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Richard Bush finds out if the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is the most desirable compact premium hatchback.
Many will be quick to jump to conclusions with luxury-branded hatchbacks - with the ever familiar 'style over substance' and 'all mouth and no trousers' idioms being whipped out without hesitation.
But can a premium hatchback really be premium? Well, it's a matter of perspective. Models like the BMW 1 Series manage to offer sports car pedigree in a small package, whereas the Audi A3 is luxurious, but clearly family-focused. So where does that leave the Mercedes-Benz A-Class?
Mercedes is a brand associated with plush interiors and superfluous amounts of trimmings, trinkets and toys. However, the previous-generation A-Class didn't quite match up to the German brand's interior excellence, with some obvious cost-cutting taking the form of a slightly uninspiring interior.
A Class-leading Interior (if specced right)
The problem with the previous A-Class was that the meticulous finishing touches Mercedes is synonymous with felt like an afterthought. It felt isolated from its bigger siblings, behind a wall of cheap interior plastics. The latest A-Class, however, is very different - provided you're willing to pay for the privilege.
The spiel from Mercedes is that the new A-Class 'borrows finishing touches from the S-Class', and it feels like it. The interior appears scaled down from a much larger, more expensive model, rather than built on a basic template with a few bits of eye-candy thrown in, a la previous-gen. Most cabin surfaces are finished in soft-touch materials - particularly waist upwards - and overall, there's a much airier, more spacious feel.
All A-Class models are fairly well-equipped, with entry-level models getting sat-nav, a reversing camera, cruise control, DAB radio and USB type C charging ports. Two seven-inch dual displays, fitted with Mercedes' new MBUX multimedia system, are fitted as standard too, however you can choose to enhance these and ultimately boost the overall feel of the interior.
Although two seven-inch screens are nothing to sneeze at, the dual 10.25 inch displays that come courtesy of the £2,395 Premium Package, help raise the A-Class' interior to saloon standards. These seamlessly-integrated screens offer brilliant graphics and allow you to properly utilise the new MBUX media system's plethora of features and slick swipe and click touchpad. The Premium pack also adds heated front seats, park assist with front and rear parking sensors, illuminated door sills and 64-colour ambient lighting.
Another noteworthy optional extra is the £495 Augmented Navigation Package, which delivers 'floating' directions, such as road names and directional arrows, via the forward facing camera on the sat-nav screen readout.
Passenger space in the rear of the A-Class is good all round, although the AMG Line's sports seats can be a little intrusive, more so with regards to claustrophobia than anything else. Head and leg room is impressive, with three passengers up to six foot being able to sit comfortably side-by-side.
Boot practicality has been enhanced with a slightly wider opening and a smidge more storage space - 380 litres with the seats up and 1,220 litres with the seats down. Unfortunately, there's no adjustable boot floor, meaning you'll have to put up with a rather large load lip, although the seats do fold relatively flat to meet the boot floor.
Good around town, great on the motorway
The A-Class shoots for comfort rather than excitement. The steering can be slow to react when taking bends at speed and although there's some jitter over uneven, pothole-riddled roads, the suspension is supple and flexible on most surfaces. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox on offer delivers smooth changes when up to speed, but can lack urgency when edging out of junctions. This, along with almost undetectable wind noise, means the A-Class feels more at home on the motorway rather than a country road.
Go for the 1.5-litre 116hp 180d diesel engine and you can enjoy wallet-friendly fuel economy too. With a mixture of town and motorway miles, you should easily hit the 55-60mpg mark - and with CO2 of 111g/km, BIK tax rates are also appealing.
Mercedes-Benz A 180d AMG Line auto P11D £28,505 CO2 111g/km MPG 67.3 Running cost (3yr/60k) 39.84ppm Key rivals Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Volkswagen Golf