British roads bring out both the best and the worst in the A-class. Echoing the trend for ever more ‘dynamic’ premium products, Mercedes has opted for spring and anti-roll bar settings that are seriously intolerant of any lingering, long-wave body movement.
In doing so, it could hardly have created a more stark dynamic contrast to the preceding A-class. The new car, even rolling on the Comfort suspension, is a fresh start, and sporty with a capital ‘S’.
And as long as you’d rather be driving a 300bhp hot hatch, you’ll heartily approve. The immediacy and directness with which this car darts into corners and the tenacity with which it holds its line are remarkable handling traits.
A BMW 1-series seems stodgy by comparison and an Audi A3 almost insipid. But excitement isn’t everything a premium hatch needs to offer – as Audi and BMW well understand. Refinement and high-mileage habitability are even more crucial, and those shopping for a new Mercedes might imagine they could be taken for granted.
They shouldn’t be here. The ride over a typical B-road is both noisy and unyielding and leaves a great deal to be desired. At the sort of pace when its enthusiast-market handling can’t really be appreciated, the A-class just feels awkward.
It is unflinching in its fidgeting pursuit of a perfectly flat body and simply uncomfortable over bad surfaces, admitting more than the odd crash into the cabin as large and sharp disturbances are resolutely overridden.
It’s a divisive compromise. All of the testers who have driven the A-class were genuinely shocked, to begin with, by its lack of everyday civility.
Some warmed to the idiosyncratic handling enough to consider the lack of rolling comfort just about acceptable. But given that this is an Autocar road test, written by enthusiasts used to making allowances for cars they simply enjoy driving, ‘some’ is pretty damning. And especially so for a car that’s supposed to broaden the reach of the Mercedes brand, not narrow it.
The A-class becomes firmer still in the A250 Engineered by AMG model, which sits below the A45 AMG at the top of the standard A-class range. The AMG suspension changes might make it handle even tidier, but the trade off in ride quality is such that this is a model best avoided.