The latest generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class has been a sales success, shifting big numbers, often to younger buyers who’ve been tempted to Mercedes for the first time by the A-Class’s good looks.
It’s no surprise, then, that the design remains fairly unchanged for this update. All models now get the distinctive ‘diamond grille’, revised rear lights and exhausts integrated into the bumper, but overall it’s pretty subtle.
More significant are the changes to the equipment and engines. All models now get a bigger 7.0in colour screen (8.0in on all but base SE trim), and a reversing camera, on top of the DAB, USB input, Bluetooth and air-con that were standard equipment on all the previous versions.
Dynamic Select variable drive modes are a standard feature on all but base SE trim, so you can switch between Sport or Comfort steering, throttle and (if you have the automatic transmission) gearbox settings.
While there have been no changes to the standard suspension set-up of the A-Class, which we criticised for being overly firm on UK roads even after some post-launch revisions, you can now add £595 adaptive dampers to any Sport or AMG Line model.
Many of the engines are revised, too. The entry-level 1.5-litre diesel A180d has seen emissions drop to 89g/km, while the 2.1-litre diesel A220d and the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol A250 (the sportiest model short of the full-on A45 AMG hot hatch) both get a bit more power.
All of this has resulted in prices for the A-Class rising by around £350 across the range, which looks good value given that Mercedes claims the car now has as much as £1100 of extra kit thrown in.
What’s the 2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class like to drive?
The extra 7bhp that’s been gifted to the 174bhp A220d doesn’t make much difference on the road – this four-cylinder diesel is still decidedly gritty sounding, but it does deliver a healthy kick when you want it. The obligatory seven-speed dual clutch automatic now shifts with a bit more urgency than before, and remains smooth and well-sorted in unhurried driving, but it does sometimes hang onto gears longer than you want in Sport mode, even for spirited driving.
We also drove the A250 AMG petrol with its new six-speed manual gearbox (previously it was available as an auto only). This 215bhp engine - also up by 7bhp - makes the A-Class into a proper VW Golf GTi rival, and the manual is a big improvement over the auto. You feel more involved thanks to the relatively short, accurate shift, and the engine spins willingly through a wide power band, delivering seriously zesty performance.
The variable steering settings are an improvement. While Comfort feels a little vague, it’s still predictable and well–weighted, and Sport adds bite around the straight-ahead for a more immediate response.
There are three suspension set-ups on the A-Class: SE is the softest, Sport is lowered, and AMG Line or Motorsport Editions models are both stiffer and lowered.
However, our test cars both came with the adaptive dampers, and they bring a ride that is a touch softer in Comfort mode. However, it still feels quite firm and unsettled, making the car bob up and down even over quite smooth roads. The flipside is that you get tight body control and enjoyable cornering ability, but ride comfort on the A-Class still feels more unsettled than you’d find in a Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3, despite their equally – if not even more - gratifying handling.
Refinement is average at best, with plenty of wind and road noise creeping into the cabin at anything more than a moderate cruising speed, although vibrations are kept to a minimum.
What’s the 2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class like inside?
Not much has changed in the A-Class cabin. Some of the materials still feel a little cheap and it's not the most intuitive dash layout or infotainment system. However, it has a classy aura, and the bigger screen looks great and is easy to read, and there’s enough adjustment and space to accommodate most drivers easily.
Space and practicality remain unaltered. Adults sat in the back will find leg room fine, but head room is a bit tight and access awkward thanks to the swooping roofline and narrow door aperture. The boot is perfectly adequate, if not as spacious or as well sorted for loading bulky items as a VW Golf's or Audi A3's.
Should I buy one?
Of the cars we drove, the A250 is both the more enjoyable and the more reasonably priced next to its rivals, particularly given the comprehensive standard spec. Give it real consideration if you’re looking at petrol hot hatches, but be warned that the ride could be busy even with the optional adaptive dampers.
Even factoring in its standard automatic gearbox, high spec and competitive monthly PCP costs of around £360 per month after a £5k deposit, the A220d - which can only be had in high-spec AMG Line trim - is unrefined, not all that comfortable, and expensive for those not buying on finance. You're much better off with an Audi A3 Sportback or VW Golf 2.0 TDI 150.
What Car? says...
Mercedes-Benz A220d 7G-DCT AMG Line
Engine size 2.1-litre diesel
Price from £28,385
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 7.5 seconds
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy 70.6mpg
Mercedes-Benz A250 AMG
Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Price from £28,995
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 6.4 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 41.5mpg