Mercedes-Benz A-Class: Doesn’t Do Corners

Mercedes A Class
I took my Audi A4 into the dealership today for it’s service, and with nothing seemingly wrong with it I thought it would be a straight forward in and out job. I told the smartly dressed service manager that I would be back at 4.30pm to collect the car. As I need a car to do my job though, the boss gave me his wife’s Mercedes for the day. I was hoping for the boss’s Audi A4, but he likes it too much to be parted from it for more than a couple of hours. So the Mercedes A-Class it was…

Well, it’s pretty darn ugly. I know looks are subjective; what is beautiful to one person is hideous to another. But to me, the A-Class looks like it was designed by a team of monkeys after a week-long drugs and alcohol bender. The aesthetics could be ignored though, if the car proved to be functional and well-handling. In others words, if all the other boxes are ticked, then all of a sudden the way it looks doesn’t seem quite so important. Fiat Multipla, anyone?

In terms of practicality, well, I wouldn’t know as only I am ever in my car, and I rarely have to transport a lot of things around. My Audi is far too big for one person, but it is a nice car so through the logic of my brain, it is perfectly reasonable to drive such a thing. So in all honesty I haven’t opened the boot yet, and probably won’t either. Rear leg room looks good though, and it is fairly spacious inside the cabin. Not quite as spacious as the Honda Jazz I used to drive, but still good.

The seating position is very high, and I found it odd having to look down to see in the wing mirrors. I kept glancing left and right and wondering where the mirror was. And it is very odd driving a short car again – cars in the rear-view mirror appeared to be on top of me; something I haven’t felt since driving the Jazz. Of course, I do remember the opposite feeling when I first sat in the longer Audi.

The Mercedes I had today was a petrol 1.4l, I think. And it was a manual. It had absolutely no guts to it whatsoever. I’m sure my old Honda 1.4l was quicker; it certainly seemed a bit nippier any way. The gearbox was cheap, that was instantly obvious, and the gear stick feels like it is in the wrong position. Everything in the cabin seems to be leaning forwards. The seating position made me feel like I was looking ever so slightly down, and the gear stick – I swear – was leaning forwards. So when I first looked at it, I thought it had been left in third gear. A quick wiggle of the gear stick proved me wrong, but every time I came to a set of lights or a junction and I knocked it out of gear, I really had to think before releasing the clutch as my left hand felt like it was still in a gear.

Of course, the A-Class is designed to be a city car, so the steering is super light. In fact, it feels as though the steering isn’t weighted at all, and going around corners feels unnaturally easy. Visibility out of it is good though, even if the windscreen wipers mess with my eyes (they pivot in the corners and move symmetrically, rather than the classic parallel movement).

The interior materials seem a little cheap, but they are okay. The steering wheel seems to be of a smaller diameter (as in the grip, not the actual overall size), and it is very hard with little comfort – I wouldn’t want to make a long journey in it. The model I was driving had air-con and bluetooth for my mobile phone. Oh, and it does that weird thing of locking the doors once you get to 5mph. I still find that slightly disturbing, usually as a passenger in my boss’s car.

The oddest thing about my experience today was actually something that is not strictly associated with the car itself. It was more to do with my own mind…

I haven’t driven a petrol manual car in about 4 years. Well, I have, but that was an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, so that’s not quite the same. But today, I had to drive a petrol manual, and it felt very odd. I am so used to a diesel now, my mind had trouble adjusting to a different way of driving. I completely forgot about the clutch and almost stalled it as I moved it forward out of the garage. Thankfully I caught it and saved myself some embarrassment, but I will admit, it was close.

Diesel cars are much easier on the clutch, and to be frank, if you stall a diesel then, well, you should probably re-take your test. Anyway, so I’m being very careful on the clutch, and quite liberal with the throttle, but despite my efforts, it was still very hard to judge the biting point. Added to the fact that this petrol 1.4l was very quiet, I had to concentrate a lot more while driving it. And of course, being a diesel driver, I kept down-shifting from fourth to third every time my speed dropped below 30mph* – something I pretty much have to do in the Audi, but not always necessary in the Mercedes.

And no, the Mercedes A-Class doesn’t do corners very well. It is very tall, has a short wheel-base and the suspension travel is considerable. I remember when I first saw video footage of the A-Class many years ago when it was launched, which showed one being put through its paces. The driver was weaving along a slalom of cones at relatively high speed. The thing pitched down and rolled over. I’m sure this issue has been corrected, but I did put the A-Class into a corner just to get a feel of what it would do. It didn’t come even close to anything scary, but it still doesn’t do corners. It made itself very clear that it wasn’t happy, and that was enough for me to back off.

So what’s my overall impression of the A-Class? Well, I know what my boss is paying for it each month, and at that amount, it is exceedingly good value. However, if I was ever offered a Mercedes A-Class or a Honda Jazz, I’d take the Japanese option. Every single time.

And so this evening my little test drive of the Mercedes came to a close and I called the dealership to see if everything was going okay with the Audi…

Erm, it has the beginnings of a transmission problem and needs to be kept in until Wednesday while they fix it. Admittedly, it is now over 6 years old and has clocked up 120k miles, so I guess it was about time something went wrong. So I get the pleasure of driving the A-Class for another couple of days.

Just remember Ollie: more throttle and less clutch. It’s not a super-torquey diesel, it’s a piddly little petrol.

*I usually go by the sound of the engine actually, or worse case, the tachometer. But I can’t remember the rev-count figure so I quoted a speed. It’s sort of about there *Ollie points to something imaginary in front of him* on the tachometer.