First Drive: The all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class « The Wheel Deal

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Mercedes-Benz A-Class

First Drive: The all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Posted: April 19th, 2013 | By Thomas Falkiner

The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class has touched down on South African shores. Does it have what it takes to challenge the likes of BMW and Audi? The Wheel Deal hit Cape Town to find out

What is it?

What you’re looking at here is the all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class: a premium hatchback with which the Stuttgart-based firm is hoping to steal some sales thunder away from the more established BMW 1-Series and Audi A3. Designed by none other than Mark Fetherston (the man responsible for the lovely SLS AMG), it has been sculpted to appeal to a whole new audience of motoring enthusiasts.

While the previous A-Class was the automatic choice for ditzy soccer moms the world over, this new one is sure to find fortune with skinny jean-wearing hipsters looking for something edgy, different and – as is the current automotive trend – infinitely customisable  After all, what is the point of purchasing a car that cannot express every last fibre of your trendsetting personality?

Following numerous media criticisms about the previous car, Mercedes-Benz has gone and treated the new A-Class interior to a thorough working over. Indeed, not only is it better built but it also exudes a more premium design aesthetic. From acres of soft-touch plastics to dials and air-vents that mimic those found in range-topping AMG models, it’s hard not to be impressed by the development team’s efforts.

Fashionista-baiting style aside, safety is another important A-Class buzzword. Scratch the specification-sheet surface and you’ll see that all models now receive Collision Prevention Assist, Attention Assist and Pre-Safe as standard.

Finally you can expect a more varied palette of all-new engine offerings. At the time of launch you can choose between no less than three turbocharged, direct-injection petrol (A180 BE, A200 BE, A250 Sport BE) and two diesel (A180 CDI, A220 CDI) powerplants. Bolted to your choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, all offer improved fuel consumption (up to 35% less) and reduced emissions.

Later in 2013 you can expect the sizzling hot A45 AMG to join the A-Class ranks.

How does it look?

One place the new A-Class really does score valuable points is in the all-important looks department. Taking his inspiration from sand dunes, sharks and cats (yes, really), Fetherston has delivered a car that certainly has no problem standing out from the rest of the premium hatchback pack. Notable highlights include an aggressive new front apron that is characterised by massive headlight clusters and a gaping radiator aperture that is home to one of the biggest tri-stars we’ve seen on a production Mercedes in quite awhile.

Depending on your choice of trim package (be warned, there are many), the latter can be offset by a radical diamond grille that delivers more bling than an East Coast Rapper Convention. There’s more eyeball entertainment to be had down the side of the A-Class thanks to two convex crease lines that fire their way down towards the aft wheel arch. Though comparatively not as exciting, the rear of the car finishes things off nicely with broad haunches and a set of twin exhaust tailpipes.

All in all this adds up to one very impactful package.

What is it like to drive?

Armed with such poster-boy promise, I was really expecting the new A-Class to be a damn fine steer. Well it wasn’t. In fact I was left feeling decidedly disappointed after last week’s test-drive around the Cape Town Peninsula.

With the exception of the entry-level A180 models that all come fitted with relatively forgiving 16-inch alloy wheels, every other model I drove punished my spine with a dreadfully harsh and crashy ride.

Now usually such a lack of compliance over the rough stuff translates into better handling around twisting mountain passes. Here, again, it doesn’t. Even though the new car sits some 160mm closer to the ground and benefits from a lower centre of gravity, it just doesn’t feel anywhere near as good to drive as the comparable BMW 1-Series or Audi A3.

In fact even the less aspirational Golf 7 is a much better drivers car on every single level. The chassis feels wooden, there’s a noticeable amount of body roll and the steering, especially in cars equipped with the optional Direct Steer system, goes about its business in a most disconnected manner.

Admittedly the A250 Sport, which benefits from a bespoke suspension system engineered by AMG, drives a bit better. But at nearly R400 000, it’s still no match for the cheaper Golf GTI or slightly more expensive BMW M135i.

Though the all-new turbocharged engines are frugal enough and provide a reasonable amount of poke, I found further exacerbation in the optional 7G-Dual Clutch Transmissions. Mercedes-Benz claims that these units are fitted with shift software sourced from the range-topping SLS AMG. But in reality they feel, especially in full manual mode, lazy and no quicker than some traditional automatic gearboxes.

Any special features?

Plenty. Like I mentioned earlier, Mercedes-Benz has made damn sure that any new A-Class model can be tailored to suit just about any taste or pocket. Consequently you can choose between three appointment lines, namely Urban, Style and AMG Sport.

And as if this isn’t already a recipe for major procrastination, they’ve also thrown in three distinct design packages (Night, Exclusive and AMG Exclusive).

Whichever one you pick will influence everything from the design of the seats and colour of the headlining right down to the design of the dials and material covering the dashboard. Fortunately, if you are actually on a budget, you’ll be pleased to hear that even the base-spec A-Class models ship standard with niceties like air-conditioning, USB audio connectivity, electric windows, Headlamp Assist and a 12-button multifunction steering wheel.

Should you buy one?

For once this is a fairly simple decision. If you want to look good and turn a lot of heads down some swish urban boulevard, then the A-Class is, in all its customisable glory, the executive hatchback to park inside your garage. No matter how you slice it, this is one stylish and well-groomed product.

However, if you are after a car that’s a hoot to boot, then your money would definitely be better spent on any one of its rivals. The upcoming A45 AMG might prove me wrong but as things stand, the new A-Class seems to be all style and very little driving substance.

The Facts: Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Engine: 1595cc (A180 BE); 1595cc (A200 BE); 1991cc (A250 BE Sport); 1796cc (A180 CDI BE A); 1796cc (A180 CDI BE M); 1796cc (A220 CDI BE)

Power: 90kW at 5000rpm (A180 BE); 115kW at 5300rpm (A200 BE); 155kW at 5500rpm (A250 BE Sport); 80kW at 3200rpm (A180 CDI BE A); 80kW at 4000rpm (A180 CDI BE M); 125kW at 3400rpm (A220 CDI BE)

Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Torque: 200Nm at 1250rpm (A180 BE); 250Nm at 1250rpm (A200 BE); 350Nm at 1200rpm (A250 BE Sport); 250Nm at 1400rpm (A180 CDI BE A); 260Nm at 1750rpm (A180 CDI BE M); 350Nm at 1400rpm (A220 CDI BE)

0-100km/h: 9.2-seconds (A180 BE); 8.4-seconds (A200 BE); 6.6-seconds (A250 BE Sport); 10.6-seconds (A180 CDI BE A); 11.3-seconds (A180 CDI BE M); 8.2-seconds (A220 CDI BE)

Top Speed: 202km/h (A180 BE); 224km/h (A200 BE); 240km/h (A250 BE Sport); 190km/h (A180 CDI BE A); 190km/h (A180 CDI BE M); 220km/h (A220 CDI BE)

Fuel Consumption: 5.8l/100km (A180 BE); 5.8l/100km (A200 BE); 6.4l/100km (A250 BE Sport); 4.4l/100km (A180 CDI BE A); 4.0l/100km (A180 CDI BE M); 4.4l/100km (A220 CDI BE)

CO2: 135g/km (A180 BE); 136g/km (A200 BE); 148g/km (A250 BE Sport); 116g/km (A180 CDI BE A); 105g/km (A180 CDI BE M); 115g/km (A220 CDI BE)

Price: R273 718 (A180 BE); R296 632 (A200 BE); R392 606 (A250 BE Sport); R310 000 (A180 CDI BE A); R300 000 (A180 CDI BE M); R355 000 (A220 CDI BE)

We like:

Bold, attractive styling

Improved build quality

Endless ways to make it your own

We Don’t:

Hard, crashy ride

A lack of dynamic sparkle

Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mercedes-Benz A-Class

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