As far as automotive trends go, the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class hits technology right out of the park, with upcoming AMG models set to deliver a performance punch that'll potentially propel the car into a league of its own.
But, if you don't want to fork out AMG money and still want some performance bang-for-buck, the all-new Mercedes-Benz A250 may just be the answer.
The A250 lands in Australia not long after the local launch of the entry-level A200 (a cheaper A180 will be launched in Australia during early 2019), which focused on pushing the technology image and delivering value for money.
With the range currently starting at $47,200 before on-road costs for the A200, the A250 demands only a modest $2300 increase, for an asking price of $49,500 plus on-roads. It brings a bigger and more powerful engine, plus the addition of all-wheel drive and a four-link independent rear suspension instead of the A200's torsion beam.
Powering the A250 is a Mercedes-sourced 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine producing 165kW of power and 350Nm of torque, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, with torque sent through an all-wheel drive system. Mercedes-Benz claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.6L/100km.
The engine is the key here. Where the 1.33-litre engine in the A200 was developed in collaboration with Renault, the A250's 2.0-litre uses a Mercedes-Benz engine and gearbox.
Visually, the A250 looks virtually identical to the A200. They both get 18-inch alloy wheels as standard, sitting on 225mm wide tyres at all four corners. The modest differences lie with the badges – the A250 gets unique model and 4MATIC badging (the latter is Mercedes terminology for all-wheel drive).
It's not a traditional permanent or on-demand all-wheel drive system, either. The 'hang-on' setup allows the vehicle to operate 100 per cent as a front-wheel drive when driving straight ahead to save fuel, before sending torque to the rear axle under load to optimise traction. Up to 50 per cent of torque can be sent to the rear axle at any given time.
Further, the all-wheel drive system can now be manually tweaked with the drive select switch. If you nail the throttle from a standing start, it's able to do a 'power take-off', sending torque to the rear axle through an electro-mechanical multi-plate clutch. This allows it to hit 100km/h from standstill in 6.2 seconds, compared to a leisurely 8.0 seconds in the A200.
Our last A-Class tester was a well-equipped A200, which stood out from the crowd. This time around, our A250 test car looked a bit more pedestrian, despite being loaded with $7940 of options – yikes.
While it looked a little plain on the outside, our review car really stepped up its game inside. Like the A200, the interior comes with two 10.25-inch high-resolution displays and MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), the new Mercedes-Benz infotainment system replacing COMAND.
That infotainment system is at the cutting edge in this segment and comes not only with a touchscreen and adjustable design themes, it can learn your habits and offer commonly-used items on the screen as you navigate.
For example, if you call your 'other half' on the drive home each night (yes, I bought milk...), their name will be atop the phone list when you navigate to that menu. The voice recognition system is next-level, with the ability to navigate virtually any car function (changing interior light colours, or closing the sunroof blind) and seamlessly call contacts or enter lengthy addresses.
It's also easy to use, which is critical in this segment. Even an absolute infotainment novice that loves changing radio stations every 15-30 seconds (yes, I'm talking about my wife) will master the system within no time.
Connectivity options are excellent and future-proofed. USB-C ports are littered throughout the cabin (don't worry, you get converters to regular USB) and wireless charging allows your phone to be topped up on the move. Not to mention Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for further connectivity (although the downside is that it's a wired system, unlike the wireless BMW system).
Storage is strewn throughout the cabin to make packing odds and ends a breeze. Build quality and fit and finish in our test car was excellent. It feels like Mercedes-Benz has really stepped up its game in this field. We found some C-Class testers a bit hit and miss in terms of build quality, so it's good to see marked improvements here.
Leg- and headroom in the first row is great, with door-mounted seat adjustment offering extra seat width for comfort. Step back to the second row and things get cramped pretty quickly. If you drive with your seat further back, you'll struggle to fit an adult in the second row – despite Mercedes-Benz claiming an increase in knee room for second row occupants.
It's the same story in the boot, with just 370 litres of cargo capacity, compared with 425L in the Audi A3. While it's smaller than the A3, it trumps the (soon to be replaced) BMW 1 Series by 10L. Run-flat tyres remove the need for a spare tyre beneath the cargo floor.
Safety equipment is loaded into the A-Class with nine airbags (including a knee airbag), forward/reverse autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, semi-automatic parking, active lane-keeping assist, blind spot assist and traffic sign assistant.
We did run into an issue with the reverse AEB system. This has happened in a number of BMWs too, where phantom objects are detected while reversing and the brakes are suddenly slammed on. It scares the absolute hell out of you when it happens and there's generally nothing there to hit. Or, if there is, it's still some distance away.
But, most importantly, how does the A250 perform on road? Pretty well, actually.
We really liked the A200 for its eager engine and raspy note. It was ultimately a little let down by a lack of punch and a gearbox that could be fussy at times.
Switch that small engine for a much bigger one, add all-wheel drive and fit a new gearbox, and you've got a car that's totally different to drive. The 2.0-litre engine is very eager and the gearbox can lean on the torque band easily to extract the most from the package.
Peak torque hits at just 1800rpm, which means it can use higher gears for light acceleration demands. Slide to Sport and the equation changes altogether. There's a modest bark from the engine with the all-wheel drive system adding the dynamic element this car needed to the package.
It was soaking wet during our first couple of days with the car, and even with a boot full of throttle out of corners, it managed to handle the torque requirements with ease, hunkering down to deliver real punch. The outgoing A250 felt a bit soft around the edges, this one feels far edgier.
That's partly thanks to the improved four-link independent rear suspension. With that said, it was a little too firm for our liking. It can be fixed by optioning adaptive dampers, but you can't option them alone. You need to add the AMG Sports Package and AMG Exclusive Package ($1990, $3190). While they add a stack of other features, you can't just have the basic adaptive damper package, which totally transforms the ride.
Firmish ride aside, communication through the steering wheel is great, as is brake pedal feel. This car is positioned perfectly for buyers wanting a sporty option without all the bling associated with AMG models.
It's at slower speeds that you'll notice how fussy the dual-clutch gearbox can be. When taking off from a standing start, it can be slightly unresponsive until it's moving, and it can be jerky on hills – or when reversing up them. It's better than the gearbox in the A200, but still isn't as smooth as a regular torque-converter.
In and around town you'll find the A250 easy to park. It's a breeze to get into tight spaces. Front and rear parking sensors team with a high quality reversing camera to help with parking, while an optional 360-degree camera improves the package entirely.
The sound system is an absolute cracker. The standard setup has nine-speakers with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, but the Communications Package ($2490) brings a 590W, 12-speaker Burmester sound system and an excellent head-up display unit. The sound system will blow your socks off – it's an absolute bargain at this price, especially with the head-up display included.
In terms of warranty, Mercedes-Benz only offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty (with BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz now well behind the five- and seven-year warranties you can get with much cheaper vehicles). Servicing occurs every 12 months or 25,000km with a capped price over three years coming to $2480.
After a few days with the all-new Mercedes-Benz A250, we came away impressed with the package, but a bit disappointed with the ride and ultimately the gearbox. The ride is on the firmer side of comfortable and the gearbox takes a little while to get used to – especially if you're coming from a torque converter.
At this price, the A250 represents good value for money If you can find one with adaptive dampers already fitted, it's a premium hatch that offers comfort, cutting edge technology and a really fun drive.