A is for all-wheel drive. That's the lesson learned with the new Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport 4Matic.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport 4Matic is a very different beast to the car it replaces.
No, it hasn’t seen a massive power bump – the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine has increased its power output to 160kW (up 5kW), and torque remains identical at 350Nm.
No, as you can probably tell, it hasn’t seen major styling changes - although the Motorsport Edition you see here gets the same wild aerodynamics package as is optional on the Mercedes-AMG A45 model.
The big change for the new A250? It’s given away in the name.
The 4Matic system is similar to that used in the A45, with the ability to split torque up to 50:50 front/rear. It still uses the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, though that has been tweaked to include a new launch control system.
Benz claims that makes the dual-clutch automatic A250 4Matic quicker from 0-100km/h – 6.3 seconds – where the existing front-wheel drive car did it in 6.6 seconds.
The transmission also has a coasting function that essentially disconnects the transmission when there’s no throttle input, and despite the extra weight of the all-wheel drive system (the A250 now weighs 1505kg when it used to tip the scales at 1445kg), fuel use is rated at 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres, identical to the pre-facelift FWD model.
The engine produces its torque across a broad range, from 1200-4000rpm, and as such it is quite linear in the way it delivers its grunt.
There’s no gutsy low-rev slug as you get in, say, a Volkswagen Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST – instead the A250 Sport rides the revs on board all the way up to 5500rpm and onwards to redline. The gearshifts are crisp, rapid and fuss-free at speed, though there's still a tad of low-speed hesitation, for example when you're taking off from an intersection.
Controlling how the engine and transmission behaves is simple thanks to the Dynamic Select toggle switch – that button also alters the steering response, throttle sharpness and air-conditioning intensity, and, for the first time, the A250 Sport has adaptive suspension dampers.
The constantly variable dampers are designed to offer both a dynamic drive experience, while also working to cosset the occupants in less demanding driving. They come as standard for all 2016 A250 Sport models – and they’re very good.
In Comfort mode the ride is, err, comfortable, which is the first time anyone has probably been able to say that about the A250. In its pre-facelift guise it was somewhat brittle and sharp over bumps (particularly with the larger 19-inch wheels).
The A250 Sport 4Matic Motorsport Edition sits on 19s (with 235/35 tyres) as standard, and it rides over rough road surfaces and potholes with minimal fuss. There’s still a touch of sharpness through the front wheels over particularly hard bumps. The suspension still remains firm enough to hold a relatively flat line through corners, even in the most comfortable mode.
In Sport mode, as you can imagine, the car is an even sharper thing.
The suspension instantly feels more rigid and hard riding, but even in this drive setting the ride is not nearly as harsh as in the pre-facelift car. It is compliant yet firm, but not crashy.
And through corners Sport mode makes the car sit flat and unflustered, with the 4Matic all-wheel drive system ensuring the car holds a better line it may have in its front-drive days.
It stays truer to its line, even if you lift off the throttle mid-way through a corner. Previously the tail could snap into oversteer, but if you lift off the throttle in the 4Matic there's no unsettled moment, and when you jab the right pedal again to push out of the corner there's plenty of traction available.
However, there’s a caveat to the all-wheel drive system, and that is feel of the steering. It doesn’t quite have the same sharpness at the front end as it did previously, with some dullness to the steering at times.
Indeed, it lacks the linearity and feedback through the wheel of the old front-driver; that intrinsic, connected feeling that you always knew precisely what was happening at the front hoops has been somewhat dissipated.
That is not to say that it is difficult to drive – in fact it’s probably easier to drive fast, particularly through sweeping corners – but those who loved the old A250 for its hands-on feel may be left wanting.
In terms of looks the Motorsport Edition lives up to the notion with colour highlights that are a nod to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team. It'll likely be a fairly rare sighting in Australia - about 100 are expected to be offered, at a premium of "less than $5000" over the standard A250 Sport 4Matic. Full pricing is to be confirmed at a later date, but you can see what new equipment will be standard in the A-Class range here.
The exterior sees “petrol green” highlights on the front and rear bumpers, as well as the rims of the AMG light-alloy wheels. That eye-catching rear spoiler also gets green bits, as do the side mirrors.
The inside of the Motorsport Edition is also pretty special.
There are Petronas green trim highlights on the seats and air-vent surrounds, as well as green stitching on the dash, floor-mats and armrests. There is even green trimming on the seatbelts, while the seats themselves are covered in a mix of black leather and Dinamica microfiber.
As for major cockpit changes over the previous A-Class, there aren’t many. However, the new 8.0-inch media screen does smarten up the cabin, though the plethora of buttons below looks a little out of date.
The updated screen sees the adoption of Mercedes-Benz’s most up-to-date media control menus, and the Comand system is relatively simple to learn your way around. The new, larger screen makes a brilliant monitor for the standard reverse-view camera, too.
For the driver there’s a new steering wheel that is familiar from the B-Class, CLA-Class and GLA-Class, and it certainly smartens things up a bit inside the cabin.
Storage is dealt with up front with a pair of cupholders between the seats as well as a small bin to put a bottle or your valuables, while the centre console features dual-USB inputs. There are door pockets front and rear, too.
The back seat is fine for young children or adults who don’t consider themselves tall, but anyone nearing 180cm will likely find themselves lacking head room and knee room. Foot space when you’re getting in or out is also tight.
Speaking of tight, the boot hasn’t grown from its rather small 341-litre capacity, though that increases to 1157 litres with the rear seats folded down.
The Motorsport Edition adds a bit of youthful street-side extroversion to what is an otherwise more mature vehicle following this mid-life update.
With all-wheel drive the Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport 4Matic isn’t perhaps as lively as it once was - but the adaptive dampers mean this is now a more enjoyable car to sit in, not just to drive. It’s a thoroughly impressive go-fast luxury hatch.