GRR

The Goodwood Test: 2018 Mercedes A-Class

29th April 2018
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.

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Heritage

Can it already be 20 years since a curious looking new kind of compact Mercedes-Benz first appeared, fell over trying to avoid an entirely imaginary elk and slightly awkwardly brought Benz into the compact car class? It can, and how far it has come in that time. It is now acknowledged within Mercedes that the original A-class – while hitting its sales targets – did the brand no favours at all. So, five years ago Mercedes binned all that thinking and created an all-new A-class, as conventional in its engineering as its predecessor had been wacky but, crucially, executed like a true Mercedes Benz.

To call it a success would be to describe Usain Bolt as a competent club runner. Before the last A-class, Mercedes sales had for years lagged behind those of BMW and Audi. Now it is number one. Moreover, 60 per cent of A-class sales were to people who’d never bought a Mercedes before, people who might now buy another 10 Mercedes in the rest of their lives. Its value to the company is incalculable.

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Design

So, faced with such a runaway success we should not be surprised to see that Mercedes has not sought to vary formula for its replacement: ‘the same, but better’ appears to have been its guiding mantra.

And better it appears to be. So long as you spend the money on one of the ritzier specifications, your A-class will come with surely the most sophisticated, technically advanced interior ever to grace a family hatchback. It’s world of enormous TFT screens, sumptuous upholstery, pleasantly pliant dashboard materials and the most comprehensive suite of active and passive safety system in the class. It’s more spacious too, and in all areas save rear legroom which remains the same.

That said in engineering terms, the car remains very conventional. The multi-link rear axle fitted to all versions of its predecessor is standard at launch only on the A250. Only top spec A200s get it while the A180d, which is likely to be the best seller it denied it all together in the UK,  gets an altogether less sophisticated beam axle instead.

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Performance

As ever, it depends what you drive. The A180d comes with a 1.5-litre diesel sourced from the Renault-Nissan Alliance and while it’s very frugal and commendably quiet, those looking for decent range, fuel consumption and proper performance will have to wait until the A220d comes on stream next year. The A180d is a car which you have to wind up to decent speeds and should something then slow you down again, requires careful planning if it is to be overtaken. A point and squirt machine it is not. The A200 has a 1.3-litre turbo petrol motor jointly developed by Benz and the aforementioned Alliance that performs rather better, albeit at the price of a slightly strained voice and markedly worse fuel consumption. It is only when you saddle up the 221bhp A250, powered by a pure Mercedes 2-litre turbo, that properly sparkling performance is available. Think 0-60mph in about 6 seconds flat and a top speed of 155mph. All the cars had seven-speed double-clutch gearboxes – a manual is coming later this year – and while cheaper models get a Getrag transmission and the A250 Mercedes’ own, there really is little to choose between them. Both change gear quickly and smoothly which is all you can really ask for.

As for future models, remember that the A250 is not even categorized as one of the quick ones. The first of high-performance A-classes to be fielded by the in-house tuning company AMG, will be the A35, and there its similarity to a 1950s Austin ends. It will produce in excess of 300bhp when it is shown later this year, but the one we’re all waiting for is next year’s A45 whose 2-litre engine will produce at least 400bhp and perhaps a little more. In terms of output per litre, a McLaren Senna does no better.

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Passion

Mercedes only brought cars with multi-link rear suspension (even the A180d which can be so equipped in the European but not British market) so we will have to wait to see what price has been paid in terms of ride and handling for cars fitted with the simpler, cheaper beam axle. But the cars with premium rear suspension provide a chassis capable of offering not just what appears to be the smoothest ride quality in the class, but superb levels of grip, fine damping and excellent balance as the limit approaches. The only disappointment really is the steering which felt too light and remote to truly engage the driver. 

In fact, it really is this last point alone that even creates the question of whether the new A-class is the best car in its class. But we’d bet it is most comfortable. It’s claimed to be quietest and is certainly the most advanced. For these reasons, it is hard indeed to see the resounding success of its forebear doing anything other than continuing for the foreseeable future. 

Prices from £25,800 (A180d SE DCT)

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