The A-class should certainly be on your shopping list if you’re looking for a small hatch with a premium badge and sporty demeanour.
Powertrain and performance: 1.6-litre petrol-turbo four, 115kW/250Nm, 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual, front-drive, Combined economy 6.1 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 8.3 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4292mm long, 1434mm high, kerb weight 1370kg, luggage capacity 341 litres, fuel tank 50 litres, 18-inch wheels on 225/40 tyres.
We like: The look, dynamic handling, cabin design/quality.
We don’t like: Poorly calibrated dual-clutch gearbox, firm ride.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
Forget everything you know about the previous two generations of Mercedes-Benz A-class. What was once a high-riding pseudo-people-mover supermini, is now a low-slung hatchback that aims to please the driver first, passengers second.
Is there anything wrong with that? Clearly not, as that’s how the A-class’s main rivals in this segment have always tackled things. In some respects, this is just Mercedes-Benz falling into line with the class-norm.
Not to mention future-proofing the range, as the latest A-class is based on a new (conventional) platform that does not require a bespoke engine and ensures it can share the maximum number of components with other models in the Mercedes-Benz catalogue.
Our A200 test car is the middle of the range: below it is the A180 (same petrol engine, less power) and above the A 250 Sport (AMG-enhanced engine and chassis). There’s also a diesel alternative, the A200 CDI.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Pretty fantastic, actually. Mercedes-Benz is more closely associated with comfort and practicality than sporty driving – at least in its mainstream models – but the A-class is genuinely entertaining. The steering is communicative, the chassis nimble – the ride perhaps a bit firm for town use, remembering that this will probably still be primarily a city car. But not uncomfortable so.
The 1.6-litre direct-injection turbo engine is new to the A-class and it has a smooth power delivery and plenty of verve at speed. The dual-clutch transmission is lively when you’re driving hard but a bit of a mixed bag in normal urban driving. Of the three pushbutton modes available, Comfort is a bit lazy – it slips the clutches too much and slurs between the ratios in a way that grates after a while in point-and-shoot traffic situations. Yet Sport is too busy, jerking at low speed and hanging onto gears too long when all you want to do is join a fast-moving lane and then settle down.
The answer lies in the third setting: Manual. Because even though it only has two pedals, this is technically a manual gearbox and it’s most effective when operated manually via the steering wheel paddles. Smooth, responsive, quick.
But will many owners actually do that? I doubt it. So a bit more work on E and S calibration might be required.
The A-class might be just a bit too sporty for its own good, although I certainly came out of it with a big smile on my face. So maybe not.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
The previous A-class was all about interior space and clever packaging, thanks to its innovative double-floor platform. The new is all about sporty looks, dynamic handling and an intimate cabin. So don’t come to the new A200 (perhaps from the old one) expecting a mini-people mover.
That’s just how this segment rolls: the BMW 1-series is no different. You sit low, with small glass areas and a dashboard that envelops you. Even the seats are heavily sculpted, with lots of lateral support and high backs.
The cabin is beautifully finished and every bit what you’d expect of a Mercedes-Benz. The A-class follows current fashion by having an information screen that looks like a tablet has been glued onto the dash. Best get that out there, lest there be a rash of car break-ins as people try to steal these sought-after devices. You can’t, by the way: it’s attached to the car, it’s not touch-screen and, well, it’s not a device that operates independently of the vehicle. Although with one of the option packages fitted to our car (see below), it does give you an Internet connection.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
The A-class should certainly be on your shopping list if you’re looking for a small hatch with a premium badge and sporty demeanour. It looks the part and it’s a genuinely good driver’s car – very competitive with its rivals from Audi and BMW.
Premium cars – even very small ones - carry a premium price and the A200 is no exception. But again, it’s very competitive on value.
But as with any upmarket German brand, you have to be careful with the options as it’s easy to get carried away. Our A200 has a base price of $54,900, but also carried two option packages: the $3190 Comand (sat-nav on a 17.8cm screen, Internet capability, Harmon Kardon audio) and the $1290 Night (special wheels, privacy glass, gloss-black grille, exterior trim and side mirrors). Which makes it a $59,380 machine.
Air conditioning: Manual with temperature setting
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/No
Blind spot warning: No
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Gas discharge headlights: No
Head-up display: No
Heated/ventilated seats: No
Keyless entry/start: No/No
Lane guidance: No
Leather upholstery: No
Parking radar: Front and rear with camera
Power seat adjustment/memory: No/No
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: No
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Self-parking technology: Yes
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes