They’ve got it right with this baby

Mercedes-benz’s small­est car has a fa­mil­iar name, but it’s not an A-class as we pre­vi­ously knew it, writes Dave Moore.

South Waikato News - - SPORT -

When the first A-class MercedesBenz was launched in 1997, it was a rel­a­tively cheap fam­ily city car that you could also use on the au­to­bahn if that was your bag. It had a clever sand­wich twin-floor de­sign which made im­pact safety in the sling-back-styled hatch as good as any Benz’s.

The prob­lem was that it had styling that could po­larise in pub con­ver­sa­tions and there was some in­dus­trial sab­o­tage sur­round­ing its per­ceived lack of sta­bil­ity.

But mar­ket needs and as­pi­ra­tions change, and while that orig­i­nal sand­wich de­sign lives on at Benz pro­vid­ing a so­lu­tion for elec­tric car and fuel-cell de­vel­op­ments, the ba­sic A-class mar­ket slot has moved from a city-plus en­vi­ron­ment, through its longer wider and quicker sec­ond gen­er­a­tion to this, the all-new, ground-up A-class.

This third gen­er­a­tion edi­tion of Mercedes-Benz’s first front-drive car is de­signed to ap­peal across a wider spread as­pi­ra­tions, from a one-car pride and joy through to a mid­dle-class sec­ond or third fam­ily driver to the car we’re driv­ing here; the hot-to-trot AMG-devel­oped A250.

It has prob­a­bly the widest mar­ket base of all cur­rent Mercedes-Ben­zes, with the A180 starter car of­fered at $46,900, or just three grand more than you’ll pay for a top Corolla, de­spite a load of equip­ment, and other diesel and petrol A200 models of­fer­ing diesel and petrol steps to the car we’re re­view­ing here, the A250.

There will even­tu­ally be su­per-hot A45 AMG AWD ver­sions of Mercedes-Benz’s new A-class act, as well as a star­tling four­door CLA coupe, but for the time be­ing, the A250 is the range’s flag­ship.

As a $64,900 spear­head for the range, the A250 heads straight for VW’s own flag­ship Golf, the GTi, and the rear-drive 1-se­ries BMW range, while the up­per ech­e­lon ver­sions of the im­mi­nent third gen­er­a­tion A3 will also be in the sil­ver star’s sights with this car, as well as Volvo’s new V40 hatch and the C200h Lexus. With 155kW on tap and a lung­ingly flex­i­ble 350 Nm of torque from not much above idle, the tur­bocharged 2.0-litre A250 Sport is a punchy lit­tle bug­ger, fet­tled by Mercedes- Benz’s AMG per­for­mance di­vi­sion to box way be­yond its weight.

The AMG work also ex­tends to big­ger brakes, whose red-cal­lipers poke out from the spe­cial triple-bar, five spoke 18-inch sports al­loy rims.

While AMG has beefed-up and stiff­ened the A250’s sus­pen­sion to keep it in high­per­for­mance char­ac­ter, it’s no crash-bang­wal­lop prospect over bumps. In fact Mercedes-Benz ap­pears to have reined-in the sports sus­pen­sion mod­i­fi­ca­tions a tad, achiev­ing a pleas­ing blend of mas­sive grip and well-con­trolled body move­ment but with­out harsh re­ac­tions to sur­face im­per­fec­tions and pot­holes. The num­bers pos­si­ble from the car’s turbo four in­clude a fac­tory-quoted zero to 100kmh time of 6.6 sec­onds, which is darn quick in any seg­ment, but the real story is the car’s flex­i­bil­ity. Rarely do you need to use the shift-pad­dles for the A250’s seven-speeder, the au­to­matic func­tion for the trans­mis­sion will drop-down a ra­tio very neatly on the over-run, and even with­out over­rid­ing the ra­tio you may have left the car in be­fore the cor­ner, the torque spread al­lows the car to surf de­light­fully from less than 1500rpm to any ve­loc­ity you can legally and safely nom­i­nate.

With red-stitched leather, a gor­geous black milled-fin­ish dash and a use­fully bigscreened stan­dard sat-nav panel, as well as five classy ‘three spoked’ air vents – rimmed in red to match the chin and rear­split­ter pan­els that punc­tu­ate the car’s nose and tail treat­ment, the A250’s driv­ing en­vi­ron­ment is no low-renter. It has all the qual­ity of the big­ger Ben­zes, and there’s plenty of room up front for larger oc­cu­pants.

It’s not quite so good in the rear, where there’s de­cent legroom, but there may be head­room is­sues if you’re over 1.88m tall. At 341 litres, the A-class load area is no seg­ment-leader, but if you take soft lug­gage, there’s no rea­son why you’d need to travel light.

Once you’re in, it’s supremely com­fort­able and sup­port­ive wher­ever you sit, with the front chairs of­fer­ing-up that fa­mous solid AMG catcher’s-mit lo­ca­tion and se­cu­rity. That se­cu­rity is re­in­forced, when you get in the car and belt-up, as the car’s Col­li­sion Preven­tion As­sist, tugs you a lit­tle tighter into your seat­ing po­si­tion.

For all that, it’s still a hot-hatch and it looks the part, with a wide, di­a­mond-stud­ded grille up front sit­ting be­tween head­lights that look like they were filched from the lat­est C-class, while un­der­neath, three in­take slots are linked by the tell­tale red AMG bar which is re­peated in the rear valance. The A-class’s hipline is a long, chrome-edged con­vex curve, and of the cur­rent batch of Ger­man hot-hatch, the AMG - in­flu­enced A250 is prob­a­bly the best looker.

Peo­ple are queu­ing up for high-end hatches as they down-size from some­thing big­ger, or ra­tio­nalise from sev­eral cars to one or two. They still want per­for­mance and lux­ury, and with the world C-seg­ment grow­ing from a pre­dicted 5.8 mil­lion units in 2014, to 7.7 mil­lion by 2020, such a sub-seg­ment is ripe for the pick­ing.

I think Mercedes-Benz has prob­a­bly got its spread of new ‘Baby Ben­zes’ about right. And with its price spread, a lot more peo­ple will be able to buy Mercedes-Benz.

A250: The AMG-fet­tled high­per­for­mance flag­ship of a new range of small cars from Mercedes-Benz.

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