By Wayne Gorrett
Variant driven : BlueEFFICIENCY 1.6 SE, 7sp auto
With its striking good looks, a wide range of engines and good kit, the new A-Class has got to be one of the best hatches currently available.
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The A-Class is a medium-sized family vehicle produced by Mercedes since 1997. The third generation of the car – in production since late last year – has shaken off the shackles of a non-descript, frumpy MPV and is given a totally new and long overdue lease of life in the form of an attractive and stylish hatchback.
Through both of the previous generations, the A-Class has provided sufficient interior space while remaining a smallish car. Barring one or two little issues, this third generation is no different. Rear passengers have adequate legroom and boot space is fair for a car of this size. However finding sufficient headroom for those taller than 5ft 8in will be a challenge too far. The new A-Class is available as a 3-door and as a 5-door hatchback.
The A-Class is a good choice for a small family car, providing a good level of comfort enhanced by smooth driving characteristics. The driving space is a tad compact but the controls and dials are all logically placed with a quality feel. They aren’t too complicated and are simple yet functional. The standard level of quality is high and meets premium Germanic expectations.
The car is very easy to drive, the steering is sharp and responsive and very light allowing for an effortless drive at any speed. However, rear visibility is poor. There are very limited viewpoints as the rear window is small tiny – aided and abetted by the intrusive (lowered) rear seat headrests. On the plus side, the large wing mirrors help considerably and offer good special awareness.
We only spent a short while with the car but were suitably impressed. The handling, ride and auto gearbox work harmoniously for every-day driving but also delivers a fun and ‘spirited’ driving experienced on demand. The car oozes character, is thoroughly enjoyable to drive and easy on the eye.
The ace up the sleeve is the new seven-speed dual clutch gearbox. It is quite a clever beastie. When deciding to shift gears yourself in the ‘manumatic’ mode the Touchtronic gearbox responds with crisp, fuss-free precision and is never found hunting. It’s great fun to play with and encourages a more enthusiastic driving style, one that the dynamic handling and response of the car is more than up for. But, when you’re done driving like a hedge-scraper, it’s as comfortable and effortless to drive as any Mercedes-Benz.
Fitted with ‘comfort’ suspension, ride quality on the A 180 SE is really quite good. Bumps an uneven road surfaces are well cushioned by the suspension and the car tootles around the corners with minimal body roll. Road noise is adequately suppressed and the only noisy culprits were the aforementioned side mirrors.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine is very good and the efficiency statistics are exceptional, thanks in part to the efficient technology of the seven-speed auto gearbox enhancing the fuel consumption.
The day of automatic gearboxes being more efficient and economical than manual units has finally arrived. Indeed, we would volunteer that in 10 to 15 years’ time, sales of cars with automatic gearboxes – of whatever guise – will exceed those with manual units.
With impressive, razor-sharp brakes, the car has the ability to shed horsepower very quickly. However, the tendency of the brakes to ‘bite’ at lower slower speeds does require getting used to.
The driving position in the A 180 SE is good as you are immediately in touch with essential controls, none of which form a distraction from the job in hand. However, the tablet-style media/navigation system is oddly positioned and perhaps too ‘proud’ of the dashboard.
With the current trend of downsizing among buyers of premium hatchbacks, the previous generation of A-Class was plainly out of its depth. The all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class introduced late last year is the manufacturer’s first proper rival to the Audi A3, Volvo V40, VW Golf and BMW 1 Series. It’s more dynamic to look at and to drive and clearly has a younger audience in its sights. It is easy to recommend.
Fast Facts – Mercedes-Benz A 180 BlueEFFICIENCY 1.6 SE, 7sp auto
Basic RRP: £21,820 (otr)
Power output (PS @ rpm): 122 @ 5,000 rpm
Max torque (lbs ft / Nm @ rpm): 200 @ 1,250 – 4,000 rpm
Top speed: 126 mph
0-62 mph: 9.1s
Fuel economy: Combined – 52.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 127g/km
Insurance group: 18
Warranty: 3 years / unlimited mileage; up to 30 years corrosion from inside out.
Breakdown assistance: 4 years standard Mercedes-Benz Mobilo Roadside Assistance.