There’s a good choice of engines. The diesels range from an efficient but fairly sluggish 1.5-litre unit in the A 180 d, to the seriously punchy 2.1-litre diesel engine in the A 200 d and more powerful A 220 d. It’s the same unit you can buy in the new C-Class, and it feels pretty quick in a small hatchback.
The petrol options are less impressive. Two 1.6-litre models kick off the range but they need to be worked hard to produce remotely decent performance. At the other end of the scale is the 2.0-litre petrol in the A 45 AMG 4MATIC. It produces 376bhp and in combination with four-wheel drive, the car out-accelerates all rivals.
Mercedes-Benz A-Class ride comfort
Uncomfortable on all but the smoothest roads
If you opt for the standard mechanical dampers, even on the SE’s small 16in wheels the A-Class’s ride is firm. The car crashes over bumps and shimmies around on all but the smoothest surfaces.
This problem is worse on versions with larger alloy wheels, and certainly any A-Class on 17in or 18in wheels will be unsuitable for regular town driving. Potholes, speed bumps and any dips in the road set the wheels thudding. Things don’t improve much on the motorway. Although the ride settles down to tolerable levels, it’s still nowhere near as cosseting as a Volkswagen Golf or BMW 1 Series.
The AMG Line and Motorsport versions have lowered comfort suspension but the 250 AMG has lowered sports suspension that’s much firmer but which provides better body control.
The lumpy ride can be alleviated to some extent by adding the optional adaptive dampers. In Comfort mode they give the A-Class a softer, more compliant feel, although not to the extent where the ride matches rivals such as the Audi A3 or Volkswagen Golf.
Perversely, the full-fat AMG A 45 4MATIC rides pretty well, at least for a hot hatch. It’s not quite as supple as the equivalent Audi RS3 Sportback, but with much improved damping over the standard models, it doesn’t feel at all harsh.
Mercedes-Benz A-Class handling
Inconsistent steering and poor body control
The standard cars on comfort suspension have oddly weighted steering and poor body control. You’ll have little idea of what the front wheels are doing, and when you turn in to a corner the whole car leans over, which is not a pleasant experience.
This standard A-Class feels like a bigger and heavier car than some of its rivals such as the Audi A3, which is lighter on its feet. The Mercedes has good traction in corners, but the uneven control and pedal weights rob you of some confidence.
The 250 AMG version corners flatter and grips better, but the steering is still not as precise as, say, an Audi A3 Sportback.
If you opt for the adaptive dampers, these do make a big difference. They afford the A-Class much better body control, which makes it a more enjoyable car to drive along twisty roads.
Even on standard dampers the four-wheel drive versions, including the A 220 d and A 250, are the best-handling variants, although they are also pricey to run. With the heavily reworked AMG A 45 4Matic version the handling takes a huge leap forward. The steering is well weighted, and the car has excellent balance and body control.
Mercedes-Benz A-Class refinement
The diesel engines are particularly gruff
Wind noise can be heard down the sides of the car at motorway speeds, and if you choose an A-Class on larger wheels road noise is also a constant companion, especially on coarse or roughly surfaced routes.
However, our biggest gripe concerns the diesel engines. They’re noisy at idle and when accelerating, but the 2.1-litre engine in the A 200 d and A 220 d is particularly bad. The A 200 d is the worst; its coarse note rattles through the cabin, and sends a fair amount of buzz and vibration through the pedals and gearlever. The diesel engines in the BMW 1 Series are a little better, but the VW Golf and Audi A3 are far quieter and smoother.
The manual gearbox has a fairly loose, notchy action that takes some getting used to, while the clutch biting point is quite high. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is smoother at low speeds but it’s frustratingly slow to respond to your inputs at times.
Not the strongest performer, the 180d has been designed with fuel economy in mind. This 1.5-litre diesel takes a while to get from 0-62mph due to long gearing that means it can also struggle around town. However, it’s cheap to run.
Punchier than the 1.6-litre diesel, this 2.1-litre engine is also quite a lot noisier. It clatters away loudly, but does at least deliver stronger performance. However, it’s nowhere near as flexible or punchy as the 2.0-litre diesel in the Volkswagen Golf.
Although this is the most powerful diesel in the range, it’s available with only the seven-speed automatic gearbox. This makes it expensive compared with similar rivals, and the gearbox is not as slick as the DSG dual-clutch unit in the VW Golf, or the quick-shifting eight-speed auto in the BMW 1 Series. The A220 d is the only diesel with the option of 4MATIC four-wheel drive.
This petrol engine delivers relatively brisk performance. It has to be worked quite hard, though, and refinement suffers as a result.
This is a more powerful and flexible version of the 1.6-litre motor in the A180. The automatic version is slightly faster and cleaner (in terms of CO2) than the six-speed manual.
This 2.0-litre engine produces more than 200bhp, so feels fairly quick. There is also the option of two- or four-wheel drive.
A 45 AMG 4MATIC
One of the punchiest engines we have ever tried, the 2.0-litre turbocharged motor in the A 45 is incredibly fast, and very smooth.