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Used Mercedes-Benz A-Class review: 1998-2009

Mercedes-Benz A-Class was discontinued in Australia in 2009 as the B-Class was stealing so many sales from it.
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When Mercedes-Benz decided to enter the small-car scene in 1997 it threw away just about every pre-conceived design idea. The result was an exceptionally practical car that’s easy to drive and park. 

While the stubby 3.6 metre long car was a huge hit in Europe - where parking is feral in the cities - parking in tiny spots isn’t the norm in Australia so the A-Class didn’t sell as well as anticipated. Those who did buy it loved the styling and the fact it was something right out of the ordinary.

Many A-Classes were bought by families who already had a Merc (or two) in the garage, so may have done little work and be in excellent condition on the used-car market. Interior space in the original A-Class is good unless the front seats are set all the way rearwards, then the back is really only suited to children.

An extended-wheelbase version arrived in September 2001 and has far more rear legroom, indeed there’s more leg space back there than in most large family cars. Headroom is good in both versions of the body, but less than you might expect because the floor has been raised almost as much as the roof to provide for a fuel-cell powertrain that didn’t reach reality.

Boot space is impressive for a car of this size and there are numerous permutations of seat folding and/or removal to further increase space. It’s even possible to take out everything except the driver’s seat to turn the A-class into a small van.

The little A-class is an extremely safe handling car. It was vilified somewhat unfairly in its early days following some extreme testing by magazine journalists. This led to changes to the suspension, steering and traction control that dulled its appeal to the sporting driver but made it virtually foolproof for the average person.

Ride comfort isn't as refined as you would expect given the car’s pedigree. The seats support reasonably well but there's a fair bit of interior noise for a car in this price range and the tall stance makes for relatively large body-roll angles. Petrol and diesel engines of various sizes, depending on age and model. The engine capacity is indicated by the model name: A160 is 1.6-litre, and so on.

The A140 may not have enough power for some, the other powerplants are good, with the A200 having a sporty feel. The gen-one A-Class had a choice between a five-speed automated manual gearbox that required you to shift the gear lever, or a conventional five-speed automatic with tiptronic function. The full auto is the better bet. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class moved to its second generation in May 2005 and was slightly more conventional in appearance than the original.

All models were longer, being almost the same length as the previous long-wheelbase versions. However, the interior was repackaged and some of the huge legroom in the back seat was given up to make for a much larger boot. While there's still a good amount of rear space, the old stretch-out feeling was gone. The biggest news in the gen-two A-Class was the introduction of a three-door hatch to complement the five-door.

Rather than taking its own route, the interior design is similar to that of the Mercedes C-Class, particularly in the dashboard and instrument areas. The slightly crude automated manual gearbox of the old model has gone, replaced by a clever continuously variable transmission. This gives good fuel economy and endows the car with a smoother feel than its predecessor. If you don’t feel the CVT has selected the correct ratio, you can use a tiptronic style override to select one of seven forward ‘gears’.

Spare parts and servicing can be either regarded as expensive for a small car, or well-priced for an upmarket European. The Mercedes network in Australia is well established and efficient in its operation. Insurance charges are a little higher than average for a car in this price range, but not seriously so. Mercedes-Benz A-Class was discontinued in Australia in 2009 as the B-Class (which is based on the A-Class, but longer) was stealing so many sales from it. The third generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class is due late in 2012 and takes a more mainstream approach, with sleeker styling than its predecessors and will be heavily marketed in Australia.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

It’s smart to have an A-Class checked out by either a qualified Mercedes dealer or an engineer from your motoring association as it’s an unusual design. Front tyres seem to be wearing a lot faster than rear ones, not an unusual problem in front-drive cars. Uneven front tyre wear could either mean the suspension has been bent against a kerb, or the car has been driven hard - or both.

Look for signs of crash repairs such as those which cars used in tight inner-city areas can suffer. Check for ripples in the panels, most easily spotted by looking at them end on; tiny spots of paint on non-painted surfaces; colours that don't match exactly from panel to panel. Check for interior wear, most likely in the driver’s seat before anywhere else, but also have a look over the back seat and in the boot, especially if you think the seats have been pulled out to carry bulky loads.

CAR BUYING TIP

Cars designed for city use often run cold most of the time and this can accelerate mechanical wear. Buy on the condition of the mechanical components - not on the kilometres on the odometer.
 

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2009 $6,100 $13,200
2008 $5,500 $12,210
2007 $3,400 $10,010
2006 $2,800 $8,470
2005 $2,700 $8,250
2004 $3,100 $6,930
2003 $3,100 $7,150
2002 $3,100 $7,150
2001 $2,900 $7,150
2000 $2,900 $7,040
1999 $2,900 $7,040
1998 $2,900 $5,610

View all Mercedes-Benz A-Class pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

$4,255
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$2,900
Highest Price
$5,610

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
A160 Avantgarde 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP SEQ $3,100 – 5,390 1998 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 1998 A160 Avantgarde Pricing and Specs
A160 Classic 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO $3,000 – 5,170 1998 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 1998 A160 Classic Pricing and Specs