Mercedes A220d review: most powerful diesel A-Class tested

Another new Mercedes A-Class?

Mercedes A220d review: most powerful diesel A-Class tested

Yes – this time it’s a diesel. Remember them? Mercedes is adamant the black pump has more than a short-term future, and has invested massively in clever, clean new engines to help mop up the fuel’s satanic reputation.

So, topping the tree of diesel offerings in Merc’s family hatchback is this: the A220d. It runs a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, developing meaty numbers. You get 187bhp and a whopping 295lb ft – that’s Golf GTD-spec, performance-diesel hatch punch.

Sounds like a lot of poke.

Put it this way: the A200d, which is the next model down in the range, uses exactly the same engine, but it’s detuned by a massive 40bhp and 60lb ft. The A220d is, as a result, much quicker. It takes a second out of the identically engined A200d from 0-62mph, needing 7.1 seconds to do the job, and should you be holidaying in continental Europe via an autobahn, you’ll appreciate a top speed of 146mph, not 137mph. Chiefly, you get much more in-gear potency and the claimed economy barely suffers, at over 65mpg.

Gotcha. The A220d is the one to have, on paper.

Speaking of paper, the A220d – thanks to its warm hatch pretentions – only comes in bodykitted, sportified AMG line trim, from £31,580. Monthly payment-wise, you’d barely notice the extra versus an A200d AMG line. So there you go. Top Gear’s top tip: if you’re buying a diesel A-Class, get the quickest one.

But you haven’t told me what it’s actually like to drive yet.

Sorry. Well, there’s lots of good news. And best of all is the fact that accelerating in this A-Class no longer feels like some sort of crime against mechanical decency. The A200 is flogged along by a horribly reedy and pathetic 1.3-litre petrol, and the A180d, while more efficient, is rougher than a tequila hangover.

But the A220d uses Mercedes’s new diesel motor, codenamed OM654. It’s full of low-friction, weight-saving, high-efficiency ideas including cylinder coatings pinched from Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car, apparently. Compared to the old 2.1-litre diesel in last-gen Benzes, it’s a revelation. Prodding the throttle is no longer accompanied by a soundtrack like the engine is trying to disassemble itself using hammers, and you can, at last, outpace the rate of your own hair growing.

Is it fast, then?

Sometimes, too fast for its own traction. One of the nights I spent in the A220d was deluged with cataclysmic, biblical rain, and getting the A220d to trickle away from a red light without bonfiring its front tyres required Royal Ballet amounts of foot delicacy.

More powerful versions of the A ditch the dated seven-speed gearbox from the lesser variants and enjoy the fruits of a new eight-speed DCT. It’s much, much better than the other transmission – smoother between ratios on the way up and down the ‘box – but it still suffers from the A-Class disease of panicking when you get the car rolling and forgetting about every gear except first. Better calibration is needed.

This thing has 295 lb ft of torque – the same a Honda Civic Type R. Why so thrashy? The cure seems to be using the paddles to override the computers, hold a higher gear, and let the torque ooze you along Benz-ishly.

Can’t be healthy for the fuel economy?

Which is, of course, the reason you’d buy a diesel. Economy and range. Fortunately, the A220d gets over its off-the-line excitability quickly and uses that mountain of torque to good effect. Our test car was recording average economy of over 48mpg, which included a few inner-London commutes. Impressive stuff.

Sounds like it’s the A-Class to have!

The A-Class bills itself as a wantonly sporty piece of kit, so yep, it does make sense to stick in an engine that can cash those cheques. And one that’s quiet enough when you’re cruising that it fits the demeanour of a Mercedes-Benz. It’s much more cultured and polite.

Question is, should you have an A-Class? Good as the A220d’s powertrain is, the car it tows along remains flawed. Even with the AMG-line’s multi-link rear suspension, the ride is firm and the handling not especially engaging compared to a humble Ford Focus or the gorgeous Mazda 3, and our early experience of the new BMW 1 series suggests it’s a keener steer too.

Then there’s the tech. Yes, the screen multiplex interior looks terribly impressive and the voice assistant is one of the very best out there, but the touchpad/touchscreen-operated infotainment is palpably fiddlier than the old clickwheel version.

There are a lot of potentially cool innovations in the A-Class – the augmented reality nav, the voice assist, and more besides. It just doesn’t quite feel like they’re all working together harmoniously just yet. At least, now, there’s an engine and gearbox that are.

Specs

£31,580
1950cc 4cyl turbodiesel, 187bhp, 295lb ft
0-62mph in 7.0sec, 146mph
65.7mpg, 114g/km CO2
1520kg

6/10

Pictured: the A250 AMG Line, which looks identical to an A220d

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