Can the new Mercedes A-Class saloon really fill the mini C-Class role?
There is a new entry to the Mercedes small car family. After the A-Class hatchback went on sale earlier this year and the high-roofed B-Class MPV was revealed at the Paris Motor Show, the German firm is preparing to launch the new A-Class Saloon in 2019.
Despite being 130mm longer, the Saloon gets the same wheelbase as the hatch, as well as the same engines, the same trim structure and a similar design. It commands a premium of around £500 but gets a lidded boot, which despite offering a narrower opening, is 50 litres (420 litres) bigger.
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But it’s not only a bit more practical, it’s also a bit sleeker; Mercedes has been crafting it in the wind tunnel for so long that the drag coefficient drops to make the notchback the most streamlined production car on the market.
Ahead of the A-Class Saloon’s European launch, we were given the chance to try one of the first cars to roll out of Merc’s new facility in Mexico. This factory will serve the US market, before the maker’s Rastatt plant in Germany starts production for Europe. Long-wheelbase Chinese cars will be made in Beijing.
Since the platform and the powertrains are the same and the weight penalty is small, the Saloon drives almost exactly like the hatch. If you’re trying to pick the two apart, the biggest difference is in regard to refinement. Since the body is smoother, the wind works its way around the vehicle better, reducing drag and noise. That’s why it’s a bit quieter on board the A-Class Saloon, making it feel more like a little limousine.
Even the fancy widescreen cockpit with the MBUX infotainment system and the voice recognition is lifted almost unchanged – with the only visible difference being the 3D-generated small sedan that pops up when you switch between the car’s drive modes. It’s largely logical in its layout, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standard on all models.
While the last-generation A-Class was a hatch that compromised on comfort just to appeal to a younger generation, the new version is plusher and more mature. The Saloon will be offered with the same range of petrol and diesel engines, starting with the entry-level A 200. The most economical version is the A 180 d, while the range-topping A 250 packs 221bhp. Mercedes will also slot in an middling A 220 petrol, which is the very car we’re driving here.
In this guise, with 4MATIC all-wheel-drive (a £1,600 option) fitted, the small saloon compares favourably with the larger C-Class. It is as dynamic as its big brother and it’s just as comfortable, too. It certainly isn’t as firm as an Audi A3 Saloon or a BMW 2 Series Coupe.
The driving position is good and there’s loads of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel. Those sitting up front are spoiled with the fanciest cabin in the class – even the Audi can’t come close for quality or tech.
It’s a similarly pleasing story in the back; the Saloon appears a bit roomier than the hatch and feels a bit more relaxed from the rear seats. The roofline drops late enough not to limit headroom, and the big doors allow easy access. Furthermore, the slim pillars help offer a decent view out. But you mustn’t expect miracles: it’ll still be tight for three adults.
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