Act one ends in three-act drama
WHY WE’RE RUNNING IT
To see if Merc’s Golf rival has come of age – and to try to pick the ‘perfect’ spec
By the time you read this, A-class number one of three in this series of back-to-back tests will have returned to its maker. This A180d is to be replaced by a petrolpowered A200, meaning the diesel leg of this trilogy is over and the first set of conclusions can be drawn.
What’s worth noting straight from the off is just how relevant a diesel engine of any type remains if you do big miles. When you’re doing just shy of 2000 miles a month, as we were averaging in our short stint in the car, diesel makes the best sense of all.
Our average economy figure has slipped from the 60mpg around which it had hovered in the early days. The weather has cooled and the number of shorter journeys has increased, but we’re still mightily impressed by a 55mpg average.
That will make for interesting comparison number one as we switch from our 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel to a downsized 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol in the A200. Just what will our wallets make of the switch? From previous experience, downsized petrols are some of the least impressive for real-world economy. We’ll have the calculator out over the next couple of months and let you know.
One thing I won’t miss about this A-class is the transmission. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox’s step-off is the single worst thing about the car. There is simply no go when you ask for it with your right foot, no matter how gentle or hard you are on the pedal. It takes a good second for drive to appear, which is as unimpressive as it is baffling: just how did Mercedes sign off the car like this?
It’s a shame, because for the most part the transmission makes for an easy-going counterpart to the A180d once you’re on the move. It kicks down with minimal fuss when required and offers impressive drivability in the 30-50mph acceleration bursts that are a part of everyday driving.
The seven-speed dual clutch auto also appears in the A200, so it will be intriguing to see whether the issue is one related to the transmission itself or one caused by its integration with the diesel engine.
The next big difference between this A180d and the incoming A200 is the rear suspension. Both the A180d and A200 use the torsion beam rear suspension option – unless you spec your A200 in AMG Line trim, which our car will include to add an extra element to this story.
On the standard suspension set-up and with 17in alloys in this mid-range Sport trim, the A180d rides well but not with class-leading status. There is greater sophistication in the way a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus rides. The A180d’s body control comes unstuck over higher frequency surfaces and can set the cabin shaking. Intriguingly, there were a couple of big dissenters among the Autocar staff on the way the A180d rides on this standard set-up.
The final big change we’ll be noticing is with the MBUX infotainment system. Our A180d has the dual 7in screens, one centrally for the infotainment and another for the driver’s instruments.
Others who have experienced the larger 10.25in options in other A-classes have smirked at how small it is, yet I’ve never had an issue with the graphics, legibility, size or functionality. I’m looking forward to seeing if bigger does mean better when we upgrade one of the two screens on the A200.
Diesel A-class has averaged 55mpg