Mercedes AClass Like an S‡Class in­side

A lit­tle bit big­ger, a lot clev­erer and far more pre­mium than be­fore, the new A-Class brings a sprin­kle of S-Class magic to the once-hum­ble hatch­back.

CAR (UK) - - Contents - By Ge­org Kacher

TWENTY ONE YEARS ago the rad­i­cal first A-Class set out to con­quer the bot­tom end of the pre­mium seg­ment, and failed. Through the gen­er­a­tions it’s be­come more con­ven­tional and more suc­cess­ful. The new Mk4 con­tin­ues this trend, ar­riv­ing with no hy­brid pow­er­train and no quirky pack­ag­ing – but it’s more proudly pre­mium than ever, with some as­pects of the in­te­rior wor­thy of the S-Class. For­get about the Golf – this is built, and priced, to com­pete against the Audi A3 and BMW 1- and 2-se­ries.

There are plenty more vari­a­tions in the pipe­line, but for now there are three en­gines, all front-wheel drive, and one body style. The weight is down by 20kg – im­pres­sive given that it’s wider, taller and 120mm longer. That growth al­lows a cargo bay that can hold an ex­tra 29 litres of lug­gage, while shoul­der and el­bow room have in­creased marginally, and tall front pas­sen­gers no longer brush the ceil­ing with their scalp.

UK prices start at £25,800 for the most ba­sic A180d, while the petrols be­gin (for now) with the A200 at £27,500; the A250 is £30,240. There are three spec lev­els: SE (seven-inch touch­screen, 16-inch al­loys), Sport (LED lights, 17in wheels) and AMG Line (18in wheels, bodykit, sports steer­ing wheel).

Op­tions can be bought grouped into pack­ages: Ex­ec­u­tive (10.25in touch­screen, park­ing as­sis­tance, heated front seats), Pre­mium (10.25in in­stru­ment dis­play to go with your 10.25in cen­tral touch­screen, 64-colour cabin light­ing, au­dio up­grade, rear arm­rest) and Pre­mium Plus (clev­erer lights, panoramic sun­roof, mem­ory seats). Ad­vanced Nav­i­ga­tion, avail­able with any of those pack­ages, brings aug­mented re­al­ity into your Merc by over­lay­ing the nav dis­play with a cam­era im­age of the road.

We drove all three en­gines avail­able at launch. Least im­pres­sive is the A200’s 1.3-litre 161bhp petrol unit code­vel­oped with Re­nault. This rel­a­tively rough pow­er­plant be­comes noisy when pushed, and the new seven-speed DCT4

trans­mis­sion is a lit­tle vague (the UK doesn’t get the manual op­tion).

Although it dishes up a use­ful 184lb ft of torque at a leisurely 1620rpm, the four-cylin­der unit – which be­comes a part-time two-cylin­der unit when the driver feath­ers the throt­tle – needs to be revved to de­liver. Top speed is 140mph, 0-62mph takes only 8.0sec and av­er­age fuel con­sump­tion is claimed to be a miserly 55.3mpg.

The 1.5-litre diesel in the A180d is an­other Ger­man-French ef­fort. Rated at 114bhp and 192lb ft, the diesel has a punchy sweet spot be­tween 1500 and 3000rpm, although its pri­or­ity is clean run­ning rather than per­for­mance. The ac­cel­er­a­tion to 62mph takes a chew­ing­gum-slo-mo 10.5sec. At­tempt­ing to reach the top speed of 125mph re­quires a lot of pa­tience, and at 68.8mpg the diesel is only about 15 per cent more eco­nom­i­cal than the base petrol unit. So don’t bother.

Go for the A250 in­stead. MB’s own 2.0-litre four musters 221bhp and 258lb ft, sounds much more like a Benz than a Re­nault, and takes no pris­on­ers by fly­ing from 0-62mph in 6.2sec and maxxing out at 155mph. One day, there will be a 300bhp A35 AMG and a 400bhp A45 AMG, both with 4Matic all-wheel drive. Right now, though, it’s front-wheel-drive only, and this shows in the wet as the Miche­lins strug­gle to stay com­posed on tricky Croa­t­ian tar­mac. Es­pe­cially in the bot­tom two gears, steer­ing fight is an is­sue which gets worse when lane as­sist is ac­ti­vated. Why? Be­cause now ESP feels com­pelled to in­ter­vene as soon as a white line en­ters the corner­ing equa­tion. An­other com­puter-con­trolled item that pri­ori­tises the hunt for fives­tar NCAP rat­ings is the power-as­sisted elec­tric steer­ing. There’s noth­ing wrong with re­duc­ing the ef­fort at park­ing speed, but in Sport mode there’s too much nip­ping and tuck­ing go­ing on with­out ev­i­dent need or ben­e­fit. A sim­i­lar ar­ti­fi­cial­ity ap­plies to the brakes: ca­pa­ble, but lack­ing feel. The base A-Class again makes do with tor­sion-beam rear sus­pen­sion, but a multi-link ar­range­ment is also avail­able, and was fit­ted to the cars we drove – money well spent, as it makes the car track with en­hanced pre­ci­sion and adds a tan­gi­ble mea­sure of com­pli­ance. Both ver­sions are sus­cep­ti­ble to a mo­men­tary lack of lat­eral poise when high g-force meets un­even turf. But on smooth black­top the A200 keeps body roll per­fectly in check, turns in with the right mix of ea­ger­ness and pro­gres­sion, and strikes a fine han­dling bal­ance. It’s fun.

Drive Select, stan­dard across the range, lets you choose be­tween Sport, Com­fort, Eco and In­di­vid­ual, but it only ap­plies to en­gine, gear­box and steer­ing. Although Sport sharp­ens the helm, it adds a dash of ner­vous­ness to the driv­e­train; Eco is an elec­tronic sleep­ing pill, Com­fort a happy com­pro­mise.

The new model’s in­te­rior qual­ity is a big im­prove­ment. The dash­board in par­tic­u­lar is a class act, and if you’re pre­pared to pay for it the new A-Class can be stuffed with just about every S-Class ex­tra bar shi­atsu mas­sage seats and as­sisted-clos­ing doors.

Just check out voice con­trol. Say ‘Hey Mercedes’ and the car will un­der­stand you, talk to you and obey or­ders. Say ‘I’m cold’ and the tem­per­a­ture goes up, say ‘Open the sun­roof’ and it slides back un­til you say stop. I like the di­rec­tac­cess but­tons on both sides of the padded wrist rest and the Dis­creet mode which re­duces the read-outs to the le­gal min­i­mum, Saab 9000 black panel-style. But most of all I like the clean, mod­ern sim­plic­ity of the in­te­rior.

Dis­likes? The eerily pas­sive touch­pad which re­places the Co­mand con­troller. The flimsy plas­tic col­umn stalks. Lane con­trol and other fea­tures which you turn off, only to find they’ve re­turned when­ever you restart the en­gine. And the sheer depth of some sub-menus.

Get­ting in and out is, as be­fore, com­pro­mised by the tucked-in roofline, and the rear door open­ings are small, as is sec­ond-row space once you’re in. The seat­belts are no longer heigh­tad­justable, and you must again pay ex­tra for seats that give de­cent body sup­port and the full ad­just­ment range.

For now, the new A-Class feels far more ac­com­plished and is avail­able with a long, im­pres­sive list of driver as­sis­tance and in­fo­tain­ment fea­tures – much of it stan­dard, and plenty more op­tional. Dy­nam­i­cally the Mercedes isn’t per­fect, but it’s ready to go into bat­tle with the BMW 1-se­ries and Audi A3… while mak­ing the Golf look like quite a bar­gain.

MERCEDES BENZA250 > Price £30,240

> En­gine 1991cc 16v 4-cyl, 221bhp @ 5500rpm, 258lb ft @ 1800rpm

> Trans­mis­sion 7-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel

drive

> Per­for­mance 6.2sec 062mph, 155mph, 141g/km

CO2

> Weight 1455kg

> On sale Now Longer and pret­tier

on the out­side, stun­ning on the in­side

Clean but slow 180d en­gine doesn’t do the pack­age jus­tice

£2395 up­grade nets you this spec­tac­u­lar SClass in­spired eort

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