Driving position and dashboard
You’re unlikely to have much difficulty getting comfortable behind the wheel of the A Class. The driver’s seat adjusts manually on all trim levels (electric seats are available as part of the pricey Premium Plus package), and supports you in all the right places and there’s a good degree of steering wheel adjustment. A BMW 1 Series offers a bit more adjustment, though, in terms of the extension of the steering wheel and depth the seat will go to. Bear that in mind if you need extra flexibility.
The sports seats in the AMG Line trim are designed to hold you in place better through corners and also have integrated head restraints. They're supremely supportive, to the extent that you don't even miss the lack of standard lumbar adjustment, which you get only when you add electric seats.
The most regularly used dashboard buttons are easy to operate, but the touchpad on the steering wheel (used to flick through the digital-instrument display menus) is a little fiddly. All versions come with a 7.0in digital instrument cluster, but if you add the Premium package, that's enlarged to 10.3in. When combined with a larger infotainment screen (see below), both appear like one giant widescreen that stretches across more than half the width of the dashboard.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
All-round visibility is pretty good in the current A Class. The windscreen pillars are relatively thin, helping you to see around them in tight corners, and only your over-the-shoulder vision could be described as iffy. To help to remove any guesswork when manoeuvring, all models come with a reversing camera as standard, but you’ll need to add the Executive Package if you want front and rear parking sensors added, too.
If you frequently drive at night, it’s worth going for the Sport trim, which has more powerful LED headlights.
Sat nav and infotainment
When it comes to infotainment technology, the A Class is right up there with the current BMW 1 Series for features. All versions have a standard 7.0in screen, with sat-nav, a DAB radio and a couple of USB sockets included. However, we'd be tempted to upgrade to the optional 10.3in screen and added connectivity features that come with the Executive package.
Both systems can be operated as a touchscreen, or by swiping and pressing a main touchpad between the front seats, or via another tiny touchpad on the steering wheel. The touchpad methods are the easiest to use when you’re driving; you don’t need to continually study the display, because the main pad provides haptic feedback to help you navigate through the menus. That said, the rotary dial interfaces in the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series are still that bit more intuitive.
Like the 1 Series you also get a Siri-style personal assistant as standard. To wake it up, you say "Hey Mercedes" and 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. An interesting option is something Mercedes calls ‘augmented reality navigation’. It is, in effect, a live camera feed of the road ahead overlaid with the sat-nav instructions, including house numbers, road names and direction arrows. Perhaps more useful, though, are the options of wireless charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, which are part of the Advanced Smartphone package.
If there’s one thing about the A Class that we'd award a straight 'A' for without a second thought, it’s the look of its interior. It’s flamboyant and more in keeping with what you’d expect to find in a luxury saloon than a family hatchback, including lashings of shiny piano black plastic, leather, wood and metal inserts.
The jet-style air vents, borrowed from the E Class Coupé, also help to lift the overall impression above most other premium-badged rivals, especially when they glow like afterburners at night. Visually, this interior eclipses the 1 Series and Lexus CT, and even tops the Audi A3 for pizzazz.
However, where the A Class falls down a little is the outright build quality; there are a few suspect bits, such as the climate control panel that flexes when you press buttons, or the outer heater vent surround, which doesn't appear to be very well secured in place. In this respect a BMW 1 Series feels more robust, while the Audi A3 is in a class of its own for engineering integrity.