By Andy Enright
The latest Mercedes-Benz A Class has become something very sporty and desirable but it wasn't always like that. There is a whole generation of customers who still remembers the A-Class as the car that failed the 'elk test', while others bemoan the fact that it dragged the brand downmarket into a sector it had no experience nor talent for exploiting. The latter point certainly has some validity to it and it's due to this perceived failure to dominate that Mercedes has subtly shifted this car back upmarket into a bracket in which it feels a little more comfortable.
The model we look at here was Mercedes' last throw of the dice for the 'W169' model as it was called internally. This car had been on sale since early 2005 in the UK but we're specifically looking at the post 2008 car which received a raft of improvements. As with any car that's moving towards the end of its life cycle, this version of the A-Class had much of its faults ironed out and more equipment built in, making it a decent used buy.
The facelift that was visited upon the A-Class in 2008 was relatively modest. Exterior revisions were reasonably subtle, with new lights and bumpers at the front and rear, a redesigned radiator grille and a choice of revised alloy wheel designs. Minor details such as side rubbing strips were changed depending on the trim level. Inside there were updated fabrics and fascia inserts to correspond to revised trim levels.
The range was heavily rationalised, with the focus being devoted to the smaller, more economical engines. Out went vehicles like the A200 Turbo and in came just two petrol options - the A150 with its 1.5-litre 95bhp unit and the A170 with its 1.7-litre lump producing 116bhp. The diesel engines were more vocal than the refined petrol units but had extra strength at low revs for launching the A-Class about town. The A160 CDI was an 82bhp 2.0-litre unit while the A180 CDI had that same capacity and 109bhp. Mercedes introduced a package of eco-friendly BlueEfficiency tweaks across the range to try and rival BMWs EfficientDynamics package. This led to improved fuel consumption figures and lower emissions on all models. The A170 was shelved in 2009 with Mercedes increasingly focused on the diesel-engined models. The three-door cars were also quietly disappeared.
The car was pensioned off with the arrival of the third generation A-Class, which made its debut at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, arriving in dealers the following summer.
What You Get
Rather belatedly, Mercedes realised that the A-Class made a nigh-on perfect platform to showcase its environmental credentials and this improved post-2008 model incorporates a number of fuel-saving tweaks and emissions-reducing technology that not only saves money but will make its owner feel a little less guilty. Under emergency braking from a speed exceeding 30mph, the brake lights flash rapidly to warn following traffic, enabling drivers to respond quicker and prevent a collision. Also introduced was Hill Start Assist, which prevents the A-Class from rolling backwards when the driver moves from the brake pedal to the accelerator when moving off on an uphill gradient.
The car is more comfortable as a result of the facelift initiative's new interior materials, with improved adjustment and support in the seats. All models got new infotainment systems with Bluetooth connectivity and the A-Class remained an inspired piece of packaging. We can think of no other car that measures less than four metres which offers as much space inside as the A-Class - and this, remember, is a vehicle that predated the whole compact MPV boom. The rear seats don't slide but they do flip forwards to reveal a long flat floor and the Easy Vario Plus system allows the cushion of the rear seat to be secreted under the boot floor. Not only is there adequate space for four adults, but the A-Class manages this trick and still offers 435-litres of boot space. That's more than is offered by a much bigger family hatch like a Ford Focus. The interior design of the A-Class is also much more in line with bigger Mercedes models. Those who remember the low-rent plastics of the original car will appreciate the improved feel.
What to Look For
A full Mercedes dealer service history is essential, especially for the most recent models whose lengthy warranty "effectively for the life of the car" is dependent on proper servicing by an authorised agent. Check that all the accessories work and watch out for cosmetic damage which can be expensive to correct. These are popular family cars, so check for wear and tear in the rear. Also look for the usual signs of wheel kerbing, car park scrapes and poorly repaired accident damage. The A-Class has proven a reliable vehicle and the mature ownership profile usually means a well looked after vehicle.
(approx based on A150) Budget around £55 for a set of front brake pads and £35 for the rear and about £175 (excluding catalyst) for a factory exhaust system. A full clutch replacement would cost around £195, a radiator is about £145 whilst a starter motor can be up to £250. A new alternator would be in the region of £495.
On the Road
Some big changes took place under the bonnet at the 2008 facelift, with a start-stop fuel saving system offered on the two petrol engines. Fuel consumption was reduced across the range even without it. Parktronic, an automated parking system, was also available as an option. This generation A-Class was never much of a driver's tool and it's at its happiest when doing undemanding stuff.
The 94bhp A150 opens proceedings, with the 114bhp A170 offering useful extra urge. Diesel customers are catered for with the 81bhp A160CDI and the 108bhp A180 CDI. Mercedes appears to have given up trying to sell us rapid turbocharged A-Class models, instead concentrating on more sensible fare. It's probably just as well. For all of its many qualities, the ride is choppy and the steering lifeless. This car's priorities lie in other areas.
Mercedes worked and worked to try to turn this second generation A-Class into something genuinely desirable but never really succeeded. This last-of-the-line facelifted post-2008 model was polished in some areas but still a little unresolved in others, most notably driving dynamics. If you're not too bothered about how a car goes round a corner or tackles a pothole, the A-Class might well appeal. It became very well equipped and admirably economical. Reliable too. As a used buy it gets a solid recommendation, but there are better all-rounders out there.