Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - A-class - A200
Sharp steering feel, we actually fit in the back seat now, handsome looks, increased practicality, cutting-edge technology, five USB Type-C ports
Room for improvement
Flat and unsupportive seats, engine becomes a bit thrashy in higher revs, voice commands can be hit and miss, NVH levels could be further improved
Mercedes-Benz A-Class gains more tech, practicality and appeal in new-gen form
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10 Aug 2018
ALTHOUGH Mercedes-Benz’s A-Class hatchback has been around in one form or another for more than 20 years, it was only with the release of the third-generation model in 2013 when the premium small car really gained traction with buyers.
In Australia, about two-thirds of previous-gen A-Class buyers were new to the brand, while it also managed to attract a much younger audience that favoured style and chic.
The new-generation A-Class meanwhile, has not revolutionised exterior styling like the jump from the second- to third-generation model did, but instead goes all in on cutting-edge technologies such as all-digital instrumentation, wireless phone charging and substantial 10.25-inch infotainment screen.
Can this new A-Class replicate the success of its predecessor or was the third-gen Benz small car just a fluke?
After five years on the market as one of Mercedes-Benz Australia’s most popular models, the third-generation A-Class has gracefully been retired to make way for the all-new premium hatchback.
The German car-maker has prioritised new in-cabin technologies for its entry-level passenger model, debuting its Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system in the A200 that utilises a massive 10.25-inch screen.
All features you would expect from a premium product are there, including satellite navigation, digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, but it’s the extra gear that will really appeal to the car-buying tech enthusiast.
No less than five USB Type-C ports for fast charging and quick data exchanges are littered throughout the cabin – one in the front storage cubby next to a 12V charging socket, two in the front centre armrest and another two for rear occupants.
Although USB Type-C is still a relatively new connection standard, we love Mercedes’ future-forward approach to ports, and trust us when we say it is going to be super convenient to be able to charge your next laptop and tablet from the car using the same cable as your phone.
The high-definition widescreen that incorporates the infotainment system and all-digital instrumentation is also an absolute feast for the eyes, featuring a responsive touchscreen and snappy menu switching.
Drivers who’d rather not take their hands off the wheel to scroll through menus can also make use of the steering wheel-mounted controls to flick between pages, while a redesigned touchpad controller is also another option for those wanting an input closer to what Mercedes vehicle’s offered in the past.
MBUX also features a voice input, with the phrase ‘hey Mercedes’ activating the digital assistant that can recognise phrases such as changing radio stations, opening the sunblind and adjusting the climate controls.
Many existing voice-activated systems are hit and miss, but Mercedes is promising that its new tech can understand natural language instead of just a few specific phrases, but our short time with the car still yielded some unwanted results.
Opening and closing the sunblinds worked a treat, as did changing to different radio stations on the fly, but the system had some trouble recognising that we were telling it to turn the climate control temperature down – a function Mercedes showcased with the reveal of MBUX earlier this year at Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show.
We won’t rule that one as a complete failure though, as the system also uses an artificial intelligence to monitor user behaviour and adapt over time to each unique profile, so, at least in theory, with more data collected, MBUX could be as full featured as advertised.
For those worried about their personal data though, a discreet mode can be activated that does not retain user information.
With three physical options, as well as one voice activated one, for user input, some people may feel a bit overwhelmed, but we actually really dig the flexibility of the system.
If you prefer the touchscreen, you can tap away, or if you prefer a hybrid approach of changing radio stations via the ‘hey Mercedes’ voice function but inputting satellite navigation destinations via the touchpad, you can do that too.
Instrumentation is also displayed via a 10.25-inch display that can be customised to show different driving data, as well as assorted dial designs, which all works seamlessly without any noticeable lag, but is not quite at the same level of refinement and flexibility as Audi’s leading Virtual Cockpit technology.
Launching with only one engine, the A200 is powered by a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 120kW/250Nm, a 5kW step up from the outgoing equivalent’s 1.6-litre unit.
With peak power available at 5500rpm and maximum torque on tap from 1620rpm, the A200 is an absolute delight to putter around town in stop/start traffic.
Wring out the 1.3-litre mill though, and the quiet engine starts to become noisy and harsh – a hot hatch the A200 is not.
The smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch also does an excellent job at keeping the engine in the power band, while its higher cogs make for silky highway-speed cruising.
We also really dig the sharp steering rack that reacts swiftly and smoothly at the tug of the wheel, while shift paddles also put transmission controls at driver’s fingertips.
The front seats however, let down the driving experience a little with flat and unsupportive pews that do little to bolster and hold occupants in place, especially when the roads start to get a little twisty.
We found ourselves sliding around while testing the A200’s dynamics, but around town, the seats do the job just fine.
The rear seats meanwhile, are a massive leap forward from the outgoing model.
The new A-Class has grown physically in every regard, meaning our 186cm frame actually fits behind tall drivers without our head being hard-up against the roof – just.
Leg- and shoulder-room is also good for outward rear passengers, but the raised floor underfoot of the middle occupant hampers room.
Practicality is also up on the new A-Class, with the larger dimensions expanding boot capacity from 341 litres to 370L, and a larger aperture making loading big and heavy objects a little easier.
Being a Benz, there are many options on offer, but buyers should take note that the packs could mean a different suspension set-up.
As standard, the A-Class is fitted with torsion rear set-up, but the Sports Package will lower ride height by 15mm, while the AMG Exclusive Package will fit a multi-link suspension with adaptive dampers to the rear.
After testing all three versions, our favourite is actually the standard set-up, offering the perfect amount of bump absorption, but also feedback and control.
The lower set-up made for a more uncomfortable ride quality, while the adaptive dampers we felt were a little too unsettled and jittery at speeds.
If you prioritise comfort over dynamism, we’d definitely recommend sticking to the default set-up.
Mercedes said it has also worked to improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels in the new A-Class, but we actually feel the German car-maker can go a bit further.
Our time with the car – mainly over below average country roads, to be fair – yielded a fair bit of unwanted noise intrusion from the road, wind and tyres, not something you’d expect from a vehicle with a Mercedes badge.
Overall though, our short time with the A-Class left us with a positive impression.
Benz has not reinvented the A-Class in terms of looks or dynamics, but instead focused its efforts on making one of the most impressive tech packages in recent memory that will appeal to those of us who like to keep up with everything cutting edge.
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