Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - A-class - A200
Cutting-edge infotainment system, premium cabin, solid engine performance, real-world fuel efficiency, smooth ride, communicative chassis, extensive active safety features
Room for improvement
Jekyll and Hyde transmission calibration, prevalent understeer, noticeable bodyroll during hard cornering, high NVH levels, adaptive cruise control not available as an option
Mercedes-Benz raises the technology benchmark to new heights with A200 hatch
21 Jan 2019
NEW-VEHICLE buyers in the market for a small car are increasingly looking towards models with the latest technologies, some of which are traditionally reserved for expensive brand flagships. However, the automotive industry is moving at a historic pace and expectations are changing. It’s no surprise, then, that Mercedes-Benz has gone all out with the A-Class.
The third-generation hatch is looking to disrupt the premium segment with an infotainment system that features always-on voice control and support for natural language, similar to Siri and Google Assistant. So, has the German brand managed to bring S-Class technology to the A-Class, or is it just a half-baked attempt? Read on for our thoughts on the entry-level A200.
Price and equipment
Priced from $47,200 before on-road costs, the A200 hatch is dearer than its direct rivals in the premium small-car segment. Standard equipment includes LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, auto-folding side mirrors with heating, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Inside, a 10.25-inch touchscreen MBUX infotainment system, satellite navigation, voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless smartphone charging, USB-A and USB-C ports, 12V power outlets, digital radio, a nine-speaker sound system, a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, single-zone climate control, keyless start, Artico leather upholstery, a sports steering wheel with paddle-shifters, ambient lighting and an auto-dimming rearview mirror feature.
Our test car is finished in $1190 Iridium Silver metallic paintwork and is fitted with the $1290 Seat Comfort (power-adjustable front sports seats with memory functionality and heating), $1490 Night (black/high-sheen 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 224/45 run-flat tyres, black side-mirror caps, gloss-black exterior trim and rear privacy glass) and $2490 Vision (adaptive LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, high-beam assist and surround-view cameras) packages. As such, the price as tested quickly climbs to $53,660.
Mercedes-Benz is clearly going for the premium small-car segment’s jugular with the A-Class as it is a much more upmarket affair than before, even in entry-level A200 form. Jump inside and it’s hard to not be overwhelmed by how luxurious and advanced everything feels.
Mercedes-Benz’s Artico artificial-leather upholstery covers the supportive sports seats with integrated headrests, and door inserts. Meanwhile, soft-touch materials top the dashboard and door shoulders, while a mesh-style piece bisects the centre stack. It’s all very premium.
In fact, hard plastics are only used by the lower-door and B-pillar trims. Gloss carbon-fibre inserts are found elsewhere, adding a sporty touch alongside the black roofliner. A piano-black plastic dominates the centre stack, attracting plenty of fingerprints along the way.
Measuring in at 4419mm long, 1796mm wide and 1420mm high with a 2729mm wheelbase, the A200 provides an improved 370L of cargo capacity with its 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench upright, or a 1210L with it stowed. Frustratingly, second-row air vents are optional.
Second-row legroom is serviceable behind our 184cm driving position, while headroom is tight, especially with the panoramic sunroof fitted. Given the intrusion of the transmission tunnel and limited shoulder-room, sitting three adults abreast is not advised on longer trips.
A pair of 10.25-inch displays command all of the attention up front, sitting side by side as part of a single glass slab. One is a touchscreen that projects Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX infotainment system, while the other is a highly customisable digital instrument cluster.
The previous Comand set-up has made way for a much more advanced system, which supports four input methods – touchscreen, touchpad, touch-sensitive steering-wheel buttons and voice control, the latter of which easily steals the show on any given day.
Always standing at attention, this set-up can be summoned at any time using the command ‘Hey, Mercedes’ and supports natural language, meaning you don’t have to speak like a robot to get it to understand you. Think Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa.
In practice, this system works really, really well. Granted it is occasionally buggy and can’t respond to every request, it’s certainly better than any other set-up currently available in the industry. Address inputs are particularly handy, enhanced by their sheer responsiveness.
Mercedes-Benz has also made the bold move to fit the A-Class with more USB-C ports than their traditional USB-A counterparts. In essence, this future-proofs the model, but given that USB-C is still an emerging technology, the trigger may have been pulled a little too soon.
Engine and transmission
Motivated by a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, the A200 produces 120kW of power at 5500rpm and 250Nm of torque from 1620 to 4000rpm. It exclusively sends drive to its rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Sprinting from standstill to 100km/h in 8.0 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 225km/h, the 1375kg A200 is surprisingly brisk in a straight line. Peak torque is available across a wide band, making for impactful acceleration during the typical urban commute.
Either side of its mid-range, the A200 doesn’t have too much to offer, so its pays to make the most of Sir Isaac’s best … if only the seven-speeder was calibrated to do so. Annoyingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it prioritises fuel efficiency over outright performance to a fault.
Under light loads, the dual-clutch unit ticks along just above idle, meaning throttle inputs are typically met with a slow response. Push the right pedal a little harder and it downshifts too aggressively, raising engine speeds above the desired torque band. There is no balance.
Granted three Dynamic Select driving modes allow the throttle response and transmission calibration to be altered from the default Comfort setting while on the move, Eco makes this situation worse. Sport is naturally keener but is almost too keen. Again, no balance.
It also doesn’t help that the already noisy powertrain requires plenty of revs to get going. As a result, Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels become even higher, adding to the intrusive tyre and road noise heard when cruising at highway speeds. It’s a miss here.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 130 grams per kilometre. Fuel efficiency is aided by an idle-stop system that is so well-integrated, you don’t notice it doing its thing.
During our week with the A200, we are averaging 6.7L/100km over 500km of mixed driving, including extended highway runs and time-consuming city commutes. This is a seriously impressive real-world result, even if it is slightly above Mercedes-Benz’s laboratory claim.
Ride and handling
The A200’s suspension set-up consists of MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear axles, while its electric power steering is speed-sensitive. We can hear the complaints already, ‘what is a torsion beam doing in a premium model?’ These are our thoughts, too.
While the move away from multi-link rear suspension is widely viewed as a cost-cutting measure for Mercedes-Benz, it is optionally available alongside adaptive dampers as part of the $3190 AMG Exclusive package … but it should be standard, because it’s needed.
Bear with us for a moment here, the A200 actually serves up a surprisingly smooth ride over unsealed and uneven roads. It feels as luxurious as you’d expect a Mercedes-Benz model to, ironing out most lumps. The multi-link set-up isn’t significantly better, so this gets a big tick.
However, the impact of the torsion beam becomes apparent when making contact with speed bumps and potholes as the rear axle noticeably becomes unsettled. It does manage to rebound quickly, but the otherwise sublime ride quality takes a figurative and literal hit.
The torsion beam also has an impact on handling, contributing to the noticeable bodyroll encountered during hard cornering. Throw the A200 into a twisty at reasonable speed and its rear end pitches the vehicle sideways. It’s by no means unsafe, but body control could be better.
Handling is also hindered by understeer – an occupational hazard of a front-wheel-drive vehicle like the A200 – with it tending to run wide when steering around 90-degree corners at speeds above 30km/h. Therefore, it pays to start turning in earlier or more slowly.
In all other regards, the steering is pretty good, sitting somewhere between a run-of-the-mill sedan and a hot hatch. It’s a good compromise, with the set-up becoming heavier as speed increases to improve stability. Conversely, it’s nice and light when tackling carparks.
The hot-hatch influence becomes even more apparent through the A200’s communicative chassis as the front wheels are constantly providing feedback to the driver, while the quick and direct steering further enhances what is a promising but flawed dynamic package.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the entire A-Class range a five-star safety rating in October 2018. It scored 96, 91 and 92 per cent in adult, child and pedestrian protection categories respectively, while its safety assist testing returned a result of 73 per cent.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the A200 extend to autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, cruise control, a manual speed limiter, park assist, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, traffic sign recognition, driver attention alert, hill-start assist and tyre pressure monitoring.
While it is truly great to have these active safety features as standard, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality is a notable and puzzling exclusion. Even if you wanted to pay for it, it’s not available on the options list. This is a shame given how strong the package is, otherwise.
Other safety equipment includes nine airbags, anti-skid brakes (ABS), brake assist and the usual electronic stability and traction control systems.
As with all Mercedes-Benz models, the A200 comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and three years of roadside assistance. Service intervals are every 12 months or 25,000km, whichever comes first.
The early signs are good for the new-generation A-Class. The A200 is a solid but uninspiring performer that should climb to the top of the shopping list for new-vehicle buyers considering a premium small hatch, given that MBUX is worth the price of admission alone for technology lovers.
Alas, the A-Class has some strong foundations in place, while some of the A200’s flaws can be resolved via strategic optioning. However, we suspect this new model will become truly magical when Mercedes-AMG releases the piping-hot A35 and A45. We really can’t wait.
Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TFSI Sport (from $46,400 before on-road costs)
Even though it’s nearing replacement, the A3 Sportback is still a formidable foe due to its high-quality interior and ride comfort, although its frustrating idle-stop system can grind.
BMW 120i (from $46,990 before on-road costs)
Also approaching the end of its lifecycle, the 120i continues to please with its delightfully responsive engine and brilliant handling, but its firm suspension tune is disappointing.
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Model release date: 1 August 2018
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