It's a Guy Thing

Hey Mercedes!

Mercedes-Benz A200

So vastly different from all previous generations is the latest A-Class that Mercedes debated giving it a new name. Ergo, in big vibrant font, this is revolutionary and for the first time will team up with a sedan version. Even in a market fixated with SUVs, this is still an important car for Mercedes-Benz – the challenger to the antiquated BMW 1 Series, the soon-to-be-replaced VW Golf VII, and the almost-here Audi A3.

These other manufacturers might be suffering a mental breakdown right about now such are the changes swept down to the smallest premium class. Previous A-Class was a hand-me-down discount with intolerable flaws and compromises but this 2018-2022est version is barely recognizable. On the one hand, the focus has been on comfort – an area where the previous A-Class fell down majorly – and on the other hand it’s about Artificial Intelligence derived through Merc’s ingenious MBUX system. More on that in a bit.

Mercedes-Benz A 180 d, Progressive, mountaingrau, Leder macchiatobeige/schwarz.;Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 4,5-4,1 l/100 km; CO2-Emissionen kombiniert: 118-108 g/km* Mercedes-Benz A 180 d, Progressive, mountain grey, Leather macchiato beige/black;Fuel consumption combined: 4,5-4,1 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 118-108 g/km*

First, A is for attitude. Minimal frontal drag, in aerodynamic lexicon. Designers have bettered a class-beating aero with active radiator flaps, a smooth underbody and some other wind-cheating devices that need complex renderings to before, themselves fly over your head. And while the shape drew some criticism it definitely compares the competition as either dull or formulaic.

The lower scowl at the road ahead sets the tone for wider tracks – good for the Moose test gen 1 famously failed – which then in turn leads to more shoulder, head and legroom inside. And while we wouldn’t call the rear spacious or airy, it’s nice to know the bigger boot is now easier to load things in horizontally thanks to the new-look taillights. 

There’s been a concerted effort to reduce noise not just by aero, but also with cushy material cladding. You’ll notice it when you close the door for the first time: it now shuts with Merc solidness. Comfort has gone up several notches, not a previous forte, and even on the tightly wrapped rubber which I suspect the A-Class’s style-conscious buyer will choose, there’s a suppleness to it. We think the A-Class sedan with the longer wheelbase might ride more like a C-Class, but we’re jumping ahead of ourselves.

Admittedly Merc is going to fill the gaps with a diesel later this year and with the A 45 AMG early next year so for now it’s either the A200 or A250. Merc’s sample range at launch was 80 percent the former since it’s a reflection of actual sales so we spent the day driving the 1.3-liter turbo 4-cylinder instead of the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Like all small engines, the 1.3-liter looks perfectly optimized for the car on paper. Carbon emissions are not toxic enough to kill a moth and it still has a torque curve resembling a fast internet connection. But it’s a truly awful engine around town, unbecoming of something residing behind a 3-pointed star on the grille. Applicable to the Renault-Nissan alliance with Daimler. 

Mercedes-Benz A 200 Progressive, mountaingrau /Leder Leder macchiatobeige/schwarz Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 5,6-5,2 l/100 km CO2-Emissionen kombiniert: 128-120 g/km // Mercedes-Benz A 200 Progressive, mountain grey / Leather macchiato beige/black Fuel consumption combined: 5,6-5,2 l/100 km combined CO2 emissions: 128-120 g/km

Rough characteristics, a gearbox that has no clue when to shift up, minimal overtaking power. It’s all there. Any small capacity engine from VAG is completely effortless by comparison. 

Differences between A200 and A250 occur at the rear, too. The A200 rides on a Torsion beam setup while the A250 receives the fancier multilink. Anyone who immediately dismisses torsion beam as a subterfuge of cheapened ride comfort needs to know that the A-Class, and the new Ford Focus for that matter, don’t sacrifice a lot, even if you have a mountain looming up on the satnav. 

Steering is precise, plus the little extra comfort in the dampers lets you find and sense the grip earlier. While not the rear-wheel-drive fun of a 1 Series, it does preface the A 45 AMG remarkably well.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse. Interieur: Polsterung Mikrofaser DINAMICA / Ledernachbildung ARTICO. Exterieur: designo mountaingrau magno Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Interior: Upholstery DINAMICA microfibre / ARTICO man-made leather. Exterior: designo mountain grey magno

Even if we suspect that Mercedes is desperately differentiating itself through artificial intelligence. It’s called Mercedes-Benz User Xperience – because everything needs to be an experience these days. The two screens come standard, which you’d never believe in today’s maddening options, and they’re there to reconcile three different sets of info, as configured by you. Now it does require a tech-savvy attitude but to its credit, it does a good job of keeping your eyes near the road during the steep learning curve.

Voice is the modern method of command. In the A-Class, that command (in English) is ‘Hey Mercedes’. A polite voice responds much the same way as it would with something like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home Assistant. There are teething problems, naturally. While it can do things like put seat heaters on, window demister, open the sunroof blind, play a specific song or look for hotels and restaurants using the net, it’s nowhere near the stage of replacing tactile buttons. 

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse, Edition 1. Exterieur: designo mountaingrau magno Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Edition1. Exterior: designo mountain grey magno

Which I guess is a metaphor for the rest of the car. There’s a lot of awe factor here but occasionally feels hamstrung, either by unintelligible commands, or lack of connectivity to the outside world. But when it does land the big commands, you can’t help but not think it’s a spectacular moment for the small premium car. 

Now you can buy small to get big, just be cautious with the options. JP