This improved version of the fourth generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class offers an even stronger proposition to buyers in the premium compact hatch segment. If you define luxury in terms of technology, you're going to like it a lot...
Want a case study in how to change brand perception? You're looking at it right here with this fourth generation Mercedes A-Class, in this case usefully updated five years on from its original launch in 2017. This car continues in its aim to make this famous marque one that more younger buyers could consider. As before, we're told to regard this A-Class as what the market calls a 'compact premium family hatchback' - in other words, a Focus or Astra-sized car with superior quality and a bit of extra badge equity. It's the kind of very profitable product that all the mainstream makers wish they could sell but which is primarily defined by this car and its two closest competitors, the Audi A3 and BMW's 1 Series. The frumpy first and second generation A-Class contenders didn't really threaten these two rivals in any meaningful way, but this car's MK3 model pre-2017-era predecessor really did. With its successor, particularly in this revised form, Mercedes has sharpened up the looks and dialled in more safety and media connectivity.
Probably the most significant change with this updated version of the MK4 A-Class is that all the mainstream petrol engines now come with the brand's 48V mild hybrid system including the usual MHEV belt-driven starter-generator: that'll give you a 13hp boost when moving off. There are now only three mainstream engines, all of them four cylinder units driving the front wheels. As before, the petrol powerplant portfolio kicks off with a 1.4-litre powerplant, offered with either 136hp (in the A 180) or 163hp (in the A 200). Both must be had with 7-speed 7G-DCT auto transmission. The alternative is the A 200 diesel, which uses a 2.0-litre powerplant in a 150hp state of tune and must be had with 8-speed 8G-DCT auto transmission. If you need a more sporting A-Class, you'll turn your attention to the two Mercedes-AMG 2.0-litre petrol turbo hot hatch variants. There's the A 35 4MATIC which gains the 48V mild hybrid system, uses an 8-speed DCT auto and offers a potent 306hp. And the un-electrified A 45 S 4MATIC+, which has 421hp and is really wild. What else do you need to know? Well the suspension is the usual torsion beam rear set-up on most models, but if you go for a Mercedes-AMG sports variant with 4MATIC AWD, you'll get a more sophisticated multi-link rear set-up. Across the range, the 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system is standard, as usual enabling you to tweak steering feel and throttle response. Some of the autonomous driving capability from larger Mercedes models has been built into this one, meaning that, in certain situations, your A-Class, if appropriately equipped, will effectively be able to drive itself on dual carriageways at cruising speeds.
As before, there's a choice of five-door hatch or saloon body shapes. And you have to look very closely to see the facelift update changes - a pair of power bulges in the low bonnet, a revised front bumper design and a smarter star-pattern radiator grille. The angular LED High Performance headlamps are also flatter. And the 'AMG Line' trim levels that almost everyone chooses get a revised rear diffuser. As before, large wheel arches house big rims (ranging from 16 to 19 inches) that sit this A-Class squarely on the road. Also as before, this MK4 design has a wide look at the rear end thanks to a heavily waisted greenhouse and at the back, there are slim, two-section tail lights. It doesn't look much different inside either, though Mercedes has updated the steering wheel (trimmed in soft Nappa leather), revised the 'comfort' seat design of more affordable models and added a standard reversing camera, along with an extra USB-C port with a higher charging capacity. More significantly, the MBUX infotainment system has been updated and can now be ordered with fingerprint sensor access. It also gains more advanced speech recognition and wireless 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. And there are three fresh screen display styles - ''Classic', 'Sporty' and 'Discreet'. Otherwise, it's as you were. Which means that you get a 10.25-inch centre-dash infotainment display which, above base trim, is joined with a 10.25-inch virtual instrument screen to create one continuous monitor, much as you get in larger Mercedes models. This fourth generation model's relatively lengthy wheelbase means decent interior space - and with the hatch, the 370-litre boot is very class-competitive too. It's 420-litres for the Saloon variant.
The A-Class costs quite a lot more than when you probably last looked. Prices in the mainstream line-up start from just under £32,000 and range up to around £42,000 and there's only a fractional premium to own the Saloon version rather than the five-door hatch. There are four mainstream trim levels - 'Sport Executive', 'AMG Line Executive', 'AMG Line Premium' and 'AMG Line Premium Plus'. This updated model now offers a wider choice of paint colours and interior trimming options. And the 'Parking Package' many customers want has been improved, now supporting longitudinal self-parking and offering a 360-degree camera system with 3D visualisation modes. And the Driver Assistance Package has been updated with better Active Steering Control. As you'd want for the money, every A-Class model comes well equipped. All variants get a 10.25-inch central touchscreen with a MBUX multimedia system featuring 'Hey Mercedes' voice activation. There's a 10.25-inch instrument cluster screen too. Plus there are 17-inch alloy wheels, Artico man-made leather upholstery, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Speed Limit Assist, LED High Performance headlights and a wireless 'phone charging mat. This improved fourth generation A-Class is of course very well connected. Navigation functions, for example, can be based on traffic feedback from so-called 'Car-to-X communication' where information gets fed in from other similarly-equipped road users. As usual, there's a dowloadable 'Mercedes Me' app that connects you into your car and can tell you things like local fuel prices or the availability of parking spaces at your destination.
Let's get to the WLTP figures. As usual with mild hybrid tech, don't get your hopes up too high for the difference it'll make: full-Hybrid and powertrains in rivals cost more for a reason (namely that unlike MHEVs, they allow the engine to run fully electrically). Anyway, the A 180 and A 200 in manual form both manage up to 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and up to 133g/km of CO2. The economy champion of course, is still the A 200d diesel variant, which in base trim manual form exhales up to 130g/km of CO2, while only drinking a gallon of fuel on the combined cycle every 57.7 miles. With respectable performance figures, it's still a tempting package - albeit one that in its standard form, forgoes the big wheels and aggressive bodykits of more dynamic-looking versions. If you plan on adding the extra features, then economy will obviously take a hit. The warranty may be an industry standard 3 years but is for unlimited miles, handy to know if you spend a lot of time on the road. Just remember that a mid-range diesel is the sensible option for high resale figures. With that in mind, something like a mid-spec A 200d model might well represent the sweet spot of the range. On the other hand, a Mercedes-AMG 4MATIC petrol variant with every option thrown at it will lose a lot more of its value over the years.
With the A-Class, Mercedes sets out to distil all that's exciting, fresh and modern about its brand into one dynamically compact premium package - and the sales figures seem to suggest that it's succeeded. More than any other model in the company's range, it's the one that's most changed the marque's image in recent years. Once, Mercedes was merely known as a purveyor of traditional luxury: today, its products champion modern luxury. As any rival brand will tell you, the difference is important. And what of this update to the fourth generation model? Well it's not especially far-reaching. But if you wanted an A-Class before, you'll probably want one even more now. Those who can afford the asking prices and like the driving experience will find this contender sporty, self-assured and possessed of a feel-good factor that really does make you feel special if you've specced your chosen variant correctly. Which is exactly what owning a car of this kind should be all about.