2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Dec 03, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

To understand the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, you must first understand the theory behind it. With a starting price of about $35,000, the A-Class is the least expensive way for you to own a Mercedes. The point of the car is to attract younger and less affluent—but no less aspirational—buyers to the brand in the hope that as they age and earn more money, they’ll move up into the more expensive and profitable Mercedes models.

Aside from its three-pointed star emblems and a fancy interior design, the A-Class is just like any other small sedan with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel or all-wheel drive (AWD). If it were not a Mercedes, it would compete on quality, design, and performance with something like the Acura ILXMazda3 2.5 Turbo sedan, and Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Because it comes from a luxury brand, the A-Class is a rival to the Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe.

In 2021, the A-Class came in A 220, A 220 4Matic, and AMG A 35 4Matic model series, the latter a performance-tuned version of the car. Changes for the year added 18-inch alloy wheels, 64-color ambient interior lighting, and a blind-spot warning system to the base A 220 models. A gesture-control feature became a stand-alone option for the A-Class.

For 2022, Mercedes drops the AMG A 35 4Matic from the lineup. Otherwise, the A-Class model’s Premium package adds satellite radio for the new year.

What Owners Say About the Mercedes-Benz A-Class - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Red Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class competes in the Small Premium Car market segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2021 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 60 percent of new A-Class buyers are female (vs. 47 percent for the segment), and the median age of an A-Class buyer is 49 years (vs. 51).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the A-Class in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you’ll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Driving feel
  • Exterior styling
  • Interior design
  • Feeling of safety
  • Setting up and starting
  • Powertrain
  • Driving comfort
  • Infotainment
  • Fuel economy (in a tie with Getting in and out)

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the A-Class ranks second out of four Small Premium Car models.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Mercedes-Benz A-Class - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

For this review, Mercedes was unable to provide an A 220 for evaluation. Therefore, in the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a 2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic equipped with the following options:

  • Extra-cost paint
  • 19-inch wheels
  • Leather seats
  • Heated front seats
  • Premium package
  • Multimedia package
  • AMG Aerodynamics package
  • AMG Night package
  • AMG Performance steering wheel
  • AMG Drive Unit steering wheel controls
  • AMG Ride Control sport suspension
  • Satellite radio
  • Burmester premium sound system
  • USB-C adapter cable

The price of the test vehicle came to $57,890, including the $1,050 destination charge for shipping the car to the United States from Rastatt, Germany, where it is made.

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Front Seats

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Equipped with small door openings and sitting low to the ground, the A-Class is not easy to enter or exit. The smaller and younger you are, the happier you will be in this regard.

For a couple of grand more, you can instead choose the Mercedes-Benz GLA. This crossover SUV is similar to the A-Class in size and equipment but features a higher ride height for easier entry and exit. Plus, it has a bigger cargo area.

Once you’re tucked into the A-Class, the front seats are comfortable, and the car doesn’t feel cramped. Rear-seat passengers, however, are unlikely to feel the same way. The back seat is very tight for adults unless shorter people sit in front with the seats moved forward.

Mercedes applies the same razzle-dazzle to the A-Class model’s interior design that it bestows upon its other products. You can’t help but feel like you’re driving a special car, and that was especially true in the fully loaded AMG A 35 test vehicle.

From the artfully rendered air vents illuminated by ambient lighting at night to the metallic and gloss black interior trim, the AMG A 35 looked and felt upscale and sophisticated. Dual 12.3-inch digital displays added a high-tech vibe, too.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class MBUX Infotainment System Review

2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

It’s been several years since the Mercedes Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system debuted. The technology continues to set automotive industry standards with regard to display resolution, graphics, clarity, and overall system responsiveness to inputs and voice commands. It even offers an MBUX Interior Assistant gesture-control system now, if you’re interested in paying $250 for it.

In standard specification, MBUX includes:

  • 7-inch digital instrumentation display
  • 7-inch touchscreen infotainment display
  • “Hey Mercedes” digital voice assistant
  • Touchpad controller on the center console
  • Touchpad controls on the steering wheel
  • Bluetooth
  • Apple CarPlay
  • Android Auto
  • HD Radio

Equipped with both the Premium package and the Multimedia package, the test car’s MBUX setup also included:

  • Larger 10.25-inch instrumentation display
  • Larger 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment display
  • Navigation with augmented reality video overlay

Additionally, the test car had satellite radio, a USB-C adapter cable, and a Burmester premium surround-sound system. The A-Class also offers Wi-Fi access with an active Mercedes Me connected services plan.

Setting up the MBUX technology will prove intuitive to anyone familiar with modern smartphone and tablet computer technologies. Once you have the car’s features and functions set to your preferences, interaction with MBUX happens via touchscreen, voice queries and commands, or the controls on the center console.

If you have the optional MBUX Interior Assistant, you can also use gestures to operate the system. However, the test vehicle did not have this upgrade, so I cannot comment on its effectiveness.

Over time, you get used to how MBUX works. The “Hey Mercedes” voice assistant, however, is terrific. No longer quite as fast to respond as newer technologies, it is nevertheless reasonably quick to respond accurately to naturally spoken questions and commands.

The best thing about MBUX, though, is the simple, easy, intuitive user experience and the lush, sharp, full-color graphics. Especially in a conservatively equipped A 220, the tech is easily the most impressive thing about the A-Class.

What It’s Like to Drive the 2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic

2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Red Side View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Mercedes introduced the AMG A 35 4Matic for the 2020 model year. Now, for 2022, it’s gone. If you wanted one, you’d better check dealership inventory now.

The standard A 220 has a modestly powered turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine supplying 188 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 221 pound-feet of torque starting at an impressively low 1,250 rpm. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT) is standard, and the powertrain drives the front wheels unless you get the 4Matic AWD system.

A-Class owners do not rate the car’s powertrain very high on their list of the favorite things about this Mercedes. Most likely, this is because of the DCT. If you buy an A-Class expecting it to feel and behave as though it has a traditional automatic transmission, the occasional delays in throttle response and odd shifting behavior may cause irritation.

Mercedes equips the AMG A 35 4Matic with a dramatically more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. It cranks out 302 hp at 5,800 rpm and 295 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm and uses an AMG SpeedShift 7-speed DCT and an AMG Performance version of 4Matic. According to Mercedes, the AMG A 35 sprints to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, much faster than the 7.1 seconds it reportedly takes the A 220 to get to the same speed.

Additionally, the AMG A 35 gets structural upgrades, larger standard AMG wheels, and AMG Dynamic Select driving modes, including a Race Start launch-control function. Speed-sensing variable-ratio sport steering makes the AMG A 35 more fun to drive, and high-performance brakes ensure the car can stop just as quickly as it can accelerate. An AMG sport suspension is also standard, and the test car had the optional adaptive AMG Ride Control sport suspension.

Now, I’ve always been a huge fan of small, light, and quick cars. The Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic clearly matches this description, and when you’re driving with enthusiasm on mountain roads that you know well, you forget all about the near-$60,000 price tag. This thing is nothing less than a hoot to drive hard and fast. Whoo-hoo!

The only other driving environment in which the Mercedes-AMG A 35 might prove to be a logical choice is in a densely populated urban area, such as L.A.’s Koreatown district. Heavy traffic, almost non-existent parking, and a need for point-and-squirt power make the AMG A 35 a useful tool for slicing, dicing, and pureeing traffic.

Otherwise, the AMG A 35 sedan doesn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense. In the suburbs, it’s loud, stiff, and cramped, making any driver over the age of 30 appear juvenile. On the highway, it’s loud, stiff, and cramped and wears on your nerves over time. And in a place like Los Angeles, where you’re often judged by what you drive, the AMG A 35 is a real head-scratcher to others who are sizing you up.

One can make an argument in favor of the more expensive Mercedes-Benz CLA. It’s based on the same platform and engineering that forms the basis of the A-Class but comes in a far more stylish 4-door coupe wrapper. In fact, it looks just like a Mercedes CLS that got left in the dryer for too long. Mercedes even offers two AMG-massaged versions of the 2022 CLA.

No wonder the AMG A 35 is gone from the U.S. market.

Separately from the AMG models, the A 220 saves you more than $4,000 compared to a base CLA 250. Based on previous experience, it’s decent enough to drive once you understand how a DCT works and why it behaves the way it does. Still, what’s most remarkable about the A 220 isn’t its styling or driving dynamics. It’s the interior tech.

Mercedes A-Class Driving Assistance Technology Review

2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Driving Assistance Systems

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Because our test car did not include the optional Driver Assistance package, we could not purposely evaluate or otherwise experience a long list of the A-Class’s available advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). In fact, the test vehicle had nothing more than:

  • Drowsy-driver detection
  • Forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Blind-spot warning
  • Safe exit warning

On the one hand, the missing optional driving aids made driving the AMG A 35 a throwback to a simpler time. On the other hand, in a car that costs almost 60 grand, features such as adaptive cruise controllane-maintenance technology, a surround-view camera system, and automatic high-beam headlights really ought to be present and accounted for.

Fortunately, I’ve experienced the automaker’s best ADAS in other Mercedes models and can report that it’s impressive… in those models. In particular, the Active Lane Keeping Assist technology is critically important to have, and the Active Emergency Stop Assist feature could save your life during a medical emergency. I assume the same holds true for the A-Class, but it might not.

2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class FAQ - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Trunk Space

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

How much cargo space does the 2021 Mercedes A-Class have?

The A-Class has a small trunk that measures just 8.6 cubic feet. That’s almost half what you would find in a Honda Accord. Enclosed trunk lid hinges help you make the most of the space without damaging your belongings, and the rear seatbacks fold down for added capacity. Mercedes also provides a slot to use to swing the lid closed without getting your hands dirty.

Does the 2021 Mercedes A-Class get good gas mileage?

The Mercedes A 220 is rated to get 29 mpg in combined driving (28 mpg with 4Matic). The AMG A 35 4Matic earns a rating of 25 mpg in combined driving. On the evaluation loop, the A 35 averaged 24.2 mpg.

Is the 2021 Mercedes A-Class safe?

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed crash tests on the Mercedes A-Class. Hence, a definitive answer to this question is unavailable.

Aside from forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and a blind-spot warning system, safety technology is optional. The Driver Assistance package ($1,700) equips the car with ten different ADAS and is worthy of the money.

How much is the 2021 Mercedes A-Class?

The 2021 Mercedes A-Class lineup ranges in price from $33,650 to $45,850, not including the $1,050 destination charge. In 2022, the A 220 increases $300 to a new base price of $33,950. Adding 4Matic requires an additional $2,000. The destination charge remains the same as it was in 2021.

What are the 2021 Mercedes A-Class competitors?

In the J.D. Power 2021 Initial Quality Study (IQS), the BMW 2 Series ranks highest in the Small Premium Car segment. The Acura ILX is the next highest-ranked model.

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the Mercedes-Benz CLA ranks highest in the Small Premium Car segment. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the BMW 2 Series are the next highest-ranked models.

Other competitors to the A-Class include the Audi A3.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Red Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class exists for one reason, and one reason only: to get people who might not otherwise be able to afford one of the company’s cars or SUVs in the dealership’s door.

As I write this review, the lease deal on the A 220 is $399 per month, with $3,493 due at contract signing. Read the fine print, and you’ll see you can only drive it 10,000 miles per year, but you understand the point. The A-Class makes first-time, brand-new Mercedes-Benz ownership possible when it otherwise wouldn’t be. And once you’re in the system, it’s easier for Mercedes to retain you as a customer for years and even decades to come.

There is nothing sinister about this. Every brand does it to some degree, especially luxury marques where leasing is more common. And since J.D. Power data shows that verified owners of the A-Class find their car more appealing than do owners of the BMW 2 Series and Acura ILX, this small Mercedes will probably make you happy.

But you know which model ranks even higher than the A-Class according to its owners? The Mercedes-Benz CLA, and the lease on that more appealing car, is just another 30 bucks a month.

See? You’re already tempted to move on up.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2023 J.D. Power

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