A Class act

Road test: Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Standing next to Natanael Sijenta, it is hard not to be infected by his genuine enthusiasm for the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class.  He is senior product manager and talks with knowledge and passion about even the smallest of design features.  Natanael is also proud to have fought to get the striking South Seas Blue colour you see in the pictures into the range.  It isn’t just Natanael: all the staff are excited by the new model – Prof. Dr. Hans Engel, Chief Engineer enthuses over the suspension and Mark Featherstone , Exterior Design Manager, angles his body as he describes the rising sill line and dropping roof profile.  It is easy to see why: here is an entirely fresh product which brings a new Mercedes-Benz design language.  It is fitted with innovative features and its dynamic, sporty appearance makes rivals’ face-lifted models look dated.

It is absolutely critical Mercedes-Benz gets the new A-Class right.  With diminishing company car allowances, rising motoring costs and a reluctant guilt over environmental excess, smaller cars carrying premium badges are increasingly desirable.  They might be smaller but their job is to ensure there are few other compromises.

The aesthetics of the new A-Class are there for all to see: strong stance, dynamic profile and the focused stare of the day running lights.  Of course, the driving dynamics have to match this so first on test is the blue A200 diesel in AMG Sport specification, likely to be one of the most popular engine choices for fleet and private buyer alike.  Our test day is situated in the Peak District, my favourite stomping ground.  This area has everything:  some of the most fantastic scenery our country has to offer, Snake and Woodhead Passes among the superb driving routes and for me, familiarity with the roads.

Exceptionally well balanced

The driving dynamics are every bit as good as the styling promises.  The car is exceptionally well balanced and the feel and gearing of the steering makes cornering an absolute pleasure.  Ride is a good compromise – taught for crisp handling yet reasonably supple to absorb lumps and bumps. This A200 only had a couple of hundred miles on the clock and still felt a little tight to start with but did seem to free-up slightly over the next 70 miles-or-so.  The exhaust note is a little raucous when opened-up but otherwise the diesel unit is very refined.  The in-house-built, seven-speed dual clutch auto ‘box is both fast-changing and smooth and works well with the diesel.

The interior of the new A-Class is attractive, well laid-out and has an uncluttered feel, partly due to the drive selection being made via a stalk behind the steering wheel.  It seems slightly strange at first but is easy to get used-to.  The electronic parking brake is also tidied-away below the dashboard.  The most obvious features are the large, stylised air vents which look great.  The carbon-fibre dash on the press cars looked good too and the overall feeling in the cabin is one of contemporary materials and strong design.

The gods were at war

Post lunch, I swapped to the white, petrol A250 and this has the heart which really belongs beneath the bonnet of the new A-Class.  It is rapid, bringing 60mph in just 6.6 seconds but it is also smooth and progressive and allowed further exploration of the chassis’ capabilities.  Late afternoon, the temperature dropped and rain and hail fell from the black sky.  Then it stopped and the sky looked like the gods were at war.  It reminded me why I love this bleak and beautiful part of the world.  It also made the most exceptional back-drop for this striking car.  I learned to like the A200; I love the A250.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class range starts at £18,945.  Models tested:

A200 AMG Sport (1,796cc diesel) with 7 speed DCT, from £25,970

Power: 136 bhp (3,600-4,400 rpm), torque: 300 Nm (1,600-3,000 rpm), emissions: 114g/km CO2 (band C), 0-60 mph: 9.2 secs.

A250 AMG Sport (1,991cc petrol) with 7 speed DCT, from £26,855

Power: 211 bhp (5,500 rpm), torque: 350 Nm (1,200-4,000 rpm), emissions: 148g/km CO2 (band F), 0-60 mph: 6.6 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●●





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