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The all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class trades clever innovation for fashionable conformism, but can the wider and lower hatch cut the mustard, then slather it over its German rivals?
With the all-new Audi A3 Sportback and still-fresh BMW 1 Series tempting premium hatch shoppers, Stuttgart has been behind the game in this hotly contested segment. Now, Mercedes-Benz hopes to shake up the market and capture lost ground with this re-birthed, markedly different A-Class.
CarAdvice has tested the new A-Class in the UK, ahead of its arrival in Australian showrooms in March 2013.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is obviously entirely new. The old A-Class, while roomy and clever, was tall and narrow, to the detriment of its styling and, by extension in this aesthetics-driven segment, popularity. Mini-MPV look, be gone.
Almost 4.3 metres long, the A-Class stretches 409mm beyond the old model to be closely match the 1 Series and A3. The wheelbase is 131mm longer, too, extending beyond that of its chief rivals. But it also sits lower than the old A-Class. The size increase does, however, bring greater interior space, a larger footprint and a bigger boot, which now tallies 341 litres but remains adrift of the 380L A3 and 360L 1 Series.
There’s a greater focus on youthful ‘cool’ inside, too. You can choose subtle carbon-look inserts across the dash and doors, for example, and the high-set ‘floating’ 14.7cm colour screen and damped-swivelling tri-air vents – the design shared with the SLS AMG – add a level of funkiness to the otherwise conservative interior design. The expected array of Bluetooth, iPod and USB compatability is standard.
Unfortunately, the driving position is slightly compromised, and the high door sills restrict visibility and, particularly, thanks to the three back-seat headrests, rear vision.
Impressively, however, parking sensors, a reversing camera and an auto reverse-park system will be standard across the range in Australia. Other safety equipment includes nine airbags, ABS, ESC and Collision Prevention Assist, which will automatically stop the A-Class if it detects a collision at less than 30km/h.
There’s a choice of diesel and petrol four-cylinder engines, starting with an 85kW 1.6-litre petrol engine, which claims 5.8L/100km, matching the BMW 116i but falling short of both the 1.4- and 1.8-litre turbo A3 Sportback. In the A-Class, it’s clearly the price leader - the A180 will be priced from $35,600 in Australia - and while it isn’t as fuel efficient as the diesel, it’s much smoother and more responsive.
The $40,900 A200 CDI’s 100kW 1.8-litre turbo diesel is rated at 4.6L/100km., which also trails the 118d (4.5L/100km) and A3 Sportback (4.2L/100km). Not only that, but the diesel is rattly, more so than in the BMW and Audi. It’s quietens itself at speed, replacing the rattle for a smoother hum that is barely noticeable. While it can be quick if kept in the surging mid-range, the lack of response down low and oddly tall gearing rules out quick lane changes and limits getting around a suddenly-stopped cab ahead of you (that may have happened and I may have cursed), for instance.
The $49,900 A250 Sport is powered by a 155kW 2.0-litre petrol unit and sits on 18-inch wheels and lowered suspension. Like the rest of the range, it utilises a smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, including wheel-mounted shift paddles. It’s the fastest model in the range, with a 0-100km/h claim of 6.6 seconds, backed by crisp throttle response and a grunty exhaust note. Its weak point is the ride quality, though.
There’s a choice of Comfort and Sports suspension tunes for the A-Class, but neither can be described as premium, with even the smaller wheels revealing a crashy, intrusive ride in the softest setting. The ride is better at low speeds, but over speed humps, for example, the front axle struggles to immediately regain control of the mass, bobbing the nose twice or thrice.
Larger wheels and the Sports suspension preset only makes the A-Class ride worse. The suspension tune will be different for Australia, we understand, so we'll have to wait for local testing for the final verdict on the new A-Class's ride and handling.
But road holding and traction levels are both better than expected. The steering, too, weights up nicely. The firmer ride and good grip bode well for the high performance models, though, and we’ve seen a high-powered three-door AMG version in testing, which will use a more potent version of the 2.0-litre turbo engine to take on the Audi S3 and BMW M135i performance models.
Mercedes-Benz builds some of the world’s best large sedans in terms of ride, comfort and performance. We'll have to wait until we test the new A-Class in Australia against its rivals to find out whether the company also builds the best premium hatch.
2013 Mercedes-Benz A-Class pricing:
- A180 - $35,600
- A200 - $40,900
- A200 CDI - $40,900
- A250 Sport - $49,900