Recent history shows that Mercedes has, despite its roots in premium motoring, also spent considerable time and money concentrating on the compact family car market. The German firm’s efforts with its A-Class have done much to broaden its appeal and give buyers a first step on the premium car ladder.
It’s not been plain sailing, though. The A-Class, and more recently the similarly styled B-Class, have been given a tough time by more established and sometimes more affordable opposition. Rather than quit, Mercedes has decided to increase the perception gap between its two compact hatchbacks.
The result is a streamlined and sporty-looking A-Class and a more conservatively styled B-Class. The A-Class is the extrovert cousin Volkswagen’s straight-laced Golf never had. Both are five-seaters and offer a wealth of creature comfort and technology options, but for all the Golf’s successes Mercedes hopes the three-pointed star’s pull is stronger.
It’s hoped that the appeal is twofold; downsizers will be attracted to the perceived added luxury to make the shift from a larger car easier to swallow, while those on the way up the social ladder will probably see the A-Class as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
By and large both camps should be more than satisfied with the A-Class. Its sleek profile implies an engaging driving experience, which is possible so long as the right engine and gearbox combination is selected. If you’re not a keen driver then the suits at Mercedes hope you’ll like the long and tempting list of cost options.
No corner has been cut in offering options that, in many cases, wouldn’t be out of place in an E-Class. From clever safety kit to high-end multimedia entertainment, there’s plenty of choice and you never feel like you’ve compromised the ownership experience just because you’re running a small car.
For all the powerful engine options and AMG-inspired handling and styling choices available, the true test of the A-Class’s appeal is its ability to also impress at the low-cost end of the scale. And there’s nothing like the lead-in petrol model on small wheels to test this theory.
In A180 guise the A-Class offers an affordable — by Mercedes standards — route to ownership. Plus, for the considerable number of buyers who would struggle to justify diesel power, the car’s 1.6-litre turbo petrol motor delivers a perfectly acceptable 120 horsepower in a quiet and refined manner and there’s a claimed 4.5 litres-per-100km figure to consider too.
There’s no plush leather steering wheel to grip, but the A-Class cabin fundamentals remain: ergonomic controls, comfortable driving position, accommodating cabin. The driving experience is as you’d expect from a modestly powerful car of this size. The petrol motor is a willing unit but you do need to keep it in the right gear to maximise its performance.
Fortunately that’s no hardship thanks to the slick manual gearshift. Plus, the car’s detailed trip computer spits out a raft of data to help you maintain a light throttle to minimise fuel consumption. The fast-acting engine stop-start feature is the final piece of the eco-puzzle, although you can turn it off if it proves too enthusiastic when you’re parking, for example.
With a few carefully selected options, the A180 delivers an appealing taste of Mercedes ownership for a modest price. The car’s supple ride and generally fuss-free approach to motoring is refreshing in the company of glitzy AMG-badged and firm-riding alternatives, proving that less can sometimes be more.
Specs and ratings
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cyl turbo
Transmission: Six-speed manual, FWD
Max power: 120bhp @ 5,000rpm
Max torque: 200Nm @ 1,250rpm
Top speed: 202kph
Plus: Big car features in a small nifty package
Minus: Not the most stirring performer in its class