The ride on the A180d’s less sophisticated rear suspension was not as supple as the multi-link set-up of the A200 and A250, but neither was it deal-breakingly so. If you did short drives swapping between the two, and you didn’t know which one you were in, you might not be able to instantly tell which set-up you were on, but the torsion beam did give the car a slightly crashier ride over more abrasive surfaces, and you’d feel a touch more tired over a longer journey for being in the car. But small margins, for sure.
As 2018 became 2019, the A180d was replaced by the A200 AMG Line, with 161bhp 1.3-litre petrol turbo power. Such downsized petrol engines typically lack any real top-end performance and fare even worse in terms of real-world economy, but not so here. Remarkably, we’d see 50mpg on longer drives, and the performance was more akin to that of a cooking hatch than a lower-midrange option. This was a real sweet spot of the range, and my pick of the engines we tested.
That’s not to diminish the A250, however. The range topper until the recent arrival of the A35 AMG (itself soon to be superseded by the 415bhp A45 AMG), the 221bhp A250 had a real muscularity to its power delivery and felt not dissimilar to a Golf GTI. And yet – surprise, surprise – it still managed nearly 40mpg itself.
For me, you got as much fun in the real world in the A200, which felt usefully more nimble in its handling. On that point, the A-Class is very much Golf-like in its dynamic performance, too, with just the right blend of comfort and fun, rather than being at the sharpest end of the hatchback class with the Ford Focus.
The trio also allowed us to explore different specs and options. We started with a mid-range Sport (wanting for little), before two AMG Line models (better looking, greater dynamism) to represent the most popular A-Class trim. While there are, of course, spec differences between trims, even the most basic SE doesn’t feel cheap or poorly equipped. You can change just as much by selecting various equipment packages, such as the £1395 Executive Package that upgrades the central screen to a larger display as its main party piece. It’s an option we’d push you towards.
So just what is the ‘perfect’ A-Class? Well, it could well be one I have yet to try but which, given what our experience has taught us, I’m pretty darn sure would tick every box: an A200 with a manual gearbox and in the AMG Line trim that brings with it the multi-link rear-end, and the aforementioned Executive Package. That’ll do nicely.
As the one-time owner of an original ‘short’ A-Class, I’m delighted to see Merc’s small car do well. Buyers of affordable cars deserve the best efforts of the greatest car makers too. I liked all of these, but my favourite — easily — was the A180d, for its affordability (MBUK makes cars very easy to buy), its class, its gearbox and its fantastic economy. How can anyone object to a modern diesel like this? Beats me.
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Interior quality Nothing in the class gets close for blending visual flair with usability – and with a quality feel.
Real-world economy Petrol or diesel, powerful or not, visits to the pumps were infrequent no matter what A-Class we were in.