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Mercedes-Benz A180d hatchback is a well-styled, practical compact for your latest property in Europe

Understated design and interior excellence define the quality of the marque’s entry-level compact

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 May, 2017, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 May, 2017, 9:16pm

There is no question that the Mercedes-Benz A180d hatchback is a Mercedes. Its bonnet badge is big.

Beyond that badge, the latest generation A180d does not scream Mercedes, as a G-Wagen, or one of the company’s more typical big saloons do. At first, it looks an ordinary compact saloon; or a family car for small passengers. This may be a product of its being an entry level car for the company: a Mercedes-Benz for those who were just about to buy a slightly roomier Ford Focus, having assumed Mercedes was way out of their pocket. Understandably, when many people buy a Mercedes, they also want everyone else to notice the fact.

Some critics say the car is noticeable enough already; others describe its looks as “quirky”. But the shape of the car is a real grower: the profile has two lovely, light-catching convex and concave lines, raking across the front doors in parallel before the upper line fades out and the lower line lifts up over the rear arch. It is a small detail, perhaps, but beautiful. However, the model’s improved aerodynamics does limit side and rear views. Small children can expect sky views, but not much at eye level – and that reversing camera is handy.

Such lines have led the head of Ferrari-stylist Pininfarina to acknowledge the elegance of Mercedes-Benz’s cars. There is nothing flashy in the A180d. Its double exhaust is flattened and the back number plate seems sculpted into a chunky rear. The more you look, the more you find in this A-Class.

It is the same inside. The dashboard must be one of the most handsome on the market, far outclassing those of many much more expensive cars. It is a masterpiece of rationality and clarity. Key functions are grouped separately from those used less often. The air conditioning, for example is given an aluminium surround, and the satnav and media screen is high in the cabin to keep drivers’ eyes on the road. The aluminium air vents also have a retro look. While Mercedes missed – or rejected – branding opportunities to make each of these a three-pointed star, they nevertheless dominate the dashboard – and provide real visual elan.

There is a lot of hard plastic, but enough metal to save the controls from feeling too plasticky. And there is interest in the use of unbroken expanses of a chequerboard-finished matt black material that looks more hi-tech than it probably is. This car proves that it is possible to create a sense of the upmarket without lining everything with 20th-century-like acres of polished, perfectly aligned pieces of wood. Indeed, the Mercedes A180d’s interior has a refreshing lack of controls. It is essentialist.

The same, however, might be said of the A180d’s performance. Scorching the tarmac isn’t going to be an option – it potters to 100km/h in a little over 11 seconds, and its 1.5-litre engine can seem noisy and sluggish. But then that is the cost of a very decent, green economy, the best of the A cars – about 3.5 litres per 100km – and a marked improvement on the model’s earlier generations. It is also a safer and more comfortable car than its predecessors.

The A180d is still reassuring and responsive, and noticeably racier in sport mode. It is a car that needs to be considered as the sum of its parts – a class act.

It is hard to find in Hong Kong, but it could do for your trips to Europe, where it costs 28,370 in Germany. The BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 are contenders. But neither are Mercedes-Benzes, and that is probably the A180d’s biggest draw of all. This car feels a departure from the brand’s big tourers, and it gets you that three-pointed badge.