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The revised 2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Mercedes-AMG A45 ranges are now on sale in Australia. The mid-life updates come almost three years after the sharply styled third-generation range premiered.
The A-Class is a hugely important car for Mercedes-Benz. The hatchback managed more than 3500 sales in 2015, giving it an impressive 20 per cent market share in its segment. Add the (soon to be updated) CLA sedan to the mix and it easily outsells all rivals, including the Audi A3.
While it may take a trainspotter to catch the exterior styling changes, they do improve the A-Class experience. The front-end now features an arrow-shaped grille, newly designed LED daytime running lights and the option of LED headlights on some models. The rear offers the biggest change with an integrated lower diffuser now encapsulating the exhaust pipes.
Inside the cabin, it's a similar story. A larger 8.0-inch infotainment screen is standard across the range, as is Apple CarPlay, Android Auto functionality and a reverse-view camera.
The A-Class range offers four petrol variants and one diesel, with the A180 kicking off the range from $37,200 plus on-road costs — $1300 more than the outgoing model. Next up is the A200, which costs from $42,800 (up $1000 over the previous model), followed by the only diesel in the range, the A200d at $43,300 (also up $1000 over the outgoing model).
Two models that have benefitted from power and drivetrain upgrades are the A250 and Mercedes-AMG A45. The A250 kicks off from $53,500 ($2500 more than before) and picks up more power and torque, along with a new all-wheel drive system.
The final model in the A-Class range is the AMG-fettled A45, which is priced from $77,900 ($2200 more than the outgoing model) and comes with more power and torque, along with the option of a front-locking differential and a new drive mode select system. Read our separate review of that car here.
With power and torque outputs remaining unchanged, the A180 is powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces a modest 90kW of power and 200Nm of torque. It's mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and sends torque through the front wheels. It uses just 5.8L/100km on the combined cycle.
The A200 also carries the same drivetrain as the outgoing model, powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 115kW of power and 250Nm of torque. It too is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and uses 6.1L/100km on the combined cycle.
The A200d diesel model remains the same as the previous model, producing 100kW of power and 300Nm of torque from its 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine. It sends torque through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and uses a mind-boggling 4.2L/100km.
While purists may be destined for the AMG-built A45, the top-selling A250 Sport 4Matic now represents a compelling proposition. The drivetrain has changed from being front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive, with a 5kW power output increase to 160kW of power and 350Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. It is matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and uses 6.7L/100km on the combined cycle (.1L/100km more than the outgoing model).
Finally, the A-Class with all the chest hair. The Mercedes-AMG A45 uses a tried and tested turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces a mind-bending 280kW of power (up 15kW) and 475Nm of torque (up 25Nm). These incredible numbers give the benefit of even faster 0-100km/h acceleration. The sprint time has been shaved from 4.6 seconds to just 4.2 seconds. But, it's come at the cost of fuel use, up from 6.9L/100km to 7.3L/100km.
As a side note, this also means that it is now placed in the Luxury Car Tax (LCT) threshold, making it more expensive than the previous model, which sat below the magic 7L/100km figure.
Let's recap some of the basics. There is 341 litres of cargo capacity on offer, which is around 20 litres down on the BMW 1 Series, but still respectable. Rear seat legroom can be a little bit cramped — especially when seated behind a tall driver. It makes up for the space deficiency with 60:40 split-folding rear seats and a retractable armrest with two cup holders. There's also two sets of Isofix anchorage points.
Up front, the new eight-inch infotainment system looks a little more integrated than the old one, but it remains a bit fiddly to use. The COMAND package is intuitive once you get used to it, but it's not easy to use on the move and requires too much attention in comparison to something like BMW's iDrive. It does win points back thanks to an intuitive voice recognition system for navigation and telephone use. Not to mention the LED lighting package that allows you to pick from up to 12 interior lighting colours.
In this segment, standard safety equipment rates very highly amongst buyers. The A-Class doesn't disappoint with blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors with semi-automatic parking, nine airbags and autonomous emergency braking.
The launch program was situated out of country Victoria and offered us a drive of the A200, A250 Sport 4Matic and Mercedes-AMG A45 models.
The first sting was a 100km loop in the A200 model. At $42,800, the A200 represents the sweet spot in the A-Class range. The front-wheel drive hatch works brilliantly with its turbocharged four-cylinder engine to deliver an engaging drive experience.
While low-speed driving can be a bit jittery due to the dual-clutch transmission, it becomes second nature after a short while. Sitting on 18-inch alloy wheels, the A200 feels settled and comfortable over country roads and imperfections.
Our test vehicle had the optional AMG Exclusive Package, which added adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control and man-made leather dashboard stitching. At only $1990, the package represents a great option for buyers that want the flexibility of adjustable suspension without compromising on ride quality.
All A-Class models come with the Dynamic Select button, which adjusts throttle sensitivity, gearbox and steering feel. On vehicles fitted with dynamic suspension it also adjusts the ride to cater for a comfort mode or a firmer sport mode. In the A200 with this optional package, it helped the car sit flatter through corners, particularly on a slow and windy section that would cause the car to suddenly change direction.
The high-output 1.6-litre engine worked well with the gearbox and was more than enough pep to keep the car moving and for overtaking manoeuvres.
While the A200 was impressive, it sits in lower league to the top-selling A250 Sport 4Matic variant, which now features an all-wheel drive system. The extra power and torque over the A200 also made it livelier through corners and on open stretches.
In places where the A200 could be prone to understeer, the A250 powered out of the corner with little fuss. In fact, the all-wheel drive system is so good that you can rarely feel it working beneath you — a sign of a truly good all-wheel drive system.
The A250 comes standard with both AMG-tuned suspension and adaptive dampers. These two things make it inherently firmer, even in the comfort setting. It's not unbearable, or even close to, but is noticeably firmer than the A200.
Buyers can also option a Motorsport Edition package on the A250, which adds 19-inch alloy wheels with green highlighting, Petronas green highlights to the wing mirrors, front, rear and interior. Additionally, it comes with an AMG rear spoiler with Petronas colour highlights, dual-zone climate control, heated seats powered memory seats. It's limited to 250 units and costs an additional $4490.
After a road loop, we jumped on to a tight circuit at Broadford to put the A250 through its paces. The all-wheel drive system comes into its own on tighter stretches of track like this. It settles nicely and is happy to power out of a corner without excessive amounts of understeer or fuss.
The steering is very direct and the smaller AMG wheel sits nicely in the hand. While you can shift through gears manually using steering wheel paddle shifters, it's just as happy to do all the leg work in its sport mode.
The real star on the race track was the Mercedes-AMG A45. Aside from the now even more ludicrous power output, the A45 can be optioned with a front differential lock. Designed to help contain understeer that can occur under throttle on the exit of a corner, the front differential lock aims to split torque delivery between the front two wheels to ensure they rotate at the same speed.
This works in unison with traction control and an active rear axle to slingshot out of any corner.
It was almost hot enough to cook eggs on the pavement, so I was a little worried about how the A45 would take a track session. Nevertheless, with the reader in mind, I went out for around 10 - 15 quick laps around Broadford.
With temperatures nudging 40 degrees Celsius, it was the road tyres that began showing signs of fatigue before the car. The huge 350mm front rotors with four-piston calipers and 330mm rear rotors with single-piston calipers had no issues with a constant battering.
Unlike other hot four-cylinder all-wheel drive cars, the A45 has an inherent ability to remain remarkably planted through corners and on exit under power. It can understeer if pushed in a tightening-radius turn, but if you remain patient and get on the throttle as the corner opens, there is no sign of dissent from the drivetrain.
The electrically assisted steering rack uses variable ratios to help with steering feel. The rack tightens up nicely in Race mode and provides progressive feedback across all elements of the track.
Then there's the noise! Cracks, pops and burbles from the exhaust can be heard from miles away as the pocket rocket navigates its way around the track.
Its other cool party trick is launch control. With the launch control program enabled, it will shoot from a standing start to 100km/h in just 4.2-seconds. Let's put that into context — it wasn't that long ago that 4.0 seconds from a Ferrari F430 was the bee's knees. Now, we're achieving those figures from a four-door hot-hatch. You can watch the Mercedes-AMG A45 launch control in action here.
So, does the MY16 Mercedes-Benz A-Class represent a radical change from the previous generation? No. But, it doesn't need to. Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG have sharpened the product to a premium level that offers buyers a perfect balance between luxury, style and performance.
Click on the Photos tab to see more 2016 Mercedes-Benz A250 images by Tom Fraser, Paul Maric and Mercedes-Benz.