Big-selling upmarket family hatchback offers dynamic polish and keen efficiency

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The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is the brand's entry point and one of its best-sellers. Among premium compact cars, only the Mini hatchback and Tesla Model 3 have consistently outsold it here in the UK.

A mid-life facelift in 2023 brought with it mechanical enhancements, equipment upgrades and some subtle but noticeable styling changes, all of which should keep the A-Class on the shopping lists of many compact car buyers.

Over the years, the line-up has been made much simpler, in order to put greater focus on those trim levels that have consistently proven more popular.

It goes toe to toe with stiff competition from other German marques. The BMW 1 Series promises a bit more dynamism, while the Audi A3 Sportback has slightly better material appeal.

Like its rivals, the A-Class is still fairly conventional and comes with mild-hybrid, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains.

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class Saloon is aimed at business users who would like a junior C-Class, while there's also the bombastic four-wheel drive 416bhp Mercedes-AMG A45 S hot hatch on offer.



Mercedes Benz A Class RT front cornering

All versions of the A-Class except for the AMG models use the same axles (struts with helper springs and passive twin-tube dampers up front, a torsion beam at the rear) and all run the same ‘lowered comfort’ coil springs.

There are now two conventional petrol models to pick from, the A180 and A200, both using the M282 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine that Mercedes co-developed with Renault some years ago, now with 48V mild-hybrid assistance.

A belt-driven integrated starter-generator (ISG) adds an extra 13bhp into the driveline as the car moves off and enables smoother engine shutdowns and restarts, more efficient energy regeneration and longer periods of engine-off ‘sailing’.

Every A-Class now comes with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, the old manual options having been dropped, but the number of ratios depends on the engine.

For company car drivers, the A250e plug-in hybrid officially goes up to 47 miles on electric power alone, easily securing it an 8% benefit-in-kind tax rating.


Mercedes Benz A Class RT dashboard

There's now no A-Class you can buy in the UK without Mercedes' twin-10.3in-display MBUX infotainment console.

Because there's no longer a manual gearbox and the revised infotainment has no physical input controller on the transmission tunnel, Mercedes has redesigned the centre console for a neater look, adding a shallow tray. Between that and the lidded cubbies behind and in front of it, there are now plenty of places into which to empty your pockets or stow a hot drink.

Mercedes has also beefed up the A-Class’s standard equipment by chucking in its Seat Comfort package for free on all models. This adds cushion height adjustment for both front seats, as well as both cushion angle adjustment and a cushion extension for the driver’s side. Having such broad adjustability and useful support in the seat base boosted comfort quite a bit for our longer-legged testers and made an already strong driving position even better.

Comfort levels aren’t quite as creditable in the rear seats. Back there, outright space is only average for the hatchback class: the Volkswagen Golf offers better head room and the Toyota Corolla more leg room. But as a compromise of outward compactness and design appeal and inward practicality, what the A-Class offers is certainly respectable. The oddly bulky interior door handles, which eat needlessly into second-row knee room, will continue to be a source of complaint for some.

The A-Class’s steering wheel is the other main focus of the interior refresh. The car inherits the wheel designs that we've seen on many bigger Mercedes models over the past five years, with their smaller steering hubs and slimmer pairs of parallel spokes, each crowded with switchgear. We miss the chunkier physical buttons of the old wheel design, the touch-sensitive controls of the new one being fiddlier and easier to brush by accident.

Multimedia system

13 Mercedes benz a class rt 2023 infotainment 1 0

The MBUX twin-screen infotainment system is solid. The screen is fast and reacts smoothly to inputs, but reaching and swiping at the screen isn’t your only route. The voice recognition system works well for sat-nav destinations and typically at the first attempt. You can also scroll through menu screens and select functions using the cursor on the upper left-hand spoke of the steering wheel without taking a hand off the rim.

The system has wireless smartphone charging and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. The mirroring worked consistently well with an iPhone.


Mercedes Benz A Class RT engine

Against our timing gear, the 161bhp A200 was more than 0.5sec quicker than its predecessor, despite having roughly the same power. That’s a performance hike big enough for upgrading A200 owners to clearly perceive at the wheel – and it makes the latest version feel like a car of enhanced responsiveness and drivability, as well as sharpened outright pace.

The dual-clutch gearbox seems to need a little notice and sharp prod of the accelerator to give its best. Our first two acceleration runs at the test track were slightly slower, but once the transmission had adapted to our full-throttle style, it began managing the clutches more urgently and positively, getting the car from 0-60mph in less than 8.0sec.

In everyday driving, the gearbox’s terse style of clutch actuation can seem a little impatient when you’re manoeuvring the A200, particularly if you just want a gentle step-off. But when the car is running, it manages ratio changes better – a bit hesitantly sometimes when kicking down but more smartly in manual mode.

The hybrid system also effectively masks the slightly lazy low-RPM throttle response of this 1.3-litre engine, producing a useful dose of accessible impetus in a higher gear without needing a downshift. So the A200 feels quite sprightly and keen in most circumstances – although that engine still doesn’t rev beyond 4500rpm with much enthusiasm.

Mechanical refinement is good at low and medium revs, though, the ISG handling engine stop-start particularly smoothly.

Brake power and pedal feel are likewise good.

The A250e PHEV is an intriguing one for the interested driver. It has plenty of outright power and lots of accessible torque when operating in Hybrid mode.

With an electric motor making useful power and torque itself and positioned upstream of the eight-speed automatic gearbox (so that it benefits from the car’s gearing at higher speeds), it also offers good performance when running in Electric mode, which survives a trip to the national speed limit without coming up particularly short on power or forcing you to rouse the car’s reciprocating pistons unless you mean to.

However, for those drivers who aren’t so interested in how the car is doing what it’s doing but would rather it just got on with doing it well, the A250e might begin to disappoint. At times, the gearbox can be slow to shift, and frustratingly so when you’re trying to snag reverse quickly during a hurried reverse park or three-point turn. At other times, it’s the stark contrast between the refined operation in evidence when the engine is off and the eruption of noise when the engine suddenly needs to start – and to rev – that rather explodes the bubble of luxurious calm that the car might otherwise inhabit.

Unfortunately, the 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine that Mercedes chose for this car isn’t the greatest. It’s reasonably quiet and economical at a cruise, but it can be noisy and coarse at revs. It is at least fairly economical, which means that once the car’s electric-only range (44 official miles here turns out to be more like 35 in the real world, depending on usage) has been used up on your daily commute, you might still average better than 55mpg in ‘range-extended’ running – which, among PHEVs, isn't to be sniffed at.

The A250e's biggest driveability failing, however, is the regrettable unpredictability of its braking system. A brake energy management system in the car automatically blends its trailing-throttle ‘recuperation’ settings up and down based on information that it’s getting from the navigation system and its forward sensors in a bid to slow you down at just the right pace and time for roundabouts and junctions, and to help you scavenge energy in heavy traffic.

However, the worst consequence is that every time you come off the accelerator and on to the brake pedal, you do so with a little trepidation, not quite knowing exactly how much ‘engine braking’ retardation and subsequent pedal ‘bite’ you’re going to get – and that just makes the car harder to drive smoothly than it should be.


Mercedes Benz A Class RT front cornering

The A-Class isn't a particularly light car, but it is still a fairly compact hatchback with a lowish centre of gravity. Judged against relatively heavy electric cars flooding into the volume car market, that does make for a key dynamic advantage.

Mercedes’ standard-fit lowered coil suspension gives it good body control and crisp chassis response, while the 18in wheels and Bridgestone tyres of AMG Line trim make for a strong and nicely balanced grip level. An intuitively paced, medium-heavy and discreetly feelsome steering rack complete the picture of a car in which you can enjoy zipping along in and which has the kind of surfeit of adhesion and handling precision over power that you might expect of a lower-order performance car.

The chassis doesn’t go quite as far as laying on any trailing-throttle handling adjustability when you’re exploring its limits, preferring instead the brand of unerring stability associated with premium German cars. But the traction and stability controls certainly allow you to carry plenty of cornering speed, and they don’t kill the vibe when you’re accelerating hard out of corners, when the front axle creates more than enough traction for the engine’s torque to mine.

In everyday driving, there’s enough bite and energy about the car's handling to make it feel agile around junctions and roundabouts, although it doesn’t want for planted feel at motorway speeds. And so while the car’s sportier dynamic character does impose one or two compromises to comfort and refinement, to which we will come next, seldom has it been more effectively executed than this.

21 Mercedes benz a class rt 2023 rear cornering 0

Comfort and isolation

A comfortable and supportive driver’s seat puts the A-Class on a steady footing here – although where it goes from there is the inevitable result of the ‘AMG-washing’ of Mercedes’ modern model lines. The AMG Line model we tested wasn't uncomfortable, but it was slightly noisy. Not generally because it has a noisy engine, however.

While they create unquestionably good body control and handling precision, the car’s suspension rates and axle mountings also allow plenty of surface noise to filter into the cabin from the road below. And so we recorded 68dBA of cabin noise at a 70mph cruise, in dry and fairly clement test conditions. Plenty of compact premium hatchbacks we have tested in recent years have been similarly short on noise isolation and a few noisier still. But if you want a luxurious and isolated driving experience in something small and affordable, this isn’t a car to seek out.

The A-Class’s ride does seem to resonate particularly coarsely on rougher asphalt, although it doesn’t thump over broken edges too harshly and retains reasonable bump compliance. Overall, you wouldn’t call this a firm-riding car, and it should suit a fairly broad range of tastes, but it could certainly have been quieter.

Assisted driving notes

22 Mercedes benz a class rt 2023 assisted driving 0

The standard-fit offering is quite good, but blindspot monitoring and exit warning assist only come on upper trims. Adaptive cruise control with piloted lane-keeping isn’t offered.

The lane-keeping assistance system only activates on out-of-town roads. It’s a little intrusive away from the motorway and is always activates as the engine starts. We would prefer a physical button for it, but it’s easy enough to deactivate via a quick-reference infotainment screen menu.

The Active Brake Assist system can be left on, as it doesn’t tend to intrude or incorrectly activate.

Speed Limit Assist, which recognised roadside signs, is standard and works consistently well.


Mercedes Benz A Class RT lead cornering

Mercedes is continuing in a familiar vein when it comes to the A-Class’s price positioning.

If you want the firm's top-level assisted driving technologies on the car, its fully adaptive LED headlights, a head-up display or a Burmester stereo, you have to progress further still up the buying spectrum. It’s unlikely that many would be willing to pay a four-figure sum to get piloted driving on this type of car in any case. But even without it, this remains a premium-positioned product – and one without the class-leading residual values that it might need to easily justify that position, for which buyers need to be prepared to haggle to get a competitive deal.

On running efficiency, it does rather better. In 2018, the A200 we tested returned 56.7mpg on our touring economy test and a 38.8mpg average. While the latest A200 we monitored hit 59.3mpg on the former and 44.9mpg on the latter: impressive results suggesting that its mild-hybrid powertrain upgrades have contributed more to real-world efficiency than the WLTP lab test results indicate.


Mercedes Benz A Class RT verdict static

Years ago, our road test of the pre-facelifted, fourth-generation A-Class praised the premium-brand lustre of its subject but was more critical of its practicality and slightly rough-hewn driving experience. The car found a great many owners from 2018 in any case. And now, in surveying how much progress this entry-level Mercedes has made, we can credit some significant improvements.

Our test results on the latest A-Class show that, even among cars where you might not even know it features, electrification is having an observable and positive impact. The A-Class’s mild-hybrid engines make it more pleasant to drive, more refined, more responsive, quicker and, by no small margin, more economical. The car impressed us with the greater dynamic polish of its handling, too, for more than a light dusting of driver appeal.

Among the car's vulnerabilities lie a shortage of ride noise isolation and only average cabin packaging, the latter easier to forgive Mercedes' smallest model for than the former.

And so it features third in our class order, behind the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 Sportback.

Murray Scullion

Murray Scullion
Title: Digital editor

Murray has been a journalist for more than a decade. During that time he’s written for magazines, newspapers and websites, but he now finds himself as Autocar’s digital editor.

He leads the output of the website and contributes to all other digital aspects, including the social media channels, podcasts and videos. During his time he has reviewed cars ranging from £50 - £500,000, including Austin Allegros and Ferrari 812 Superfasts. He has also interviewed F1 megastars, knows his PCPs from his HPs and has written, researched and experimented with behavioural surplus and driverless technology.

Murray graduated from the University of Derby with a BA in Journalism in 2014 and has previously written for Classic Car Weekly, Modern Classics Magazine, buyacar.co.uk, parkers.co.uk and CAR Magazine, as well as carmagazine.co.uk.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.