IT WILL STEER YOU RIGHT

Tech this out: The A-Class learns your driv­ing pref­er­ences and gives you tips

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - MOTORING - CRAIG DUFF

T he bat­tle to en­tice buy­ers from main­stream cars to en­try pres­tige ve­hi­cles in­creas­ingly is be­ing played out in­side the car rather than un­der the bon­net or body. The new Mer­cedes-Benz A-Class is a model ex­am­ple. A diminu­tive 1.3-litre engine pow­ers the A200 that went on sale this week. No one will care about the ca­pac­ity be­cause it has a frac­tion more power than the car it re­places and uses a touch less fuel.

They will care about the pair of 10.2-inch dis­plays span­ning the dash that cover driver’s dis­plays and in­fo­tain­ment op­er­a­tion.

They’ll also care that the stan­dard ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence will learn their voice pat­terns and driv­ing pref­er­ences over the first six weeks of own­er­ship and then pro­vide bet­ter recog­ni­tion and pre­dic­tive sug­ges­tions to help make life be­hind the wheel eas­ier to ne­go­ti­ate.

Among the tar­get au­di­ence, the fact this A-Class has grown by 120mm, is 16mm wider and 7mm higher won’t raise any eye­brows — un­til they savour sub­stan­tially more space in the rear seat for heads and legs, bet­ter rear­ward vi­sion and a 29L big­ger boot.

The amount of soft­ware packed into the small five-seat hatch is as­ton­ish­ing — some may well find it be­wil­der­ing. USB-C ports cater for the lat­est de­vices with faster data trans­fer and charg­ing rates. Smart­phone mir­ror­ing is stan­dard and there’s a wire­less charg­ing tray for Qi-en­abled ex­am­ples.

The safety gear ex­tends to semi-au­to­mated park­ing to avoid those em­bar­rass­ing touch-park mo­ments. Blind-spot as­sist stays ac­tive for up to three min­utes af­ter the car is switched off to avoid “door­ing” pass­ing cy­clists.

Be­yond the items men­tioned above, stan­dard spec on the A200 in­cludes a black di­a­mond-pin grille, adap­tive LED head­lamps, fake leather seats, sat­nav, dig­i­tal ra­dio and a touch­pad in place of the dial con­troller. It’s worth not­ing the touch­pad is now one of three ways to con­trol the in­fo­tain­ment, along with the touch­screen it­self and swipe/touch but­tons mounted on the steer­ing wheel.

The op­tions packs are ex­ten­sive and cater to those who want more com­fort, more style and even more safety tech.

The A200 is the open­ing gam­bit in Merc’s re­newed as­sault on “con­quest” buy­ers, ei­ther from ri­val pres­tige brands or main­stream com­pa­nies. It will be fol­lowed by the all-wheel drive A250 late this year, with the base A180 due early next year and the A-Class sedan be­fore June.

ON THE ROAD

The engine, jointly de­vel­oped with Re­nault, is the A200’s thrum­ming heart. It is vi­bra­tion-free across the rev range and, while it doesn’t sound par­tic­u­larly in­spir­ing, can still sprint from rest to 100km/h in a re­spectable 8.0 sec­onds .

It is also tractable around town, where the up­graded seven-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion helps by avoid­ing the jerky and hes­i­tant take-offs the pre­vi­ous ver­sion could oc­ca­sion­ally throw up.

A tor­sion beam is the de­fault rear sus­pen­sion. It’s cheap but not nasty and most A200 buy­ers will be bet­ter off not spend­ing the ex­tra to have a multi-link set-up in­stalled, sim­ply be­cause hard charg­ing isn’t the A200’s re­mit — that task will fall to the yet-to-be-an­nounced AMG A35 and A45 mod­els.

A back-to-back test of the two sus­pen­sions shows the multi-link has marginally more scope as the drive mode shifts from com­fort to sport. In daily driv­ing it is hard to spot the dif­fer­ence un­less you hit a mid-cor­ner bump at se­ri­ous pace, so I’d save my coin for some of the other fea­tures, or spec­ify the AMG Line pack with a 15mm lower ride height.

In ei­ther case, the A200 copes with small bumps and de­cent sharp-edged ruts with the com­fort you’d ex­pect from a pres­tige prod­uct.

The claimed thirst of 5.7L/100km may well be achiev­able: We used 6.3L in a mix of ur­ban and coun­try driv­ing, climb­ing to 7.5L when the go­ing got twisty and hilly.

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