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.
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.