Motoring: In A-Class of its own

Futuristic and fun or a space-age shopping trolley? We put the Mercedes A-Class to the test.

ou need only flick through the handbook for its new A-Class to realise that Mercedes is more than a little sensitive about safety. I counted no fewer than 43 little, red "Risk of Injury" triangles in one of its eight (count 'em) instruction booklets - apparently even the floor mats can do you a mischief if you're not careful.

Mercedes is, of course, quite right to be jittery. When a Swedish car magazine tested the original version of the A-Class by flinging a dummy elk at it, humiliatingly it rolled over and cost Mercedes tens of millions of pounds to rectify the fault. But now it has, and this lower, stockier estate-come-saloon-come-funky-van-come-MPV-come-whatever is a pretty fine car. And even a hurricane, or Geoff Capes with a bunch of elks cheering from the sidelines, couldn't turn it over.

Amazingly, at 3.57 metres long, the A-Class is shorter than a Ford Ka, but it seats five people in reasonable comfort due to the fact that its engine is located under the floor.

Most new cars are easy to drive, but the A-Class is, I think, one of the easiest. You sit up high, so visibility is great, and all the controls are light without being flimsy. It'll cruise without stress at 90mph and, in an effort to sort out that elk problem, Mercedes has loaded it up with more acronyms than a Harley Street quack. It boasts ABS, BAS, ASR and something called ESP. Even the nodding dog gets an airbag. That engine location also means that, in the event of an accident, passengers rise above the wreckage instead of finding themselves with an internal combustion engine on their laps. This is now one of the safest small cars in the world, but it still looks exciting and futuristic - like a prop from Blade Runner.

One unfortunate side effect of the new suspension is a firm ride; if you travel in the rear you tend to bounce around as if you're in the back of a National Express coach. And while we're at it, Mercedes promotes the A-Class as having "Big car quality in a small car" - unfortunately the "big car" in question isn't a Mercedes, it's more of a Nissan Primera. Though I don't doubt its mechanical integrity, quality is not what it should be inside the A-Class. As one of our testers remarked, the dash looks like it's been made from the same plastic they use for supermarket egg boxes. I wonder how the Mercedes S-Class owner, pounds 100,000 down on their new purchase, is going to feel when they see one of these diddy space-age shopping trolleys with exactly the same three-pointed star on its grille roller-skate by on the motorway?

Prices range from pounds 14,500 to the astonishing pounds 20,140 you would pay for the 1.6-litre automatic with all the trimmings that we tried. That's two Ford Kas! At that sort of altitude you'll have Audi, BMW, and Saab salesmen pressing their noses up against the glass. Whether or not the Mercedes salesman still has your attention will depend on whether you rate brand identity and design innovation above value for money. Mercedes has bet many hundreds of millions of pounds that you will

The verdict

Richard Maskell, 34, international sales manager, Karen Maskell, 35, cabin service director, Bethany Maskell, 4, from Shepperton, Surrey. Currently drive a Mercedes C180 estate and Fiat Punto

Richard: "I really admire the build quality of Mercedes. I've also been really impressed by the standard of service you get from dealers. I'm not worried by the safety problems they had with this as I'm sure they've thoroughly tested it by now, but it's a bit plasticky inside. I'd go for the manual."

Karen: "It feels more like a Renault than a Mercedes inside. The boot is really small and the rear seat will only really take two child seats. Overall I think it's a bit claustrophobic and really ugly. I think I'll keep my Punto."

Andrew Philpott, 30, manager of a computer network security company, Paula Philpott, 35, purser on Concorde, from Weybridge, Surrey. Currently drive an Alfa GTV and Citroen Saxo

Andrew: "I can't see Mercedes letting the problems with this happen again so that wouldn't put me off. It is very easy to drive but I wouldn't have an automatic - you have to wait too long before it changes gear. It's great that you can remove all the seats to use it as a van, but where do you put them once you've taken them out? I don't think the quality really says Mercedes." Paula: "There's not much room in the back and it's funny looking, like a big insect, a bit Space 1999." The plastic inside looks cheap - my Citroen's interior is better than this. If you removed the badges you wouldn't know it was a Mercedes. On top of all that, its overpriced."

Jeremy Gray, 30, head of a Housing Association hostel, from Belfast; Theresa Zlonkiewicz, 32, senior care worker at Shelter, from Derby. Currently car-less

Jeremy: "It feels very jerky when it changes gear. It doesn't feel that stable to start with and a friend told me that these topple over. It's not my image of a Mercedes at all, it feels more part of the Mazda or Citroen market. It is spacious, easy to park and comfortable, and stability worries drift off as you drive along. It looks superb, especially the lights, but doesn't look quite so good at the back. With those removable seats it'd be a good booze-cruise car!"

Theresa: "I would feel worried about rolling over from what I've heard. I don't like the shape of it, it looks like something from The Jetsons."

Elizabeth Ballantyne, 26, marketing executive from Egham, Surrey; Michael Ormond, 30, technical support manager, from Glasgow. Currently drive a Renault 5 and VW Golf VR6

Elizabeth: "I would expect this to be driven by posh ladies whose husbands have bought them a little Mercedes to match their own. The falling over problem wouldn't worry me now. You sit quite high up, which I like and it's very easy and smooth to drive. It grows on you."

Michael: "I know a couple of Mercedes owners who detest the idea that Mercedes has made a little car like this, it's devalued the brand - this could be a bargain second-hand in a year or two's time. From looking at it, you'd think it was a Nissan. The ride isn't that good, you feel the bumps in the back especially, and it's not the smoothest auto change I've come across. It's just not for me."

Road test If you would like to take part in a test drive, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam