Finally. That's the word that comes to mind after a stint in the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
After two generations of oddball A-Classes that traded on practicality rather than flair or fun, Mercedes has at last proven it has the ability to build a decent premium hatchback.
CarAdvice had already driven the hot-hatch A250 Sport version of the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which was extremely impressive. Now a drive of all models in the range shows Mercedes has hit the mark, with the car and the content.
The only glaring issue is the cabin of the entry-level A180, which looks plain and cheap.
There is certainly nothing wrong with the way the A180 and all the other A-Class variants drive and the cabins of the other models are a real highlight.
Mercedes did not even try to match the $29,990 price point of the last A-Class, which was dropped from the local line up in 2009, lifting the admission ticket to $35,600 for the A180.
It has fitted a considerable amount of features as standard, however, including a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. There is no manual option for any of the cars, including the spicy A250 Sport.
Other notable standard features include cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, steering wheel-mounted gearshift paddles, nine airbags, self parking and electronic aids such as Attention Assist, which lets you know if you are getting drowsy, and Collision Attention Assist, which warns of impending impact – although it stops short of intervening. Ambient lighting in the headrest, footwells and in the sill (lighting up the Mercedes-Benz text) is also surprisingly standard in all models.
So, this is no stripped-out special like the original base A-Class of 1998.
If you want to add some more content, Mercedes has come up with nine option packages, which are actually not a rip-off (all less than $3000) as is often the case in the premium sphere.
The company has also come up with a service package, which covers all servicing through to 50,000km for a one-off fee of $1383. When asked how many services that includes, Mercedes says that would vary depending on the model and the way it is driven (the car informs the driver when it’s ready for a service).
While the interiors are generally excellent, the A180’s is spoilt by a plain dashboard, some ordinary surfaces, seat and door trims that really could have been done better and a steering wheel that is shaped perfectly but is made from an ordinary smooth plastic you expect from a far cheaper car.
It drives well though. This might have the entry-level engine, but the 90kW/200Nm 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder does enough to allow the car to keep up with traffic without much fuss at all. As is the case with all Mercedes-Benz A-Class models, apart from the A250 Sport, the accelerator is calibrated on the safe side and needs to travel a fair way before unleashing the engine’s power, giving the false impression of sluggishness.
Stepping up to the middle As – the A200 petrol and the A200 CDI diesel, which both cost $40,990 – is worth it if you can afford it.
These get larger engines, upgraded interiors, which have a real prestige look and feel, bigger wheels that transform the exterior appearance (up from 17-inch to 18), twin pipes at the rear, electric folding mirrors and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The 100kW/300Nm 1.8-litre diesel is oriented towards economy instead of performance, with an eyebrow-raising fuel economy average of 4.6 litres per 100km. That is quite something.
The engine is relatively quiet, although you can still pick it’s a diesel at lower speeds. It performs well enough and is strong in undulating terrain, but there can be a bit of lag off the line (and the transmission doesn’t help), which is not so good if you are doing a lot of city work.
All the cars have stop-start and the diesel restart is a bit more intrusive than in the petrols.
The 1.8-litre petrol turbo in the A200 is not as miserly, but the economy is still damn good with an official figure of 6.1L/100km.
It gets going quicker, is smoother and revs out sweetly. It was a real hoot on our test drive in the hills of Victoria’s Yarra Valley.
This engine has 55kW and 50Nm less than the A250 Sport, but you can paddle along quickly and have some real fun.
All of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class variants are agile and enjoy corners. These handle nothing like the previous-generation cars; they are proper low-riding sporty European hatchbacks.
The A250 Sport is a class and a half in front of the other models due to its unique suspension and special steering ratio. (You can read more detail on that car here.) The Sport is also the only model with normal tyres, the others have run-flats.
This is good if your partner cops a flat and you aren’t around to ride in on your white horse and change the tyre, but it’s not great for the ride. While the A-Class is generally comfortable (unless fitted with the optional and over-firm lowered AMG suspension) the run-flats tend to pick up some of the smaller bumps and pass them on. They also mean the car can bop and bump around on the rougher sections of road.
The interior space is good, with ample head and legroom for two adult passengers in the back and the boot space is adequate (341 litres). The B-Class has a massive cargo area for those not satisfied by the A-Class.
As for options, the $1089 Becker satellite navigation will be popular as sat-nav is not standard in any variant. You can also get sat-nav with the Harmon Kardon sound system, including digital radio, for $2990.
There are too many option packs to go through here, but the Night Package, which adds 18-inch rims, tinted windows, blacked-out wing mirrors and a blacked-out grille is a great way to dress up the base A180 for just $990 (it costs $490 on the A200).
The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is certainly going to draw new people, including some younger ones, into the luxury German marque’s dealerships.
While it isn’t cheap, the new car is actually pretty good value when you drill down and examine what you get.
It looks good and has the prestige of a three-pointed star badge, is still relatively practical and is fun to drive, which is not something you could have said about the A-Class until now.