We’ve tried the auto’ in several petrol and diesel versions, and found a hesitancy in it, particularly at step-off and low speeds, as well as a wider lack of intuitiveness when you’re looking for a quick burst of acceleration. It’s probably the one major black mark about what is otherwise an excellent well-rounded family hatchback.
So it’s a relief that the manual makes the car so much more drivable across so much more of the rev range. A good transmission will just slip into the background experience of driving, and give you an unconscious enjoyment when doing so, and this gearbox does just that.
The shift is slick, the integration with the engine seamless and the low-speed hesitancy of the auto’ all gone. It’s the transmission we’d now recommend when speccing your A-Class.
There’s plenty to recommend about this engine, too. It feels in no way a poor relation in the range, with more urgency and a wider band of use than its diminutive capacity suggests. It's as much performance as you'll tend to need in everyday driving, without ever getting your pulse racing.
The engine and gearbox can’t of course solve some of the choppiness of the low-speed ride, even on 16in alloys and tyres with plenty of sidewall (205/60) that SE trim brings. Shame, as the A-Class oozes sophistication almost everywhere else, from its precise and agile handling, pleasing steering feel and, of course, that interior. Multi-link rear-end-equipped versions of the A-Class higher up the range (this one gets a torsion beam) handle with even greater agility, and do ride a bit better across all speeds, too.
This is an interior that, even in this entry-level SE trim, feels a bit special in the class. You still get two colour screens, one for the driver’s information, and another for infotainment that’s packed with features including navigation and voice recognition software as standard. There’s a real richness to the materials and design, too, and the driving position and general control layout is excellent; you’re not left with any big blank gaps where buttons should be.
SE trim also brings with it some active safety assistance systems, such as braking and lane-keeping. In fact, there was not a single option fitted to our test car, making it a true representation of the A-Class in its purest form, and jolly impressive it is with it. There’s nothing to hide here.