The ‘baby’ Merc mak­ing a big noise

Big step for­ward for five-door ex­ec­u­tive hatch, writes ED­DIE CUN­NING­HAM

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - ON THE ROAD -

Things were go­ing grand with this week’s re­view mo­tor un­til Yer Man men­tioned how noisy he thought the cabin had been when he’d driven the week be­fore. Up to then, I hadn’t no­ticed any­thing of the kind and was in­wardly singing the praises of the new Mercedes A-Class 5dr ex­ec­u­tive hatch­back.

Cabin noise is some­thing I usu­ally avidly seek out/de­tect as a mat­ter of course. In­deed, my critics say I overdo it (you’d be sur­prised what an­noys peo­ple). Such noise can stem from sev­eral sources; of­ten tyre rum­ble com­bined with a big, roomy cabin can am­plify things.

Ad­mit­tedly, I’d driven only 250kms or so, al­most ex­clu­sively on well-sur­faced roads, when Yer Man, for whom I have great re­spect, raised the is­sue as we chat­ted pre-flight.

He was in­sis­tent. So much so I be­gan to slip into my usual bout of self doubt. I couldn’t wait to get back from driv­ing BMWs and MI­NIs in Eng­land to see if he was right.

If he was, I’d have to re­assess my at­ti­tude to the car in a sig­nif­i­cant way be­cause noise can re­duce the sta­tus and stature of ev­ery­thing else.

Be­fore I tell you how I got on, let me first talk a bit about this new A-Class and why I was so well dis­posed to­wards it up to that junc­ture.

It may be a ‘baby Merc’ but its ar­rival has co­in­cided with smart new tech­nol­ogy com­ing on stream.

Which means it has stuff in the in­fo­tain­ment area that other, larger mod­els have yet to en­joy. As you know it usu­ally works the other way around; smaller cars get the hand-me-downs.

I also think it looks a good deal bet­ter; it’s longer, lower-slung, al­most es­tate-like. Be­cause it is built on a new plat­form, they were able to squeeze bits of ex­tra space here and there.

That man­i­fested it­self most tan­gi­bly with a bit more rear-seat knee and head room (thanks to clever roof de­sign). Boot space is im­proved too, though it is not out­ra­geously gen­er­ous. Nor are the seat ad­just­ments great: dis­ap­point­ing.

But for me the win­ning com­bi­na­tion was the mix of solid/sporty chas­sis, im­pres­sive sup­pres­sion of en­gine noise (!) from the ex­cel­lent 1.5-litre diesel, a slick auto gear­box and di­rect steer­ing.

The re­sult is some­thing that’s dif­fi­cult to achieve: a feel­ing of light­ness and ease on­the-move with true re­sponse from sus­pen­sion, steer­ing and en­gine. The Audi A3, a key ri­val, is a favourite of mine for its solid sporti­ness but this has shifted things.

It isn’t al­to­gether that long ago I penned a most un­flat­ter­ing re­view of the pre­vi­ous A-Class. This new one leaves it to­tally in the shade. It is that good.

And the cabin is some­thing of a gem: with two touch­screens (in­fo­tain­ment cen­tre-dash; nor­mal clus­ter be­hind steer­ing wheel) catch­ing the eye. That’s against a back­drop of smart, clean lines and few but­tons (the ven­ti­la­tion out­lets are a ma­jor de­sign fea­ture, too). It’s the best-look­ing cabin in its class now.

I’m not al­ways great with all this in­ter­ac­tive tech­nol­ogy stuff, but the new MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Ex­pe­ri­ence) mul­ti­me­dia sys­tem with, they claim, the ‘abil­ity to learn’ (ar­ti­fi­cial intelligence) made me feel not just in con­trol but in­volved.

I had sev­eral av­enues to get things done with this de­but el­e­ment: touch­screen, touchpad on cen­tral con­sole (rarely used it), but­tons on the steer­ing wheel, or her good self ‘Mercedes’.

Deal­ing with ‘her’ pro­vided a glimpse of what’s go­ing on in con­nec­tiv­ity and in­fo­tain­ment. So much techno-help is at our dis­posal th­ese days. All I had to say was: “Hey Mercedes” and ‘she’ would ask how she could help — and would mostly de­liver.

So I’d look for ‘her’ to call some­one, change ra­dio fre­quency or what­ever. That was not just a con­ve­nience and driv­ing-safety fea­ture but a bit of fun too, be­times — I laughed at how she pro­nounced ‘Don, The Very One’ when con­nect­ing me to a dear cousin’s num­ber.

But that was all be­fore Yer Man raised the prospect of a noisy cabin and the pos­si­bil­ity of de­mot­ing much of what had gone be­fore.

I was out of the air­port like a sling­shot and, as soon as I could, took it on to rip­pled, rough sur­faces. It was only as I did so that I re­mem­bered how I’d pre­vi­ously driven the car — at its Euro­pean launch — over sev­eral kilo­me­tres of stony, rut­ted roads (sat­nav let us down). Those roads were much rougher than any­thing I trav­elled on here.

Strive as I might I couldn’t crit­i­cise the car for cabin noise. There isn’t one built that can be qui­eter, of course. But there was no no­tice­able in­tru­sion dur­ing my drives.

The only cabin noise that mat­tered, as far as I was con­cerned, was ‘Mercedes’ ask­ing how she could help. She and her techno-team helped a lot in mak­ing this A-Class as good a car as I’ve driven for some time. They are en­ti­tled to make plenty of noise about that.

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