths Five-star Euro NCAP safety rating; even the cheapest trims get plenty of standard luxuries
Weaknesses Unimpressive reliability record; expensive by class standards; no plug-in hybrid for cheap company car tax bills
The A-Class isn't cheap, but it's comfortable, good to drive and packed with technology. It's a good alternative to the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series.
The larger Mercedes B-Class is only worth paying extra for if space for rear passengers and a big boot are high priorities.
We class the A-Class as a family car, along with its main rivals the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. It's one of the most luxurious options in its sector, though, thanks to its flash interior and upmarket badge.
The A-Class is popular mainly because it's the cheapest way into a new Mercedes. However, it's a good all-round choice, thanks to its comfortable ride, hushed cruising manners and upmarket interior.
|RRP price range
|£30,705 - £67,785
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|petrol parallel phev, petrol, diesel
|MPG range across all versions
|256.8 - 57.7
|Available doors options
|3 years / No mileage cap
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£570 / £4,896
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£1,139 / £9,792