LONG AND SHORT OF LIMOS
It might be the size of a Toyota Corolla but the new A-Class hatch comes with a Mercedes price: $52,500 drive-away before options or metallic paint are added. Standard fare includes a sensor key with push button start, leather seats, cabin mood lighting, wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, digital radio and built-in navigation, and the awesome high-resolution wide-screen dash display similar to those in the E-Class and SClass limousines. Super bright LED headlights with automatic blanking of oncoming traffic, a panorama sunroof and 360-degree view camera are bundled in a $2490 option pack. Rear privacy glass, 18-inch five-spoke alloys, sports grille and black mirror caps add $1490. Service intervals are 12 months/25,000km. Routine maintenance over three years is high at $2480, the first service steep enough at $496 and the next two an eye-watering $992. Warranty is three years/unlimited km.
From the driver’s seat you could be forgiven for thinking you were sitting in a $200,000 car. Adjustable steering and seating positions will accommodate drivers of most shapes and sizes. It’s larger inside than the sleek looks suggest. One half of the giant wide-screen — infotainment, left of the instrument cluster — is now a high resolution touchscreen for added convenience. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the company’s flagship limo. Mercedes’ new cabin control module is a small touchpad with a hump on which to rest your wrist. Unfortunately, as with other touchpads in cars, it’s fiddly to use even with some practice. Mercedes’ previous infotainment controller — a large dial — was better in my opinion. Small “tiles” on the steering wheel act as a touch or swipe pad but are only marginally better than the centre console touchpad. Annoyingly, the “favourites” display window for radio stations — accessed via controls on the steering wheel and the easiest way to skip stations given the fussy touchpad — needs to be reset each time the car starts. On the plus side the wireless phone charging works well, even when the device is in a case. And an awesome 10-speaker premium audio — including a subwoofer — is standard.
Mercedes has loaded the A200 with almost everything. Nine airbags protect occupants should the worst happen but there’s plenty to prevent a biff in the first place. Autonomous emergency braking at city and highway speeds is standard, accompanied by blind zone warning, lane-keeping assistance and speed sign recognition, which works surprisingly well. A rear camera and front and rear parking sensors are standard but rear cross-traffic alert and rear AEB are not.
The A200 has plenty of zip for a relatively small 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo but it’s a challenge to get close to the claimed fuel-rating label figure. We averaged a still respectable 8L9L/100km. It insists on 95 RON premium unleaded. The twin-clutch auto is smoother than before, although not quite as intuitive as the same type of transmission in the latest VW Golf. The turning circle is incredibly tight, handy for U-turns in narrow streets. And the steering itself is light and precise once on the move. The new A-Class corners with confidence, whether in roundabouts or a winding road, but the run-flat tyres make the suspension feel a but stiff over bumps. For example, it doesn’t absorb speed bumps with the same comfort as a car with conventional tyres.
ALTERNATIVES BMW 1 SERIES, FROM $39,990
BMW’s sporty hatchback has had a facelift recently. Prices start at $10,000 less than the Mercedes but the equivalent BMW is closer in price, at $46,990. Interior is dated compared to the Benz but it’s a better drive.
AUDI A3, FROM $36,200
The Audi A3 is more understated than the BMW and the Benz but it has a more practical and conventional interior. The equivalent A3 starts from $46,400. The suspension is a bit more supple than the BMW and the Benz.
VW GOLF, FROM $26,490
The cheapest grade might be half the price of the Mercedes but for $50,000 you can get a high performance Golf with the works.
SHORT CUT — BENZ A200