If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em: that was clearly the instruction when Mercedes’ designers penned the A-Class of 2012-18, which we’re looking at here. So, compared with its predecessors, the new model followed a more conventional path, incorporating design cues and engineering from other Mercedes models and slotting easily into the range as an affordable base camp for newbies aspiring to plusher models or for loyalists wishing to downsize without losing face.
But be warned: there are thousands of these Mk3 A-Classes on the used car market, so if you think you’re buying into a special club, forget it. Still, that means there’s plenty of choice. Prices for the first Mk3 cars, as distinct from the facelifted versions of 2015 onwards, start at around £6000, a sum that will get you a 2013-reg A180 CDI SE – along with the later A180d, the bedrock of the range – with 110,000 miles.
Diesel and petrol engines range from 1.5 to 2.1 litres, not that you’d know from the badging. (For example, the A180 is powered by a 1.6 and the A180 CDI by a 1.5.) The diesels are noisy but efficient, the petrols smoother and quieter. This matters because sound deadening on the early models is poor.
A manual gearbox is standard on most versions but the efficient and quick-changing dual-clutch auto (DCT) is worth a go. On some engines, in particular the A180 CDI Blue Efficiency, emissions dip as low as 98g/km CO2. It means that among cars registered before 1 April 2017 are some that attract no road tax and many no more than £30. If a sporty drive is your preference, there’s the A250 AMG and, above that, the extreme A45 4Matic (from around £17,500 for a 55,000-mile 2013-reg).
Build quality on pre-facelift cars hasn’t lived up to Merc’s reputation, with interior rattles a recurring theme – and note that versions below SE ride on steel wheels. For its alloy wheels, comfort suspension, sports seats and artificial leather, SE is our pick but we also like AMG Sport, with features such as sports suspension, retuned steering and larger alloys.
The 2015 facelift brought a diamond-pattern grille, restyled bumpers and integrated exhaust pipes. Inside, it was business as usual, although fit and finish improved. These cars are good value since Mercedes reckoned it had donated extra kit worth £1100 for a price rise of just £350. A major beneficiary was SE trim, which gained a media interface, 16in alloys, a reversing camera and Mercedes’ upmarket Artico upholstery. Across the range, phone integration was improved. Meanwhile, the A180d Blue Efficiency became even cleaner and the A220d and A250 got a small hike in power.
Today, diesel A-Classes outnumber petrols by around two to one. As a result, they’re good value: a 2016-reg A220d AMG Line DCT with 40,000 miles costs £15,000, and a same-age, same-mileage A250 AMG £17,000. New, both cost around the same.
Engine Issues with diesel turbos have been reported so be sure there's no white exhaust smoke or that performance is sluggish.
Transmission On 4Matic four-wheel drive-models watch for the dashboard warning, '4matic unavailable'. At one point, replacement parts were almost impossible to source, although the situation has probably improved.
Build quality Don't assume that because it's a Mercedes, the A-class is necessarily very well built and finished. Do go over everything with a fine-tooth comb and on the test drive be sure you can live with the road noise, rattles and, on certain versions, what some owners report as sluggish performance.
Interior Check for interior rattles, possibly emanating from the centre console or, on early models, from the front seatbelt height adjusters. These were modified on later models. Check the rear load area and footwells for damp caused by water by-passing the seals of the rear cabin vent flaps located between the rear load area sides and the bumper valance.
Need to know
The 2015 facelift brought more powerful engines, with diesels now badged ‘d’ rather than ‘CDI’ as before. Most versions also gained Dynamic Select, offering a range of driving and suspension modes called Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual. Surprisingly, though, a digital radio was still an option (at a cost of £420) on most versions.
The A220 CDI was Euro 6 compliant from December 2012, the A200 CDI from March 2014. Check the car’s V5C to find its Euro number. By law, all diesels became compliant from 1 September 2015.
Mercedes A220d AMG Line Auto: The more powerful 2.1-litre diesel in the facelifted A-Class isn’t the most refined but is lusty enough. AMG Line trim looks stylish and offered the option of adaptive suspension.
Mercedes A250 AMG Auto: Positioned a rung below the hard-hitting Mercedes-AMG A45 4Matic, the 215bhp A250 is a more conventional hot hatch and capable of 0-62mph in 6.3sec. Prices start at £15,000 for a low-mileage 2015-reg example.
Ones we found
2013 A200 CDI AMG, 100,000 miles, £6790
2015 A180 CDI Sport, 77,000 miles, £10,000
2017 A160 AMG Line, 24,000 miles, £15,000
2018 A250 AMG, 36,000 miles, £17,850