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First Drive: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class
The smart, premium compact that does it all
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Augmented reality navigation display.
- What’s Worst: The transmission isn’t as refined as the rest of this hot hatch.
- What’s Interesting: This new A 250 takes the notion of a premium compact hatchback to a new level.
Split, Croatia: Mercedes-Benz has been successful with its small B-Class, particularly since Canadians love small cars, but this A-Class is something entirely new for the marque. Thankfully for us, the A-Class has been available in other markets for many years and the improvements for this new model result in a very refined premium compact hatchback.
This A 250 is a completely new entry in the segment for Mercedes-Benz in Canada and is undoubtedly intended to attract new buyers to the brand. But don’t think for a second that it’s entry level. It’s a Mercedes-Benz throughout and is perhaps the most technically advanced compact available to Canadian buyers.
Technically speaking, the A 250 gets the best of the A-Class – the Canadian specification includes the most powerful engine and the sophisticated four-link rear suspension – as well as an abundance of cutting edge technology that tech-savvy buyers will appreciate. Customers can choose from either front-drive or 4MATIC all-wheel drive, though only front-drive models were available for the purposes of this evaluation.
The turbocharged, two-litre four-cylinder makes 221 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque, with that flat torque curve common to modern turbo motors, where it makes peak thrust right where you need it – from a low 1,800 RPM all the way through 4,000. The A 250 never feels short on acceleration, even at highway speeds, and has a sporting character similar to that of the latest Volkswagen GTI.
The seven-speed automated dual clutch transmission shifts smoothly and offers manual control of each gear, but it’s occasionally contemplative and slow to respond compared to VW’s similar DSG gearbox. Most drivers will be satisfied with the action of the gearbox, unless you’re a hot hatch hoon looking to squeeze out every last ounce of performance.
Four drivetrain modes – ECO, Comfort, Sport, and a customizable Individual – are available to the driver, though Comfort is perfectly adequate for daily driving, especially considering the torquey nature of the engine.
Mercedes-Benz would love to tell you that it’s the most aerodynamically-efficient compact car ever, but that’s not the entire story. Combined with that wind-beating engineering, the A 250’s construction gives it an impressively quiet interior.
Engineers paid careful attention to how the air travels around and even under the car, with every exterior surface optimized for minimal aero drag, from the mirror housings to the rear spoiler to even the underbody.
All of that work results in a quieter cabin, as a starting point, and with a comprehensive sound deadening program the cabin is 3 decibels quieter than the previous model. While it doesn’t sound like much, the A 250 may be the quietest car in the segment, and in the real world this means that conversations will be easier, you can hear the sound system better, and simply driving this Mercedes-Benz is less taxing, particularly on longer journeys.
Canadians get the best of the A-Class, as the A 250 model is fitted with additional sound deadening materials over other A-Class models available in other markets, plus the A 250’s four-link rear suspension is also inherently better for reduced road noise compared to lesser A-Class models with the basic twist beam-type rear axle.
Speaking of other markets, the A 250 is available elsewhere with adaptive dampers, which on this short test proved to be excellent in terms of both ride quality as well as body and wheel control. Unfortunately, Canadian A 250s will only be available with conventional dampers and based on the other models tested at this event, they’re optimized for comfort rather than spirited driving.
The cabin is thoroughly modern, exceptionally well designed, and, arguably, the best looking interior in the segment. The shape of the dashboard, modern design of each of the elements – look at the gorgeous vents, for example – and quality of finishes remind you that the A 250 is a premium compact. Everything you touch has a premium, refined feel, that’s right inline with the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star on the grille.
Perhaps what will be most interesting to A 250 buyers is its next-level infotainment and connectivity systems. Two display setups are available, one with two seven-inch screens, the other with a pair of ten-inch screens. One screen forms the instrumentation displays for the driver, the other handles navigation, sounds, and other ancillary information.
The infotainment system is entirely new and truly next level. The company calls it the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX, for short) and it creates a highly integrated connection between the driver and the A 250. Smartphone connectivity is just a starting point, but it’s the natural voice recognition that makes the system highly usable. Rather than having to remember a list of commands, the A-Class will recognize natural language and those commands go as deep as climate control settings as well as opening the sunroof’s shade, should you so desire. Expect this excellent system to roll out throughout the Mercedes-Benz lineup.
The most usable feature is the navigation systems augmented reality display. Yes, you read that right – augmented reality in a car. Using the image from the A 250’s front camera, the system displays a forward-facing image with superimposed road information such as house numbers and road signs. In the real world, it assists drivers when making turns or locating addresses that would otherwise be less than obvious. This is a truly next-level and highly useful technical solution, perfectly integrated so that it will immediately benefit A-Class drivers.
For a compact five-door, the A 250 is spacious and feels much larger inside than its dimensions suggest, and outward visibility is superb. The driver’s seating position is excellent with a wide range of adjustment from the seat and steering column to ensure comfort for drivers of any size. In Canada, there are two seats available depending on trim choice, either a base seat or a more bolstered sport seat, which is excellent in terms of comfort and support.
There’s plenty of storage for small items and smartphones in the first row, including a pair of cupholders, of course. The rear seats have enough room for a pair of adults to be comfortable on a long drive, and if you need to carry larger items, the rear seat is of the 40/20/40 split-folding variety. The cargo room under the hatch easily swallows a pair of carry-on sized suitcases with room to spare.
Since it’s a Mercedes-Benz, the A 250 is engineered with the company’s unparalleled reputation for active and passive safety in mind. All the expected systems are here, including its strong construction, a suite of air bags for passenger protection, and dynamic safety systems including the company’s Adaptive Brake technology.
Pioneered on the highest end Mercedes vehicles, Adaptive Brake is a clever system that not only primes the brakes and applies maximum pressure for emergency braking, but also dries the brakes in wet weather. It also includes a simple hold function that will keep the car in place with the brakes in traffic or at stoplights so that the driver doesn’t have to leave a foot on the brake pedal.
While the specific Edition 1 trim of the model you see in the accompanying photos will not be available in Canada, the similar sport package with its AMG-style trim will be popular with Canadian buyers.
The Mercedes-Benz A 250 arrives at dealers in November 2018 and while pricing hasn’t yet been announced, expect it to be priced starting in the mid-thirties.
2019 Mercedes-Benz A 250
BODY STYLE: compact, five-door hatchback
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front wheel drive
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine (221 hp, 258 lb/ft of torque) with a seven-speed automated dual-clutch transmission.
CARGO CAPACITY: 370 litres (behind rear seats)
FUEL ECONOMY: 6.2 l/100km combined (European cycle; official Canadian consumption figures TBD)
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