2018 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Review
Paul Horrell’s 2018 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL Mercedes compact hatch makes a splash with new screen-based information, connectivity and infotainment. But the rest of the car’s not much of an advance.
2018 Mercedes-Benz A-Class (European spec)
Price $NA + orc Warranty 3 years/unlimited km Engines (A200) 1.3l turbo 4cyl petrol Power 120kW at 5500rpm Torque 250Nm at 1620rpm; (A250) 2.0l turbo 4cyl petrol Power 165kW at 5500rpm Torque 350Nm at 1800rpm; (A180d) 1.5l turbo 4cyl diesel Power 85kW at 4000rpm Torque 260Nm at 1750-2500rpm Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch auto Drive front-wheel drive Body 4419mm (l); 1796mm (w exc mirrors); NAmm (w inc mirrors); 1440mm (h) Turning circle 11.0m Kerb weight 1365-1455kg Seats 5 Fuel tank 43 litres Spare No Thirst 5.6, 6.5, 4.5 l/100km combined cycle Fuel Petrol, petrol, diesel
THE OUTGOING Mercedes A-class sold in big numbers around the world, despite being the most expensive compact hatch. So this time around, while they have invested in an all-new platform, they have’t fundamentally changed the cut of its jib.
But one thing does give it a very fresh feel, the new cockpit and control system. They call it MBUX, for Mercedes-Benz User Experience. Every A-class gets two screen as standard, one for the driver and one in the centre dash, and as you ascend the range the two screens grow in size until they meet in an apparently jointless single panel across most of the dash. Yeah, we’ve had screen-based systems before, but this one also closely integrates voice-activation and better touchpad and touchscreen ergonomics than any previous Mercedes. It’s also claimed to be able to learn your habits.
Meanwhile, the engines are new too. The smaller ones, a 1.3-litre petrol in the A200, and a 1.5 diesel in the A180d, are based on engines jointly designed with Renault and Nissan.
All launch versions get seven-speed DCT gearboxes and front-drive. All-wheel drive, manuals, and other engines will follow.
Top of the tree will be an AMG version with a brand-new engine kicking out a drastic 300kW or so. In a car the size of a Corolla. Yeah, we know.
Although the wheelbase is longer than in the old car’s, much of the stretch goes into the engine room, partly for crash safety say the engineers. So there’s little more passenger leg space, although rear seat headroom is better and the boot has grown usefully.
What’s the interior like?
Car makers seldom want photos in road-tests to be of the basic models. So the A-Classes on this test event all had the widescreen option. This means a 10.25-inch touchscreen taking centre stage, and another display screen for the driver. These two lie behind a single panel, so the impression is of well over half a metre of uninterrupted hi-res animated graphics taking hegemony over the dash.
But not everything is controlled that way. Hardware keys remain for the basic climate control functions, and very nice clicky chromed ones they are too. Headlamps, electric windows and seats (if they’re electric) get real switchgear as well. Then there’s the smart-looking finger-friendly touchpad controller in the centre console – the passenger or driver can use this to work the central screen, if they’d rather not leave greasy fingermarks on the touchscreen glass.
Not to mention the driver gets extremely comprehensive control via a pair of steering-wheel touchpads. Anyone in the car can use voice activation, for which Mercedes makes high claims. We’ll look at that in the infotainment section. By the way, because anyone in the car can use the voice dialogues, that system doesn’t cover safety-critical settings. You don’t want your kiddies switching off the ESP from the back seat.
By shifting the controls onto the screens, Mercedes has been able to build a cabin the looks modern and spare. Most it is beautifully built too, using smart materials, fitted together with precision. The only let-down is the flimsy-feeling column stalks – left-hand for the indicators and wipers, right for the transmission selection. A real pity, since you use them so often.
The front seats seem pretty flat to begin with, but as the hours pass you realise they’re supporting you well – that’s the usual Mercedes way. The back bench isn’t so good – headroom and visibility are both improved against the old A-class, but foot space is cramped. At least there’s a pair of air vents.
The sort of clobber you accumulate in a car has lots of homes. Door bins are big, and there’s a centre box, and nets behind the front seats. Three USB ports are dotted around the cabin, tellingly two of them in the back. They’re the new USB-C type, but adapters to the old USB are commonly available.
The boot is deeper fore-aft than before and has a wider opening, and the back bench folds 40:20:40.
What’s the infotainment like?
The base car has a pair of seven-inch screens, but they don’t lack function. Standard on all cars is high-definition traffic information if it’s available in your area, and the connected voice-recognition system.
For the voice part, the car uses a combination of both in-car recognition (for when there’s no data signal) and cloud-based recognition (which is more capable). The engineers told us they asked thousands of people what they’d say, to get the car to do something. Idea is the car can understand what you want, whether you say ‘Navigate me to the nearest cafe’ or just ‘I want a coffee,’ or dozens of other formulations. We tried it with ‘When do we get there?’ and it produced the ETA, and ‘Take me to to the xxxxx hotel’ which successfully set a navigation destination. But it wasn’t so brilliant with accents.
Mostly though, we feel ridiculous talking to a car, especially when there are passengers. You’ve got to tell them to be quiet (or stop laughing if the tech fails) and interrupt the music or radio. So while it’s useful for destination input and maybe dictating text messages whe you’re alone in the car, silent interaction is better isn’t it?
Fortunately the Mercedes has lots of other means of command – touch-screen, touchpad, steering wheel. The screen glass, by the way, is impressively high in contrast and free of reflections.
MBUX is quick-responding, plain attractive and highly configurable. So much so that it can be a distraction. Get used to it parked on your drive, not on the road please.
You can make aspects of the system – nav, the basic instruments, stereo – bigger or smaller, and move them around the display. Then you can save the layout as a theme, so you can switch between. So you might have one for the commute that gives prominence to the traffic map, and another for late-night drives that shows the music, and another for highways that emphasises driver assist.
It’s also supposed to be ‘learning’, so if you go on a particular trip at certain times of the week, or listen to a particular radio show, it’ll pre-load the destination or station, so you just have to affirm that’s what you want.
The operating system’s menus are made pleasant and easy to navigate thanks to lots of clear icons and graphics. That said, a few hours is never enough to uncover all the wrinkles of such systems. We’ll need more exposure to be sure.
Still, if you don’t get on with it, there’s an optional phone package that gives Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an app-based door locking system and an inductive charge pad.
Stereo quality is perfectly decent too, at least with the optional mid-range setup we sampled.
What’s it like on the road?
It’s built for comfort and relaxed progress. The most impressive thing is the supple and quiet suspension. It eases your way over urban potholes or ridged concrete highways with little commotion.
As for corners, they’re taken with a game honesty. The car will do nothing to surprise you, but not a lot to engage you either. The steering is a bit gluey.
If you’re in the A200 or A180d, that’s a good setup. There’d be no point in having a sports chassis, because the engines lack enthusiasm. The A200 has decent performance – 0-100 occupies just 8.0 seconds – but it’s boomy at 4000rpm and gets thrashy at high revs. The diesel is refined for a diesel, but woefully slow for an expensive hatch.
Meanwhile the A250 does have a better-sorted engine, and not-quite-hot-hatch performance. We tried one with 18-inch wheels in the AMG Line pack, and optional adaptive dampers. Set in its sports position the chassis offered a competitive extra dose of precision. Only thing is, those dampers aren’t a confirmed option for the Oz market (they’re denied the RHD British, for instance).
The DCT transmissions are smooth, and you can over-ride them with paddle shifters that don’t have the annoying delay of the shifters on many bigger Mercedes.
At a cruise, the low tyre, wind and engine noise (in all specs) makes things nicely relaxed.
What about safety features?
There’s no independent crash test yet. But then, if any company has done more than Mercedes to advance road safety over the decades, we’re struggling to name it. So it’s a reasonable bet that it’ll perform OK. But a bet isn’t as good an a fact, so let’s wait until NCAP does its thing.
The airbag count is two frontal, a knee-bag for the driver, side-bags at the front – optional in the rear – and window-bags all-round. All the belts except the centre-rear have force limiters and pre-tensioners.
There are two rear i-Size points (that’s the international successor to ISOFIX). In the front seat, the airbag is deactivated automatically if a rear-facing child seat is fitted. It doesn’t need a transponder – the seat detects the pressure of the baby seat.
Standard driver-assist includes lane departure warning. The collision mitigation and autonomous braking system recognises vehicles, walkers and cyclists. An active pop-up bonnet should protect these vulnerable people if the car does hit them.
A more advanced optional driver-assist pack includes what’s close to level-two autonomous highway driving: lane centring and vehicle-following even when the white lines aren’t clear. Mercedes says this is the same suite of functions and sensors as the S-class.
So, what do we think?
There’s a lot of promise in the new A-class, thanks to its comfy suspension and clever driver interface. It looks good and it’s well-made too. But a lot rests on pricing, and on the later engines. At the start, the A200 and A180d are unimpressive to drive. Only the A250 is really much fun. Still, the only insoluble issue is the rear-seat room, and to be frank most buyers won’t care as this isn’t used as a family car.
Mercedes asks more money than others for its compact hatch, and in some ways – at least in these launch specs – it’s not delivering comprehensively more.