We got to sample the recently launch Mercedes-Benz A250, a few months after its introduction to the South African market.
When Mercedes-Benz finally decided to enter the premium hatch segment, it really had its work cut out for it. Not only have its main rivals viz Audi and BMW, been playing in this segment for some time, there is also the timeless and classless VW Volkswagen Golf. The latter is just about as good as any product from the competition.
For purposes of this review we will discount the previous A- and B-Class models. With earlier versions Mercedes tried to walk its own path by offering an MPV-esque vehicle. Of late it has changed direction and goes head-to-head with a more conventional body style.
The A-Class launched a few years ago felt, to me, like a rushed prospect. Typical Mercedes traits, such as a pliant ride and unrivalled interior quality were missing. That model was quickly replaced by a facelift and, what seems like just a few years, an all-new A-Class was released.
The new A-class is bigger than its predecessor – 120 mm longer, 16 mm higher and 6 mm wider – it isn’t the new dimensions that are noticeable. Rather the new styling is what draws the eyes. Raked headlamps set the tone for a more sleek and defined design. Incredibly, for a hatchback, aero engineers have optimised the shape for a drag coefficient of 0,25.
If there is any criticism of the design it must be those taillamps. There are quite nondescript and don’t give the A-Class rump any distinction.
More modern inside
If the exterior has taken a step forward, then the cabin treatment is a quantum leap. Those increased exterior dimensions have created a larger cabin. There’s more room for passengers and added boot volume, up now to 370 litres – 29 litres more than in the preceding model.
Helping to distract passengers and the driver alike is the facia with its snazzy, metal-look air-vents and twin colour screens. The appearance is neat and modern, with minimal buttons grouped on a ledge near the console cup holders.
The infotainment screen is the main contact point for Mercedes-Benz’s new multimedia system, called MBUX. The system offers voice control and it adapts to suit the user via AI algorithms. The more you use it the more it learns about personal preference.
As part of the Mercedes me connect services MBUX in the A-Class features improved navigation functions like emergency braking, real-time traffic information and off-street information to help search for a parking space.
There are just two A-Class derivatives available locally at the moment: an A200 and an A250 Sport. A diesel model will join the range early in 2019. In time we can expect the A35 and a rip-snorting A45 AMG as well.
It was the Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport that we spent a few days with. The 2,0 litre turbopetrol develops generates 165 kW and 350 N.m of torque. Drive is fed to the front wheels by a self-shifting twin-clutch transmission.
On the road
I am very happy to report that all the ills of the previous generation A-Class have been cured. First up, the ride of this new model befits its badge. The Mercedes-Benz A250 has adaptive damping that can be tailored, along with other systems (transmission, throttle, etc) via the standard Dynamic Select system. The ride quality, particularly at low speed, really is a revelation. The older car felt brittle over sharp road imperfections; that is a thing of the past.
With 165 kW/350 N.m the current range-leader has hot hatch levels of power. And it punches hard, too. The power delivery is strong, especially in the mid-range. The transmission feels smoother during relaxed cruises and more alert during spirited driving. Mercedes-Benz claims the A250 Sport will hit 100 km/h from standstill in 6,2 seconds.
It may be as quick as a GTI or Renault Megane RS, but the A250 doesn’t feel quite as adept through the twisty stuff. I feel as though the A250 relinquishes grip earlier than it should. That is certainly the case if the squealing tyres are to be believed.
The new Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport is a real step-up over its predecessor. I recall driving the older car and feeling that Mercedes fell just short of producing a real winner. The new car is so much better. The company must have been taking notes as it addressed all the most criticised areas of the A-Class. Having upped its game the A-Class is now a more worthy contender in the premium hatch segment.
For more info and pricing on the A-Class, visit Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s website.
Model: Mercedes-Benz A250
Engine: 2,0-litre turbocharged, inline four
Transmission: Seven-speed auto, FWD
Max power: 165 kW
Max torque: 350 N.m
Top speed: 250 km/h
0-100 km/h: 6,2 sec
Fuel consumption: 6,5 L/100 km