Updates for Merc’s big-selling hatchback bring greater performance and efficiency

It’s been a worrying few years for premium car brands in the UK market.

Mercedes’ fortunes illustrate the point well. Having grown to take a pre-pandemic share of 7.5% of the new car sales pie, the firm slumped to just a little over 5% in 2022, as buyers turned to fresher, less traditional brands. Rivals’ shares have declined too – but, in the UK at least, neither of Mercedes’ key German opponents, BMW and Audi, has suffered quite so much.

The A200 is one of only two conventional petrol A-Class models left in the range below the saloon-only A250 plug-in hybrid and the A35 and A45 S full-fat AMG models.

So now, the three-pointed star is looking to a dependable player to steady the ship. The current Mercedes A-Class compact premium hatchback has been one of the UK’s top-five best-sellers in all but one of its full calendar years of sales since being introduced in 2018. Among premium compact cars, only the Mini – and now the Tesla Model 3 and Tesla Model Y – has consistently outsold it here, and no direct competitor from Audi or BMW has really come close.

A mid-life facelift, which brings with it mechanical enhancements, equipment upgrades and some subtle but noticeable styling changes, should keep the car on the shopping lists of many compact car buyers, then, as it moves into the second half of its life cycle. With simplification of the buying process the goal, some versions have been removed from the UK range, to put greater focus on those that have consistently proven more popular in their new and enhanced forms.

Back to top

Nevertheless, this is a car that can still be had in fairly conventional petrol and diesel guises, as well as in tax-efficient plug-in hybrid form, and it was a mid-range A200 mild-hybrid petrol that we elected to test.


Range at a glance

We have summarised the facelifted A-Class hatchback range above, although the A250e plug-in hybrid is now offered as a saloon only.

Trim levels start at Sport Executive, then progress up through AMG Line Executive to AMG Line Premium and AMG Line Premium Plus, both of which add more standard equipment.

Version power
A180 134bhp
A200* 161bhp
A200d 148bhp
A250e 215bhp
Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic 302bhp
Mercedes-AMG A45 4Matic+ 416bhp


7-spd dual-clutch automatic    

8-spd dual-clutch automatic (A200d, A250e, A35, A45)


02 Mercedes Benz A Class RT 2023 front cornering

Mercedes has upgraded the appearance of the A-Class with the light touch you would expect of it. The LED headlights (now standard fit across the range) have a new look, with big-selling AMG Line models such as our test car getting new wheel designs, a new, star-themed radiator grille mesh and a differently styled rear diffuser.

The version of the car perhaps most visibly altered is the Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic hot hatchback, which inherits more of the aggressive performance styling features of the pricier A45 S. With the more ordinary engines, meanwhile, Mercedes turns to fresh paint colours to set the new cars apart: for example, there is now a Rose Gold and the eye-catching Sun Yellow of our test car.

Like the last one, the A-Class has a slightly forward-tilting radiator grille. Look closely and you will see the facelifted car’s new three-pointed-star mesh design.

The car’s engine range has shrunken quite a bit, at least as far as UK sales go. All 4Matic four-wheel-drive variants, except the A35 and A45 S performance models, have been withdrawn from the range, while the 148bhp A200d is the only remaining diesel offering.

That does at least simplify the suspension specification, because all versions of the A-Class except for those AMG models and the now-saloon-only A250e PHEV use the same axles (struts with helper springs and passive twin-tube dampers up front, with 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 turbocharged petrol engine that Mercedes co-developed with Renault some years ago. Both models now get 48V mild-hybrid assistance, however. A new belt-driven starter-generator motor adds an extra 13bhp into the driveline as the car moves off, and enables smoother engine shutdown and restart, more efficient energy regeneration and longer periods of engine-off ‘sailing’. The system contributed only a 1.6mpg gain on the WLTP test cycle for our test car compared with its pre-facelift equivalent, but we will see if it’s worth more in real-world driving.

All A-Classes now come with dual-clutch automatic gearboxes – the old manual options having been dropped – but the number of ratios depends on the engine.

For fleet buyers, the A250e gets a bigger battery, a more powerful motor and faster charging options. You can only buy one in the more aerodynamic saloon bodystyle, but that means it’s rated for up to 51 miles of electric range, which easily secures it an 8% benefit-in-kind tax rating.


09 Mercedes Benz A Class RT 2023 dashboard

Along with those engines and manual gearboxes, Mercedes has also junked the A-Class’s old SE trim level. This has brought greater consistency to the look and feel of a cabin that continues to strike a fairly high standard for material richness, technological sophistication and perceived quality.

There is now no A-Class you can buy in the UK without Merc’s twin-10.3in-display MBUX infotainment console. Because there is 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.

I don’t miss the old separate touchpad controller, but the menu shortcut buttons that lived around its edge are a loss. The menu cursor on the left steering wheel spoke is some recompense, but there’s still too much touchscreen prodding and swiping for my liking.

Mercedes is also beefing 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: a Volkswagen Golf offers better head room and a 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 we have 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 updated A-Class gets Mercedes’ latest MBUX twin-screen infotainment system, even in its cheapest model trim. That it has lost the touch-sensitive fingertip input device on the centre console ought to be no great loss to anyone, although the menu shortcut keys that used to surround that pad are notable by their absence, and the system is slightly harder to navigate as a result.

Reaching and swiping at the screen isn’t your only route, though. The voice recognition system works well for navigation destinations, and typically at the first attempt. You can also scroll 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 device charging and wireless mirroring for both Apple and Android as standard. The wireless mirroring worked consistently well with an Apple phone.


19 Mercedes Benz A Class RT 2023 engine

We don’t often conduct full, instrumented road tests on facelifted models, let alone get the chance to do so on a direct replacement for a car we tested in its earlier form, but in this case we are doing both. And comparing the performance numbers illustrate just how much a 48V mild-hybrid drive system can be worth to a modern combustion engine.

These systems aren’t just about boosting economy. Mercedes’ peak power claim for this A200 hasn’t changed: it sits at 161bhp, just as it did in 2018. Peak torque, however, has swollen by 15lb ft – all of which yield will be coming from the new starter-generator.

Our A200 test car’s weight was distributed 62% front, 38% rear.

Against our timing gear, that system was worth more than half a second’s advantage for the new A200 relative to its predecessor, in both standing-quarter-mile and 30-70mph acceleration, and typically also about a half-second on roll-on in-gear acceleration in higher ratios across a 20mph increment (30-50mph in fifth gear: 6.6sec). That’s a performance hike big enough for upgrading A200 owners to clearly perceive at the wheel – and it makes the new 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 to 60mph from rest consistently 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 new starter motor handling engine stop-start particularly smoothly – and brake power and pedal feel are likewise good.


20 Mercedes Benz A Class RT 2023 front cornering

Its mild-hybrid system may have caused the A-Class to put on a little weight, but this is still a fairly compact hatchback with a lowish centre of gravity, and an all-up mass in running order that was still below 1400kg as tested. Judged against the relatively heavy EVs and PHEVs flooding into the volume car market, that does make for a key dynamic advantage, so long as you avoid the heavier electrified versions. Because, in mild-hybrid petrol form at least, this car certainly handles.

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 you can enjoy zipping along in, and that has the kind of surfeit of adhesion and handling precision over power you might expect of a lower-order performance car.

Suspension is typically via struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear, although 4Matic four-wheel-drive models (A250e, A35, A45 S) use all-independent suspension.

The A200’s 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 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 A200’s handling to make it feel agile around junctions and roundabouts, though 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 A200 AMG Line Executive isn’t an uncomfortable-riding hatchback, but it is a slightly noisy one. 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, though 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

As part of its facelift, the A-Class gets an updated package of driver assistance tech with an improved lane keeping system that now has active steering control, and an assisted automatic parking system that can manage both parallel and perpendicular parking manoeuvres.

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 system only activates on out-of-town roads. It’s a little intrusive away from the motorway and is always activated 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 false-activate. Speed Limit Assist posted limits recognition is standard and works consistently well.


01 Mercedes Benz A Class RT 2023 lead cornering

Mercedes is continuing in a familiar vein when it comes to the A-Class’s price positioning. Even in mid-range trim, our A200 was several thousand pounds more expensive than its nearest equivalents from Audi, BMW and Volkswagen.

If you want Stuttgart’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 (but Mercedes’ top-level adaptive cruise control and semi-autonomous driving functions can’t be had on any A-Class). 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 vehicle – and one without the class-leading residual values it might need to easily justify that position, for which buyers need to be prepared to haggle to get a competitive deal.

Spec advice? So long as there’s still a saving to be made on your monthly finance payment, avoid AMG Line and stick with the quieter, smaller wheels and separate adjustable front-seat headrests of Sport Executive trim. But treat yourself to the A200 powertrain.

On running efficiency, it does rather better. In 2018, the pre-facelift A200 Sport we tested returned 56.7mpg on our touring economy test and a 38.8mpg average. The new A200 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 would suggest.


23 Mercedes Benz A Class RT 2023 verdict static

Five years ago, our road test of the pre-facelifted, fourth-generation Mercedes 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 Merc has made, we can credit some significant improvements.

Our test results on the new A200 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 new 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 A200’s vulnerabilities lie a shortage of ride noise isolation and only average cabin packaging, the latter easier to forgive Merc’s smallest model for than the former.

And so it features third in our class order (see below): progress for a car that’s now worth considering afresh - though, for the money, it ought to be out in front.

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.