Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2018 review: youthfully tech forward
I spent a day with the new A200 and A180 d and it is fair to say that the new Mercs are certainly impressive.
Whilst the badge up front will be a serious selling point, this family hatchback has plenty more to offer.
Mercedes A-Class review
I remember the original A-Class landing in 1997/8. I was very tempted, but it was a car you bought with your head, not your heart. The new, lower, sleeker A-Class followed and offered different reasons for purchase. It wasn’t perfect, but it did look good on the road.
This fourth generation of Mercedes-Benz’s compact hatchback takes on an even sportier stance than its predecessor.
The bonnet is 50mm lower than the outgoing car and the roofline is also lower. Moreover, It doesn’t bear any resemblance to the MPV-styling of the A-Class Mk1 at all.
Additionally, it sits on a totally revised platform and boasts a new interior, tech and engines.
Inside is a new story too. Every model has dual digital displays, one being multitouch enabled but both can be customised and controlled using steering wheel-mounted sensors. That’s all very neat, but it’s the tech powering these screens that really impresses.
Mercedes A-Class MBUX
Mercedes is pretty pleased with itself for installing MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Experience) in to the premium family hatchback. Rightly so too, as they tell me that it’s more technologically advanced than their S-Class flagship. Impressive stuff considering the latter starts at £72,000 – more than double the cost of the £25,800 A-Class.
The elongated Nvidia Tegra X2-powered dual 7-inch displays (cockpit and dashboard) come as standard. You also get the option to add one, or two, 10.25-inch screens. The displays are lag-free and vibrant. The screens housed behind a seamless and slender glass front were developed with LG rather than sourcing them from motoring display makers, as usual. This certainly brings more of a familiar consumer experience to anyone with a smartphone or tablet.
I really like the navigation system. Here you are able to pinch to zoom and manipulate the 3D map to make it easier to see where you’re going.
Standout features includes the added augmented-reality tech that overlays images from the car’s camera with direction arrows, street names and house numbers. It activates as you approach junctions and proved surprisingly useful on the test route that was programmed in to the system for me. You know how the UK loves roundabouts.
The 3D mapping is provided by renown online map experts, HERE. The 3D view is my favourite and, again, you are able to rotate, zoom, and drag the map around using MBUX’s slick multi-touch tech.
Also, tapping into the settings menu can bring up a 3D model of your car. Here you can control the headlights by tapping on the relevant icon and adjusting the settings accordingly. Not only does this look great, but it is totally intuitive to use. No more the multi-layered menus of old found on other cars.
Alexa meets K.I.T.T; becomes Christina
Thanks to Nuance’s voice recognition software, dubbed Linguatronic in the Merc, you can ask the platform’s AI assistant, called Christina, to help you out.
It can give you directions, play music and even change the temperature. Just say “Hey Mercedes, I’m cold” and the AI assistant will increase the in-car temperature. Christina will also tell you what the temperature is outside, or where best to grab a coffee. I am also told that there will be some ‘Easter Eggs’ coming soon too, for a bit of fun. Expect witty replies to “Hey Mercedes, tell me a joke” and Christina’s opinions of another German car brand.
Mercedes me connect
With the multimedia system MBUX, there’s new Mercedes me connect services. These are integrated into the MBUX display and accessed via the Mercedes me tiles. Mercedes me enables you to link your car with your Mercedes me account via a QR code. Here you can check the status of your services, all while sitting in your car.
The services include the navigation functions on the basis of Car-to-X Communication (information from vehicle to vehicle on events recorded by sensors, e.g. emergency braking, ESP intervention, or a manual system message by the driver, e.g. on an accident). Additionally, there is Vehicle Tracking, which makes it easier to find your parked car. It will also let you know if your parked car has been bumped or, heaven forbid, towed away.
In-Car Office allows access to important data and use of certain office functions directly in the vehicle, including easy participation in telephone conferences (without having to search for dial-up information). Appointments can be displayed and read aloud.
Mercedes A-Class performance
All variants have air-conditioning, DAB radio and alloy rims. The size of the latter is dependent on spec – Sport comes with 17-inch wheels, for instance, while the AMG gets the slightly larger 18-inch rims. Of course, much like every new car on the market, there are various packages you can choose from to fit your individual requirements.
Here you’ll find soft leather seats, a lovely sports steering wheel, and very retro-futurist vent grilles on the dashboard. Granted, older Merc fans will mourn the lack of wood and chrome, but this is part of why Mercedes has approached the A-Class differently. They are looking for a younger, or young at heart, audience here. From what I gather, the outgoing model succeeded in this somewhat, and brought the average Mercedes owner’s age down. I dare say that this new version will continue the trend.
I hear that Mercedes is planning to launch a cheaper A180 petrol variant in the Autumn for the UK. Next year, we should see a couple more powerful diesel variants (A200 d and A220 d) too. All engines are mated to a seven-speed automatic gearbox. For stick-shifters, you will be happy to know that manual models are due to come in at the end of this year.
The routes given to me took in single track roads as well as Motorways, A-Roads and B-Roads. All these were interspersed by quintessentially English villages.
I found the cars to be comfortable to drive around the twisty-turnies. The cars have a light, yet well-balanced feel. Both felt sure-footed but perhaps lacked the thrills of something sportier. Neither were slouches mind, but adrenaline junkies should perhaps look elsewhere for a more engaging ride. However, this is not a fault of the design nor engineering. Mercedes intended the A-Class to give you a comfortable ride that will eat up those motorway miles. I can attest that it does this with aplomb. Moreover, at a fair rate of knots if you take your eyes off the speedometer.
The diesel is much slower off the line than the petrol, but the 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel can return up to 68.9 mpg. It was showing 56.9 mpg thanks to my enthusiastic driving in sports mode. It can hit 62 mph in 10.5 seconds from standing.
The 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol was much more eager. It has a 0-62 mph time of 8 seconds and will run up to 139 mph. It does need a heavy foot to get it going but it doesn’t actually sound like it enjoys that very much.
I didn’t get to play with the A250 but this model shaves a couple of seconds off the 0-62 time of the A200 and has legs up to 155 mph thanks to its 2.0-litre lump.
It is certainly a nice place to be and even the rear passengers look to be well appointed.
I reckon I could get my bass gear to rehearsals without issue and perhaps even give my guitarist a lift with the rear seats folded down for his rig. The weekly shop shouldn’t be a problem, nor a set of golf sticks and the likes.
Plus points to Mercedes-Benz for fitting the car with USB-C ports. We were handed adapters but, as I am currently rocking an Honor 10, it was perfect as is.
Bluetooth connection to the phone was also seamless. I even received a call whilst on one of my test runs and, again, I was able to take and end the call without issue, or prior training. The call was clear and they didn’t seem to have any difficulty in hearing my Northern dulcet tones.
Regarding music, I was told that Tidal integration could well be on its way. Great news for those of us that enjoy streamed high resolution music. As it stands, the infotainment system will read metadata from music stored on USB – I am assuming this will be the same for music stored on drives and phones too.
Mercedes A-Class review conclusion
The MBUX interface will certainly give you bragging rights in the pub. Furthermore, this eye-catching slab of tech is ultra-responsive. I am truly impressed by Mercedes’ approach and implementation on this side of things. The overall fluidity is excellent. Also, Christina deserves a mention too. As with all voice activated AIs, the more you chat with her, the better she will become. Additionally, as this is just the first installation, we can expect more skills being added down the line.
The car itself has a more purposeful stance than the outgoing model. It handles well, but not particularly in a way that will have you chucking it in to corners. However, its light feel and comfortable, well-appointed cabin will have you reaching your destination relaxed. However, it would be good if the same option of adaptive dampers available on the German A250 was offered over here, too.
I love the styling and there is a good amount of room inside. The fit and finish of the interior is arguably the best in its class. I can see it setting a definite benchmark, not only for the class but, perhaps, classes above too. I have heard whispers that BMW has delayed its new 1 Series, I think I may know why now.
Price and availability
The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class starts at £25,800 for entry-level A 180 d SE. The three engine types in three trim levels are available to buy now with the first cars arriving this month in the UK.
The sedan version was also unveiled recently but I couldn’t get a firm date or confirmation as to if and when it will make it over to the UK. There are plans for an AMG A45 version of the new A-Class but, again, people were being tight-lipped about it.