Just when you thought German luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz had filled every automotive niche imaginable, up pops what is very likely to become yet another sales all-star for the brand in the form of the all-new A-Class sedan.
Premium compact hatches have led the way for brands to capture new buyers with a thirst for Euro badges at an entry-level price, but their inherent practicality has always meant function ruled over form with design taking something of a backseat role in the development process.
Audi changed all that when it introduced the A3 Sedan in 2013. With sleek styling and all-round good looks, it pretty much became an instant hit for those who craved style over the convenience of a hatchback.
It was Audi again who reset the class benchmark with an update to the A3 in 2017 that boasted some especially cool tech from the company’s flagship models, like Matrix LED headlamps from the A8 and R8 supercar, while inside it picked up features like the benchmark 12.3-inch digital instrument display that made it an even more tempting proposition for new car buyers.
Mercedes-Benz is playing the same game by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the new A-Class sedan, but goes one better by including the company’s ground breaking new infotainment system dubbed MBUX, for Mercedes-Benz User Experience, featuring next-level connectivity similar to that of Google Home or Amazon Alexa – and believe me, it’s a whole new on-board experience we haven’t seen before in a car – except of course in the latest A-Class hatch, which debuted the system.
In fact, from the B-pillar forward the sedan is identical to the hatch. Styling aside for the moment and it’s the new sedan that trumps the hatch for load space, boasting 420 litres or 50 more. Not only that, it also benefits from a wide aperture measuring 950mm across, and 462mm between the lock and the lower edge of the rear window for easier loading of large items. Not bad for a compact four-door which will likely see a premium of around two grand over the hatch.
All of this bodes well for the three-pointed-star in prize-winning markets like the United States, where nearly one in two buyers of a compact car from Mercedes-Benz had previously driven a competitive vehicle and more that 50 per cent of CLA customers were new to the brand.
The A-Class sedan sports a sharp new design that managed to attract immediate attention on the streets of Seattle the night we laid eyes on it for the first time.
Its low-slung profile with short front and rear overhangs, dispenses with unnecessary lines and curves for a decidedly sporty stance. We especially like the rear-end treatment with its meaty bumper and muscular diffuser which adds plenty to the sporty intent.
It’s one of those cars that looks quick in a static display but especially true of the A220 4Matic tester we got to sample in and around parts of Washington State in the United States.
Comparisons will undoubtedly be made with the A3, which has aged remarkably well in its current generation, but Benz has produced a worthy catwalk rival that’s also sympathetic to passenger space and comfort in what is a very smart design execution.
While there’s no doubt the A-Class looks the chunkier of the two, its actually more slippery than any of its competitors thanks to a benchmark Cd of just 0.22 – the lowest aerodynamic drag of all production vehicles worldwide and equalling that of the CLA Coupe.
Extensive wind tunnel testing helped hone the car’s ultra-low Cd, which called for new levels of sealing including the headlamp surrounds as well as the nearly total panelling of the car’s underbody.
Apparently, its paid off because Benz is claiming fuel consumption for the A200 of just 5.4-5.2 litres/100km. But even the A220 4Matic we drove claims an average fuel consumption between 6.5/6.7 litres/100km. In reality, it was quite a different story as we blasted along the fast-flowing twisties through the spectacular Mount Rainier National Park where consumption climbed to nearly 12.3L/100km, but granted we were having some real fun.
Unfortunately, we were only able to sample the A220 4Matic variant which Australia intends to skip in favour of the juicier A250 4Matic, but even that won’t arrive here until well after the local launch phase that will see just one version land in showrooms in Q2 2019 – the front-wheel drive A200.
But it won’t stop there. Mercedes-Benz intends to launch an entire family of the new A-Class sedan including a couple of ripsnorting versions like the Mercedes-AMG A35 and eventually the full-fat A45 that’s expected to make more than 300kW of power – outgunning all its rivals including the much heralded Audi RS3.
While our A220 4Matic tester was powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with 140kW and 300Nm from 1600rpm driving all four wheels, the A200 we will see here in Australia makes do with a diminutive 1.3-litre engine making 120kW and 250Nm at 1600rpm. Both engines are mated to Benz’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
While it might be down on sheer grunt the A200 is also lighter by 130kg, so while we can’t tell you how it goes first hand, expect the entry-level formula to satisfy a sizeable number of buyers looking first and foremost at the three-pointed star up front.
Ironically, we had the same preconceived notion about the A220 despite its meaningful jump in output, but we can categorically report good things about the A220. There’s more than sufficient punch with this four-pot both out of the gate and in the midrange, where fourth-gear really pulled hard making high-speed passing a breeze.
While the current trend has been for manufacturers to move away from dual-clutch transmissions to the more traditional torque-converter automatics in the interests of refinement, the new A-Class (like the A3) sticks with the sportier DCT box that seems to marry up surprisingly well to the turbo-four, providing seamless shifts in Comfort and rapid cog-swapping in Sport. There’s also more breadth between the two settings, which we found more pleasing still.
However, the sweet spot in the line-up is likely to be the A250 4Matic, which has its 2.0-litre turbo-four wound up to produce a thoroughly more engaging 165kW and 350Nm from 1800rpm. As expected, performance take a sizeable leap too with 100km/h coming up in just 6.3 seconds over 7.0sec for our A220 and 8.1secs for the A200 we’ll see here.
The ride/handling balance is good, too, at least for those variants equipped with adaptive damping and a four-link rear axle, as our A220 tester was. Entry-level models like the A200 will get a less-sophisticated torsion beam set-up, instead.
Working in concert with the all-wheel drive system and the larger wheel and tyre package fitted to our press car – this was a fun thing to punt around the bends, displaying excellent body control and a good deal of confidence from behind the wheel. Ride compliance is generally excellent in all drive modes, especially on the smooth tarmac up in these parts, though things could get a bit busy over coarse chip surfaces and the like.
Torque distribution between the front and rear axles is fully variable – meaning in some situations, 100 per cent of drive can be shifted to the front axle (on US interstate highways for example), though we found it to be utterly seamless.
Steering feel and feedback from the electro-mechanical is downright superb and adds much to this car’s inherently sporty character.
But if we thought the latest A-Class sedan delivered the goods dynamically and from the design perspective, it’s more than likely going to be exquisitely styled cabin and cutting-edge technology that’s the real kicker.
Not in a million years would you ever pick this as an entry-level offering, even from Mercedes-Benz. In many respects it mirrors the company’s flagship S-Class with a spectacular avant-garde extravaganza complete two 10.25-inch high-resolution displays and a 64-colour ambient lighting system that will dazzle you.
It’s feels like a Star Wars set full of light sabres that seem to penetrate every part of the cabin – but especially the turbine-inspired air vents, and that’s each and every vane. The instrument display looks better than my 65 Samsung QLED screen, and its multi-configurable thanks to the much improved haptic feedback buttons on the steering wheel or touchpad controller in the centre console.
The piece-de-resistance though, is the MBUX system which includes the infotainment touchscreen, though you’ll soon become addicted to the keyword phrase ‘Hey Mercedes’. If you’ve got Google Home or used Amazon Echo with Alexa voice service overseas, you’re going to love this system.
Simply say ‘Hey Mercedes, close the roof’, and presto it's done. Or what about, ‘I’m hot’, and the system simply says it's lowering the cabin temperature, and you don’t have to lift a finger. It even found us the nearest dope retailers (we were in Seattle after all... it's legal) to choose from. It’s not perfect, but for the most part it’s just a brilliant piece of technology.
The navigation system is especially good, using proper augmented reality that the actual street view in real time up on the screen together with dropdown street signs for unparalleled directions.
Added to the A-Class inventory is the Presidential suite of active safety measures including the ability to drive semi-autonomously in certain situations as part of the Driver Assistance package. It’s able to predictively adjust the speed when approaching bends, junctions or roundabouts for example.
And, while it might be a compact luxury car, the new A-Class sedan offers surprising space and comfort – in both rows. There’s a good balance of bolster and cushioning in the seats and the seating position is nice and low – enhancing that sporty intent.
Rear seat legroom is pretty-good too, though taller units will probably brush the headlining, but it’s comfortable enough back there even after several hours.
There’s no doubt at all that Benz has put considerable effort into their new entry-level sedan and is expecting it to become a global sales success.
First impressions are the A-Class sedan is a good thing with plenty to tempt a first-time buyer, but with only one variant driven on foreign soil, we’ll need a lot more seat time across the entire model line-up on local roads before coming any finite conclusions.