Wheels (Australia) - - Garage - ALEX IN­WOOD

IS THERE A more in­tox­i­cat­ing feel­ing than spend­ing some­one else’s money? It’s a sen­sa­tion that I imag­ine only bank rob­bers and slip­pery-suited hedge fund man­agers must ex­pe­ri­ence on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, but a few months ago, I was lucky enough to taste its heady heights.

It all hap­pened so fast. One minute I was talk­ing to the nice PR man from Mercedes about a pos­si­ble long-term A-class, then the next I was shout­ing “YES!” or mut­ter­ing “Hmmm, no, pass” as he read through the op­tions list of what was to become ‘my’ A250 4Matic.

The temp­ta­tion to get car­ried away was strong, though with the level head of a man who ag­o­nises over whether 50c for an ex­tra shot of cof­fee re­ally is worth it, I tried to spec the car as if I was or­der­ing it for my­self. Which kind of spoiled my ‘make it rain’ fan­tasy a lit­tle.

So, what have I ended up with? A crack­ing-look­ing hatch­back, clearly. While I’m one of the few that thinks the old A-class ac­tu­ally looked sharper (I miss the con­fi­dent swage line that kicked up into the rear door. With­out it, this new shape looks a lit­tle amor­phous), there’s no deny­ing that 1NB9EC packs a vis­ual punch. Help­ing the cause is its Jupiter Red (non­metal­lic) paint which, hap­pily, comes as stan­dard, and larger 19-inch multi-spoke AMG al­loys that add $1390 to the base $55,500 sticker price.

A trick of Merc’s prod­uct plan­ning strat­egy means you can’t op­tion the larger al­loys (18s are stan­dard) with­out also tick­ing the box for the AMG Ex­clu­sive Pack­age for $3190. Cru­cially, this adds adap­tive dampers, which is a must as A250 4Mat­ics run on AMG Line sus­pen­sion that’s 15mm lower. It also brings other good­ies like two-tone

leather up­hol­stery (I went all out with the red in­serts), plus am­bi­ent light­ing with 64 colours to choose from, and du­al­zone cli­mate con­trol with rear vents.

Slip­ping in­side brings fur­ther op­por­tu­nity to spend up big. As an au­dio­phile, I couldn’t pass up the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Pack­age, which for $2490 adds an ex­cel­lent 12-speaker, 590W Burmester sound system. The fact this pack bun­dles in a clear and easyto-read head-up dis­play makes it feel like money well spent. It adds a fur­ther sprin­kle of lux­ury to what is a classlead­ing cabin.

Depend­ing on the in­ten­sity and colour of the am­bi­ent light­ing, it can feel a lit­tle ’80s disco in there, es­pe­cially at night, but dial back the in­ten­sity and there’s no es­cap­ing the feel-good fac­tor the cabin de­liv­ers. The twin 10.25-inch screens are a high­light, and I’m find­ing the func­tion­al­ity of ‘Hey Mercedes’ and the twin-touch­pads on the steer­ing wheel gen­uinely use­ful.

My only real in­te­rior gripes are the heavy use of piano black on the cen­tre con­sole, which at­tracts dust and fin­ger prints (you can’t op­tion this out, sadly), and some of the plas­tics used on the lower doors and the in­di­ca­tor stalks. Nor­mally this wouldn’t be a deal breaker, but as the right stalk acts as your gear se­lec­tor, you in­ter­act with it frequently and its cheap-feel­ing plas­tic is at odds with the rest of the cabin.

For just $990 you can also add a panoramic sun­roof, so I did, and this is part of the wider Vi­sion Pack­age which bun­dles multi-beam LED head­lights with adap­tive high-beam as­sist and a sen­sa­tional 360° over­head camera.

The Seat Com­fort Pack­age for $1290 gives me fully elec­tric and heated front seats with mem­ory func­tion. And with a view to test­ing the cal­i­bra­tion of Merc’s lat­est ac­tive safety gear, the fi­nal op­tion I ticked was the Driver As­sis­tance Pack­age. For $1790 this brings the same semi-au­ton­o­mous ca­pa­bil­i­ties you get in an S-class.

So with­out even try­ing I’d added $11,140 to the price of ‘my’ A-class. Sounds quite a lot, when you con­sider it in per­cent­age terms (20 per­cent of the pur­chase price). Do I have any re­grets? Not re­ally. My only ques­tion mark sur­rounds the 19-inch al­loys, which are a pain to keep clean and look dread­ful when dirty. But that’s it. The rest of the pack­age looks and feels spe­cial and, as we know from COTY, an A250 4Matic is an ab­so­lute hoot when the road gets twisty. More on that next month.

A250 for­goes the dis­ap­point­ing Re­nault-sourced donk of the A200 for a stronger Mercedes-benz-built 2.0-litre four

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