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Does Mercedes' high-tech premium hatch make sense with petrol power?
MBUX multimedia system, Hey Mercedes voice recognition, sat-nav, twin 7in touchscreens, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, cruise control with variable speed limiter, two-zone automatic climate control
163hp 1.3, 224hp 2.0
SE, Sport, AMG Line
The new Mercedes A-Class is the type of car that serves as an entry point to premium motoring for fleet drivers, but this doesn't mean it's lacking in style, substance or technology. Amid continuing uncertainty over diesel, we've sampled a petrol model to see if it can make a convincing fleet case.
Small but mighty
There are two petrol engines on offer, a 2.0-litre, 224hp unit and a 1.3-litre. On the face of it, the smaller-capacity engine might appear a little inadequate but with the aid of turbocharging, it manages to produce a punchy 163hp, along with 250Nm of torque.
Under hard acceleration, the 1.3 is clearly an improvement over the 1.5-litre, 116hp diesel option, which is somewhat sluggish away from the mark. That said, the 1.3's lack of low-down grunt does mean you'll end up revving it quite hard, quite a lot of the time, and when you do, it generates a fair bit of mechanical racket.
Thankfully, the gearshifts produced by the Mercedes' seven-speed automatic transmission are far more cultured and they are pretty responsive when a quick burst of acceleration is called for.
Unlike the previous-generation car, the latest A-Class's chassis is more inclined to ride comfort than handling, which is a welcome relief given the washboard firmness of the old car.
On the vast majority of roads, the suspension feels impressively smooth and supple, and although a little agility has been sacrificed that's a compromise we're more than happy to accept, while the steering is light.
Headlining the technology features is the latest Mercedes-Benz User Experience - or MBUX - infotainment system, which is another way of saying all the car's systems are accessible via a pair of screens - one a central multimedia display and the other a digital instrument display in front of the driver.
These are controllable via the new Hey Mercedes voice activation system. Some aspects of this are undoubtedly impressive; for example, the ability to programme the sat-nav accurately just by speaking a road name and town is sure to appeal to fleet drivers who are regularly rerouted on the go. However, the system can be a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to relatively simple functions like retuning the radio. In a worst-case scenario, rather than just simply pressing a button, you can find yourself engaged in a heated argument with a computerised voice.
To be fair, if you don't fancy talking to your car, then there are plenty of other ways to operate MBUX, including a touchpad mounted on the centre console and a pair of touch controls on the steering wheel, along with using the central display as a conventional touchscreen. Add traditional physical controls for functions such as heating into the mix and this can all feel a bit overwhelming; however, most drivers will probably work out which control methods they prefer for each function and then stick with them.
A winning package?
The A-Class is available in three trims - SE, Sport and AMG Line - but on top of this Mercedes adds three optional equipment packages - Executive, Premium and Premium Plus. We tested an AMG Line Premium model, which features an upgrade of the MBUX screens to 10.25in, replacing the standard 7in units.
As you'd expect from Mercedes, the standard of interior materials is high, with a mix of good-quality plastics and soft-touch materials, and everything feels very solidly put together.
The seats are very comfortable, and there's plenty of leg and headroom in the back, meaning adults should be happy enough even over long distances. The 370-litre boot is about par for the segment.
On the subject of running costs, predictably the petrol lags behind the diesel on fuel economy (53.3mpg against 67.3mpg). However, it claws back some ground on company car tax, sitting two BIK bands lower once the 4% diesel surcharge is factored in. Consequently, for fleet drivers, the petrol A-Class could be an attractive compromise between cost and performance. That's always providing they can get their fleet manager to sign off on their petrol bills.