What is it?
A new Mercedes-Benz – the only new Mercedes-Benz, in fact – that you can buy for less than £20,000. This is the entry-level, bog-basic, bottom-rung version of the new A-class. The A180 BlueEfficiency undercuts the equivalent 1.4-litre Audi A3, and the cheapest five-door BMW 1-series. Truth be told, it undercuts the better part of the Ford Focus range, too. But is mass-market value for money something this new Merc wears well?
The A180 is a trim level all on its own. Sitting below ‘SE’, ‘Sport’, ‘AMG Sport’ and ‘Engineered by AMG’ versions of the car, the A180 does without the usual trappings of premium allure, and then some. It doesn’t have alloy wheels or leather seats, and you’ll pay extra for metallic paint. But you do get a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 120bhp and a healthy 148lb ft of torque.
What is it like?
It's still an appealing car, even on 15-inch steel wheels and fitted with a steering wheel and gear lever made out of moulded plastic. If you like to engage in company car one-upmanship, there’s a lot to be said for niceties like heated leather, premium audio systems and the like. But how many of those would you choose from a volume brand over something with Stuttgart’s three-pointed star on the grille?
The cabin’s a pleasant place to be. The materials neither look nor feel ordinary, and there are just enough richer touches to make the ambience feel a cut above the mass-market average. Occupant space is fine, and the driving position only slightly marred by offset pedals.
The A180’s engine is no masterstroke, but it does the important things quite well. It stays quiet at low revs, pulls obligingly in high gears, and returns decent economy. This isn’t a fast car, but it’s a flexible one, with a usable low and mid-range.
Dip deeper into the reserves and you’ll find some non-linear response, and a little bit of harshness at the far end of the rev range. But stroke the car along at everyday speeds and you’ll find it easy to get on with, and capable of returning mpg in the high-40s on a mixed run.
The car’s ride and handling isn’t so compliant. Those who’ve read our full road test on the A-class will know that it’s a car with an ever-present need to please, but that’s a little bit lacking in rolling refinement and everyday habitability. On 15-inch wheels with 65-profile tyres, the A180 is a little more comfy that the rest of the range, with a slightly quieter and less fussy secondary ride in particular. But it still feels considerably over sprung, bucking and rebounding along backroads that a Golf or A3 simply wouldn’t be disturbed by.
The trade-off is the directness of the A-class’ steering and its stern body control, which make it feel agile and energetic – even on ‘comfort’ suspension, and in entry-level form.
Should I buy one?
If you like a responsive drive, perhaps. Far from being the poorest relation, the A180 might actually be one of the better parts of the A-class range. It mixes desirability, value and real-world usability quite adroitly.
The relatively high-emitting petrol engine won’t make it the most popular company car, but for private buyers who like a bargain, there’s plenty to recommend it. And there’d be even more if Mercedes’ ‘comfort’ suspension actually did what it says it should.
Mercedes A180 BlueEfficiency
Price: £18,945; 0-62mph: 9.2sec; Top speed: 126mph; Economy: 51.4mpg; Co2: 129g/km; Kerbweight: 1370kg; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls in line, 1595cc, turbocharged petrol; Power: 120bhp at 5000rpm; Torque: 148lb ft at 1250-4000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual