THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: The Mercedes badge, quality, and technology in a compact package.
- What’s Bad: Expensive options will inflate the price very quickly.
First sold in 1997, the original A-Class was a charming, happy-looking city car pulled straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Perfect for narrow European streets, it sold over a million copies before the second generation entered the market in 2004.
Now in its fourth generation, the A-Class has finally landed in North America slotting under the tall-roofed B-Class as the new entry-level offering from the three-pointed star brand. Not to be confused with the higher-priced CLA (based on the same platform) that also gets a full redesign for the 2020 model year.
The outgoing CLA was a stylish, aerodynamic not-a-sedan but was often criticized for offering lower-quality interior trappings not commensurate with the rest of Mercedes’ offerings.
Seeking to rectify that image the new A-Class offers up a tech nerd’s dream cabin raising the bar for small premium cars.
The goal is to draw younger buyers into the Mercedes collective and the new A-Class aims to woo the millennial with what they crave most, connected tech and screen time.
Just like the natural language recognition of Siri or Alexa, Mercedes has come up with their own version of this tech powering a new user experience that they call MBUX (Mercedes-Benz user experience).
By saying the phrase “Hey Mercedes” the always-listening system is called into action and responds with “How may I help you?”
And just like you would with Siri, you ask it something and it will respond.
Voice activation in a car isn’t exactly new but the MBUX Voice assistant takes things much further allowing you to control functions in the car that go beyond changing the radio station or inputting navigation instructions.
For example, rather than fumble with the climate controls yourself, you simply say “Hey Mercedes, it’s hot in here” and the system will respond instantly by lowering the temperature. Or you can say “I’m craving a burger, is there something close by that’s highly rated?” You can ask it if you’ll need an umbrella tomorrow, or how old our Prime Minister is. This connected cloud-based system is always learning and works incredibly quickly and if it can’t complete a request or answer your question today, it might be able to do so tomorrow.
It isn’t perfect. You will find that you have to repeat yourself here and there and it tends to be overly sensitive to the “Hey Mercedes” command activating itself when you don’t need it, sometimes with the slightest whisper of the word Mercedes.
Then there’s the navigation system that takes turn-by-turn directions to another level with augmented reality. Blending the real and virtual world on the centre display. By using the front camera’s video feed it can point to where you need to go by using virtual arrows and street names overlaid on the image of the road. Brilliant stuff, and it takes away some of the doubt of where exactly to turn when in unfamiliar areas.
Twin glass panelled displays appear as one giant highly customizable screen with superb high-resolution visuals stretching halfway across the dashboard. It is absolutely gorgeous.
Where you could smell the cost-cutting in the CLA, the new A-Class is an E-Class lite taking the best of the Mercedes experience and condensing it into a smaller package.
Priced just under $36,000 the base A 250 hatch has one engine choice: a 2-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder that develops 221 hp and more importantly 258 lb-ft of torque that peaks at just 1800 rpm. Paired with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic it’s good for a 0-100 km/h run in 6.2 seconds.
4Matic all-wheel drive is available for an additional $2000. Standard features include heated front seats, split-folding rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, LED headlamps and tail lamps, push-button start, automatic climate control, a dual 7-inch digital instrument cluster and centre touchscreen display, emergency braking assist, and five USB-C ports.
MBUX is standard fare but the “Hey Mercedes” activation and natural language understanding require the addition of a premium package for an additional $2,950. Tacking that on also upgrades the 7-inch screens to dual 10.25-inch screens, adds Apple Car Play and Android Auto, a 64-colour ambient lighting system, a wireless charging tray, keyless entry, and blind-spot monitors. Specifying the augmented reality nav system will add another $1000 to the bill.
While the footprint might seem small there’s ample room inside for a growing family and all they might need to haul around. Child seats fit easily and sitting in front of one doesn’t require the use of the fetal position. Passengers in the back over 6 feet tall will also find they have adequate knee and elbow room.
Popping the rear hatch reveals 370 litres of cargo space that can be expanded to an Ikea-friendly 1210 litres by folding down the 40/20/40 split rear bench.
My Jupiter Red tester was loaded with a plethora of optional extras including the aforementioned premium and navigation packages, a night package that comes with some performance bits and stylistic add-ons and a technology package that bundles upgraded lighting technology and adaptive cruise control.
Other standalone options included a high-definition 360 camera, a thumping Burmester sound system, heated steering wheel, and active parking assist.
The popular Volkswagen GTI is a direct competitor even though with all the extras this A-Class was priced closer to the high-po Golf R, and while it’s not quite a match for the Vee-dub in the power department the Mercedes cabin is a nicer place to spend time with higher quality materials and a badge that carries much more cachet.
The baby CLS front end and smooth flowing body panels with an absence of hard lines is pure modern Mercedes. Canadian customers are lucky to get the hatchback whereas our US neighbours only get the A 220 sedan.
When it comes to the drive the baby Benz impresses again with a refined and quiet ride befitting of the bigger, more luxurious cars in the Mercedes stable.
Crisp steering, well-controlled body motions, and that torquey 4-cylinder make for a car that feels light on its feet, not unlike the experience delivered by the Golf. The ride was stiffer than I expected combined with typically hard Mercedes seats that were otherwise very supportive. An average of 9 litres per 100 km on the fuel consumption scale is acceptable but not stellar and spirited driving will see that number creep up quickly.
Premium small cars enjoy more popularity across the pond than they do here, especially in hatch form, but there’s something rather compelling about getting very nearly the full Mercedes experience without having to take out a second mortgage to afford one.
The new A-Class delivers on all fronts and it’s one of the best new Mercedes’ you can buy right now with a cabin experience that doesn’t just lead the class. It leads the industry.