If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em: that was clearly the instruction when Mercedes’ designers penned the A-Class of 2012-18, which we’re looking at here. So, compared with its predecessors, the new model followed a more conventional path, incorporating design cues and engineering from other Mercedes models and slotting easily into the range as an affordable base camp for newbies aspiring to plusher models or for loyalists wishing to downsize without losing face.
But be warned: there are thousands of these Mk3 A-Classes on the used car market, so if you think you’re buying into a special club, forget it. Still, that means there’s plenty of choice. Prices for the first Mk3 cars, as distinct from the facelifted versions of 2015 onwards, start at around £6000, a sum that will get you a 2013-reg A180 CDI SE – along with the later A180d, the bedrock of the range – with 110,000 miles.
Diesel and petrol engines range from 1.5 to 2.1 litres, not that you’d know from the badging. (For example, the A180 is powered by a 1.6 and the A180 CDI by a 1.5.) The diesels are noisy but efficient, the petrols smoother and quieter. This matters because sound deadening on the early models is poor.
A manual gearbox is standard on most versions but the efficient and quick-changing dual-clutch auto (DCT) is worth a go. On some engines, in particular the A180 CDI Blue Efficiency, emissions dip as low as 98g/km CO2. It means that among cars registered before 1 April 2017 are some that attract no road tax and many no more than £30. If a sporty drive is your preference, there’s the A250 AMG and, above that, the extreme A45 4Matic (from around £17,500 for a 55,000-mile 2013-reg).
Build quality on pre-facelift cars hasn’t lived up to Merc’s reputation, with interior rattles a recurring theme – and note that versions below SE ride on steel wheels. For its alloy wheels, comfort suspension, sports seats and artificial leather, SE is our pick but we also like AMG Sport, with features such as sports suspension, retuned steering and larger alloys.
The 2015 facelift brought a diamond-pattern grille, restyled bumpers and integrated exhaust pipes. Inside, it was business as usual, although fit and finish improved. These cars are good value since Mercedes reckoned it had donated extra kit worth £1100 for a price rise of just £350. A major beneficiary was SE trim, which gained a media interface, 16in alloys, a reversing camera and Mercedes’ upmarket Artico upholstery. Across the range, phone integration was improved. Meanwhile, the A180d Blue Efficiency became even cleaner and the A220d and A250 got a small hike in power.
Today, diesel A-Classes outnumber petrols by around two to one. As a result, they’re good value: a 2016-reg A220d AMG Line DCT with 40,000 miles costs £15,000, and a same-age, same-mileage A250 AMG £17,000. New, both cost around the same.