America’s best-selling premium-subcompact car: 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz A 220 4Matic

by Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class different?

Performance dialed up to 11 could be in the cards, but we’d rather Mercedes-Benz give its least expensive vehicle more standard safety features. Offered with front- or all-wheel drive and available with a host of upscale amenities, this premium subcompact sedan marks its third model year as an attractive gateway to the prestigious German brand.  

Returning largely unchanged will be A 220 models with 188 horsepower and the Mercedes-AMG A 35 with 302. Sources say a Mercedes-AMG A 45 version with 380-plus-horsepower could join the 2021 lineup. That would better align the A-Class’s powertrains with those of the other Mercedes vehicles that share its underskin structure: the snazzier-looking but still-subcompact-class CLA sedan; and two crossover SUVs, the subcompact GLA and compact-class GLB. The A-Class and its CLA sibling will again slot below the compact C-Class sedans, coupes, and convertibles in the Mercedes line and compete with such cars as the Acura ILX, Audi A3, and BMW 2 Series.

The 2021 A 220s and the A35 could get minor tweaks to feature availability and maybe some new colors. We’d urge Mercedes to make important driver assists, such as blind-spot detection and adaptive cruise control, standard instead of optional. Many manufacturers include these useful safety adjuncts in the base price of cars costing thousands less than the A-Class’s roughly $34,000 starting price.   

Should I wait for the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class or buy a 2020?

2020 A 220 4Matic

Wait for the ’21 if you relish the prospect of the least costly Mercedes fully engineered by the German automaker’s vaunted AMG performance wing. The 2021 A 45 would share with the CLA 45 and GLA 45 a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder from AMG’s “One Man, One Engine” initiative in which each engine is hand-built by a single craftsperson (who affixes an autographed plaque). Output should be the same 382 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque, although there’s speculation Mercedes could offer some of these “45” models with the 416 horsepower and 369 pound-feet available overseas. Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive (AWD) would be standard on an A 45.

Buy a 2020 A-Class if you’re interested in an A 220 or A 35. Neither is likely to change much for model-year’ 21 but both almost certainly will cost more. And Covid-inspired incentives and deals available on the ’20s might not be around once the ’21s arrive. The A 220 will return with a choice of front-drive or 4Matic; the A 35 will remain 4Matic only. Both will reprise turbocharged four-cylinder engines linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Launched for model-year 2019, the A-Class took over from the CLA as gateway to the Mercedes brand. Along with the GLA and GLB crossovers, they break with Mercedes tradition by using front-wheel-drive-based engineering versus a rear-wheel-drive platform. That helps contain costs, partly by sharing mechanical components with vehicles from Mini, the British brand owned by Mercedes.

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 “four-door coupe”

They look only slightly different, but Mercedes calls the A-Class a sedan and bills the CLA as a “four-door coupe.” The A-Class’s more mainstream design – and lower pricing — has paid off: it outsells the CLA and has in fact displaced the CLA as America’s top-selling premium subcompact car. The 2021 A-Class and ’21 CLA will again share most vitals, including powertrain basics and interior design. And, critically, they have the same 107.4-inch wheelbase, the distance between the front and rear axles and a main determinate of passenger room.

The ’21 CLA’s body will again be longer than the A-Class’s by 5.5 inches and wider by 1.3. Its fastback roofline gives the CLA sleeker styling but tighter headroom, a tangible 1.8 inches less in front and 1.5 in back. Legroom is the same, but the CLA has a larger trunk – 11.6 cubic feet versus 8.6.  The CLA 250 base model has 221 horsepower and more standard features than the A 220, including 12-way power front seats and imbedded navigation. And CLAs are priced higher, by about $4,000 for the CLA 250 and some $2,000 for the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35.

Will 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class styling be different?

2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic

Only if there’s an A 45, although expect it to look much like an A 35 fitted with the optional AMG Aerodynamic Package. Both would sport specific wheels, lower body skirts, and a more aggressive front fascia with enlarged air intakes, although the A 45 would likely retain a vertical-bar grille exclusive to genuine AMG models.

Visual distinctions between the 2021 A 220 and A 35 would again mostly involve the grille and front apron, with much of the A 35’s sportier look available for the A 220 via the AMG Line option. That package also should again include the A 35’s 18-inch AMG twin-spoke alloy wheels in place of the A 220’s plainer 17-inch alloys. Both models should again be available with optional 19-inch alloys in a variety of styles.

Expect no extra charge for white, red, or black paint, with a variety of metallic hues adding $720. For 2020, Mountain Grey Magno was a $2,500 option exclusive to the A 35. Both models should again come standard with LED headlamps and a panoramic moonroof with a power shade and power sliding glass panel.

2020 A 220 4Matic

All ’21 A-Class models will again share with their platform mates a stunning dashboard design highlighted by bold round air vents and a dramatic flatscreen display for the digital instruments and infotainment touchscreen. Expect the A 220 to continue with a pair of 7-inch displays standard, with the A 35’s dual 10.25-inch displays included in the Premium Package option. A head-up projection of key vehicle and navigation data should return as a $1,100 option for both.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will again be standard. Expect imbedded navigation to remain optional for the A 220 and A 35 as part of the Multimedia Package ($1,150 for model-year 2020). The nav system features augmented reality, which shows live video of the road ahead on the nav screen superimposed with directions and other GPS data.

Both the standard and optional screens are crisp and bright and are controlled three ways: by steering-wheel switches, a console touchpad/button/scroll arrangement, or the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX). The steering wheel switches take time to learn. A wrist pad supports your hand above the touchpad, but it’s still more difficult to use while driving than a simple twist/push knob. And MBUX relies on voice commands and activates when you say “Hey, Mercedes.” It responds quickly enough to even casual-language commands, but also can be activated by merely mentioning “Mercedes” in conversation.

2020 A 220 4Matic with dual 10.25-inch displays

The gauge and infotainment screen surfaces, along with the polished piano-black center console, are prone to distracting reflections. And some might consider the pencil-thick plastic steering-wheel stalks too insubstantial for this car’s station. But interior materials are impressive overall. Switchgear moves precisely; padded surfaces proliferate; and aluminum trim is standard, with Black Linden or brown walnut wood likely to return as a $325 option. Mercedes imitation-leather M-Tex upholstery should also return as standard, with solid or two-tone leather a $1,450 option. Also likely to return as a $310 option: 64-color LED ambient lighting that also illuminates those artsy vents.

As for any potential 2021 A 45, expect it to build on the A 35 with navigation, the dual screens, specific instrumentation, and leather sports seats as standard.

2020 A 220 4Matic

The 2021 A-Class’s wheelbase should remain the longest in the premium subcompact-car segment, contributing to good legroom in front and plenty in the rear for adults if front seaters don’t slide their buckets more than halfway back. Front headroom is fine but lanky rear seaters may find their scalps brushing the headliner. Still, all seats are firm and supportive, and overall comfort is quite good for a sedan this size. There’s no flex to the structure, doors close with a reassuring “thunk,” and fit and finish are first rate. Tire roar and wind rush, however, intrude more than in the larger, costlier, rear-drive-based Mercedes cars.  

Trunk volume is stingy on paper, but adequate in practice, with 70:30 split/folding rear seatbacks adding versatility. Housings for the trunk’s lid hinges do eat space, but the trade off is cargo protected from damage. 

Any 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class mechanical changes?

2020 A 220 4Matic

Only if there’s an A 45. It would include the 380-plus-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four discussed above, likely linked to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Suspension, steering, and tires would get a comprehensive upgrade, as per AMG practice. Its 4Matic AWD would be tuned for more aggressive driving and could well include a “drift” mode that sends enough torque to the rear wheels to allow tail-out power slides.

The 2021 A 220 models would reprise a 2.0-liter turbo four with 188 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That output is the lowest in the competitive set, as is the 7.1 seconds 0-60 mph Mercedes quotes with both front-drive and 4Matic. But the numbers don’t reflect the A 220’s sprightly nature. Unlike with many engines of this type, acceleration off the line lags only momentarily, and then only if you’re stomping the throttle. Take off progressively, and response and power are impressive from any speed, with engine and transmission working in harmony to deliver plenty of giddy up with little strain.

Mercedes had not made a front-wheel-drive A 220 available for testing in time for this review, but our test 2020 A 220 4Matic felt grippy and balanced in any change of direction. Steering suffers just a whiff of numbness on center, but effort builds naturally as you turn, and corners and lane are dispatched with little need to correct your initial input.

2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic

It falls short of full AMG status – Mercedes says this turbo 2.0 is “AMG-enhanced” – but with 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, the A 35’s engine delivers push-you-back-in-your seat thrust. It launches with gusto, going 0-60 in a quoted 4.6 seconds, consistent with direct rivals such as the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe. Expect an A 45 to cut that by a half-second or so, in line with its direct rivals, such as the Audi RS3. With handling honed by its AMG-tuned suspension and AWD system, the ’21 A 35 will again be an all-around performance upgrade over an A 220 4Matic, although in everyday driving, you’re unlikely to exploit it enough to justify the $10,000 premium.    

Ride quality is taut but never punishing across the line. Impact harshness is never a deal-breaker but does grow more pronounced as tire diameter increases and sidewall height decreases. Expect the 2021 A 220 and A 35 to again be available with an adaptive damping suspension ($850 for model-year 2020) that lets the driver determine suspension firmness. We found the sportiest setting provided the most composed body control without turning the ride too stiff.

Will 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class fuel economy improve?

2020 a 220 4Matic

Expect the 2021 A 220 and A 35 models to repeat their model-year 2020 EPA ratings. That would keep them above average for fuel efficiency in this class. Look for ratings of 24/35/28 mpg city/highway/combined for the A 220 and 24/34/28 for the A 220 4Matic.

Expect the ’21 A 35 4Matic to again rate 24/31/27 mpg. Figure an A 45 to rate around 21/30/24. All ’21 A-Class models would again require premium-octane gas.

Will the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class have new features?

2020 A 220 4Matic

Mercedes could adjust some package content, but new features per se would likely be limited to those associated with the possible introduction of an A 45. It would build on the A 35 with the aforementioned full-fledged AMG appearance and performance exclusives.

The ’21 A 220 models and the A 35 will return with most comfort and convenience items expected in this class, as standard or optional. Standard safety features will again include autonomous emergency braking designed to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. Unless Mercedes changes its approach, however, most other driver assists will remain optional, including many that other automakers make standard on cars and crossovers costing thousands less.

Most notable among these extra-cost safety features was blind-spot detection that alerts you to traffic in adjacent lanes; it was a $550 stand-alone option for the 2020 A-Class and A 35. That useful feature was also part of the $2,250 Driver Assistance Package, which enhanced it with warnings to not open a side door when parked if traffic’s approaching from the rear.

2020 A 220 4Matic

Also part of the package: rear cross-traffic detection with automatic reverse braking; adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from traffic ahead and adjusts based on speed-limit signs and road curves; and automatic braking to prevent you from turning unsafely across oncoming traffic. Also included are sensors that recognize if the car is about to be rear-ended and apply the brakes to minimize risk of a secondary collision. The package’s semi-autonomous lane-maintaining automatic steering allows the driver’s hands to be off the steering wheel briefly but will automatically slow, then stop the car, without that intervention. 

Finally, the Driver Assistance Package’s lane-departure warning comes with automatic steering correction we found so intrusive we switched it off. Helpfully, it vibrates the steering wheel if the car is unintentionally drifting from its lane between 37 and 125 mph. However, unlike most such systems that simply steer the car gently back if it violates the solid lane line, Mercedes’ Active Lane Keeping Assist pulls the A-Class back by firmly applying the brakes on one side. It’s a forceful and unexpectedly jarring autonomous intervention that’s counterproductive.

Among notable options expected to return unchanged is a $1,090 Parking Assistance Package that includes surround-view video and semi-autonomous parking into perpendicular spaces and into and out of parallel spots. In addition to A 35-style body cues, the $1,950 AMG Line package for the A 220 would add a diamond-block grille with chrome “pins,” perforated front brake calipers with the Mercedes-Benz logo, and sport front bucket seats.

2020 A 220 4Matic

The A 35 should again offer its own version of the AMG Line option for $2,600 that includes a lowered suspension and a multifunction sport steering wheel wrapped in Nappa leather. It also should again be available with its own $1,250 AMG Aerodynamic Package and a $3,270 AMG Advanced Performance Seat Package with heated, multi-contour AMG front buckets.

The Premium Package should again include full keyless entry and power folding side mirrors and cost $725 for the A 35 but $1,650 for the A 220, where it adds the larger dashboard screens. Common to all returning ’21 A-Class models would be a black-out-trim Night Package ($400 for the A 220, $750 for the A 35); a $900 Exterior Lighting Package with steering-linked headlamps and automatic highbeams; a $450 illuminated grille “star” logo; $580 heated front seats ($1,030 for heated and ventilated); $460 for satellite radio; $200 for wireless charging; and an $850 Burmester-branded surround sound audio upgrade.  

Will 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class prices change?

2020 A 220 4Matic

They’ll almost certainly rise; a $1,200 base-price increase wouldn’t surprise. For reference, the ’21 A 220 started at $33,795, the A 220 4Matic at $35,795, and the A 35 at $45,945 (all include the $995 destination fee). And if there’s a 2021 A 45, it’s likely to start around $54,000.

For what the A-Class delivers, these are perfectly reasonable base prices. But options can elevate the bottom line startlingly. Our 2020 A 220 4Matic test example had the Driver Assistance, Exterior Lighting, Multimedia, AMG Line, and Premium packages, plus leather upholstery, 19-inch AMG wheels, heating steering wheel and front seats, satellite radio and wireless charging, and ambient lighting. It stickered for $48,295, including destination.

A comparable ’21 would probably be more expensive, but still a better value and a similarly equipped CLA 250 4Matic, though at $48K, we’d look to a roomier compact premium sedan such as an Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Genesis G70, and Mercedes’ own C-Class.

When does the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class come out?

2020 A 220 4Matic

Barring Covid-19-releated delays expect a 2021 A-Class release date in fall 2020.

What are the best 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class competitors?

Acura ILX, Audi A3, BMW 2 Series

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]