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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - A-class - A250 Sport 4Matic

Our Opinion

We like
Respectable performance, slingshot AWD traction, improved ride, better on-board tech, darkness-destroying LED headlights
Room for improvement
Creaky, cramped interior, shiny new buttons hard to read, point-to-point pace marred by lack of involvement, Bluetooth glitches

Gallery

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Mercedes-Benz logo5 Jul 2016

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

THE addition of 4Matic all-wheel-drive has contributed to a $2300 price hike for the facelifted A250 Sport, making it a $53,500 proposition. That said, the A45 AMG is also pricier than before, to the tune of $2100.

While exterior changes require a dedicated car geek to spot them, interior trim and technology upgrades are much more apparent.

Equipment on the A250 is pretty comprehensive and includes LED headlights, keyless entry and start, automated parking, an eight-inch colour display for the a reversing camera, Garmin satellite navigation, and infotainment functions including Apple CarPlay, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, nine airbags, colour-selectable ambient lighting and a security alarm.

An AMG-esque feel is delivered by the sports steering wheel – linked to a variable-assistance/variable ratio rack – plus stainless steel pedals, an AMG bodykit, lowered ‘comfort’ suspension, privacy glass and 18-inch AMG alloy wheels – behind which are drilled brake discs with Mercedes-Benz-branded callipers, AMG-tuned sports suspension with adaptive dampers and the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

As tested, this A250 was valued at $62,150 plus on-road costs, due to the $8650 worth of Comand infotainment upgrade ($2990), driver assistance tech ($2490), AMG Exclusive pack ($1490), seat comfort upgrade ($990) and fetching black 19-inch AMG multi-spoke alloys ($690).

Only non-metallic white, black or red (as specified on our test car), are available as no-cost colour options and metallic hues attract a $1190 premium.

On the model tested the standard synthetic Artico upholstery was replaced with red-stitched leather as part of the AMG Exclusive pack (which also added rear AC vents), electric front seat adjustment and heating was added via the seat comfort pack, the facelift-enhanced semi-autonomous braking and blind-spot monitoring were further upgraded to include adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance under the Driver assistance pack and the Comand package boosted the infotainment setup to include a 10GB music library, internet via Bluetooth, a DVD player, DAB+ digital radio and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system and HDD navigation with traffic updates.

There is no spare wheel, just a puncture repair kit, although a 16-inch space-saver spare can be specified as a dealer-fit accessory.

Of course, the A45 AMG is pretty much fully loaded compared with the A250, with addition of AMG-specific gear and drive mode selectors, instruments (including lap timer), 19-inch alloys and a button to make the exhaust even louder over and above the drivetrain and chassis upgrades. The A45 we drove also had the $1990 AMG Dynamic Plus package that includes a locking front diff, plus $490 spent on fancy matte black cross-spoke alloy wheels.

Interior

The biggest updates to the facelifted A250’s interior are some new finished including galvanised silver dashboard buttons, which go some way to addressing the pre-facelift model’s slightly disappointing ambience but are difficult to read because the logo etchings are not coloured.

A big fail is the sub-Korean cheap plastic centre console and lower dash plastic, with its hard, sharp edges and the cabins of both the A250 and A45 we drove creaked like a haunted house. Mercedes-Benz has apparently not learnt from or kept up with the likes of Audi in terms of materials quality, atmosphere or fit and finish.

New extendable thigh supports were a welcome addition for taller drivers though.

Clear and attractive graphics supply concise and useful information, the steering wheel mounted controls are intuitive and even the sometimes contentious rotary infotainment controller was a breeze to use after a few moments of familiarisation.

However, the A45’s rotary AMG drive select controller did get twiddled accidentally while we were trying to use the infotainment system. We were not impressed by how different the two similar-looking controllers felt to operate, either. Consistent control weights are a small but important ingredient in making a car feel expensive.

Mercedes has one of the easiest methods yet of pairing a phone via Bluetooth, but we had to keep re-enabling audio streaming and handset incompatibility (not Mercedes’ fault) meant we could not play with the new Apple CarPlay system.

Also, the larger central display now looks so much like an (old) iPad that it was a constant temptation to use it as a touchscreen.

The upgraded sat-nav fitted to our test car was excellent, with clear and accurate mapping plus helpful traffic updates and we were generally impressed by the quality of the premium audio system and its DAB+ digital tuner, although the sound went a bit distorted and muddy at higher volumes.

Jumping between car brands as we do in this line of work, we had to come around to the Mercedes way of thinking when using the column-mounted gear selector, which once accustomed is perfect for rapidly shifting between drive, reverse and park while manoeuvring without taking a hand off the wheel. However, the A45 has a more conventionally located selector in the centre console, where the A250 had a useful and huge storage compartment/drinks bottle holder.

For manual shifts, the steering wheel mounted paddles look and feel good, with larger and even classier-feeling items on the A45.

Mercedes has really cracked automated parking system usability, which spookily detects when the driver is seeking a parking space and when an suitable one is passed, prompts them to confirm using a steering wheel button, then takes over the tiller-twirling while the driver controls the pedals. Genius, although it sometimes offers at the wrong moment.

Although the seats in both the A250 and A45 look similar with their tombstone-style one-piece backrests, those in the A45 are much more purposeful in terms of side bolstering that makes you regret having that extra party pie at the weekend BBQ.

For everyday use, we far preferred the less rib-crushing A250 pews, and even though the A45 bolsters can be pneumatically adjusted, they still present a daily harsh reminder to those suffering middle-age spread. We dread to imagine how beefed-up bodybuilders with their less yielding physiques would fair, so we studiously avoided the gym.

In the back, things get a bit gloomy owing to the dark colour scheme, high-set slim windows and more plasticky finishes. Legroom and headroom are rather tight too, especially compared with an Audi A3. However, the seats are pretty comfortable for shorter passengers and the A250’s AMG Exclusive pack provided the welcome addition of rear airvents – it’s a bit of a cheek to make them optional though.

Engine and transmission

Although the A250 Sport’s 160kW and 350Nm – up 5kW post-facelift – puts it into hot hatch territory, it’s closer to a Golf GTI in terms of output than pricier AWD contenders such as the Golf R or Audi S3.

Initial fire-up from cold certainly delivers an AMG-esque snarl from the A250’s exhausts, which soon disappears, but the A45 takes things to a whole new level of combustion-related commotion.

Once on the move there is an effortlessness about this smooth, free-spinning engine and its snap-quick dual-clutch transmission. If we were being picky, there is a bit of turbo lag. At odds with expectation, the super-boosted big-turbo A45 version felt significantly less laggy than the A250 by comparison.

Adding AWD shaves two tenths off the A250’s 0-100km/h sprint time (now a sprightly 6.4 seconds) so it’s brisk but not brutal, which is exactly the word that springs to mind when booting the A45 and its unfeasible but believable 4.2-second claim.

The extra weight of AWD and 5kW power increase have contributed to an increase in the official combined fuel consumption figure from the original front-drive version’s 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres to 6.7L/100km. We achieved a disappointing 9.4L/100km during our week-long test.

We never got to drive the A250 in the kinds of wet conditions that would test its new AWD setup, but we know from driving its B250 sibling that the system reacts well and provides towering confidence on slick surfaces.

Compared with the aforementioned B250 and other small Mercedes products, when driving the A250 and A45 we endured none of the low-speed transmission clunkiness that has dogged them in the past. They must have found a solution.

Most compelling of all, the addition of AWD provides the A250 with much of the giggle factor previously reserved for the A45 in its ability to slingshot out of corners under heavy throttle openings. We never got bored of that and it went some way toward our hypothesis that an A250 is now a cut-price baby A45.

So long as you don’t drive the A45 directly afterwards and get transported to another plane of automotive consciousness.

Ride and handling

Apart from the distinctly more responsive nature of the A45’s miracle of internal combustion compared with the weedier A250 engine on which it is based, for driving at legal speeds on public roads the cheaper option is pretty much all the performance you need for day-to-day use.

Unless you have a traffic light intersection that leads directly to the on-ramp of a 110km/h motorway – as we do on our Queensland test route – there are few places to fully appreciate the manic thrust available from the A45 grenade on wheels.

So why are we discussing drivetrains in the ride and handling section? Because the A45 really showed the A250 up on the dynamic section of our test. Even if the A45 had the same power and torque outputs as an A250, it would be much faster point-to-point and heaps more rewarding than the standard car.

Where the A250 feels a bit aloof and remote on a twisty section of 100km/h road, the A45 fizzes with feel, feedback and the confidence to push harder and harder. And harder still.

Forget the industrial-strength AMG noise, forget the madcap acceleration, the facelifted A45 really is a fun car at legal speeds. This is an astonishing achievement for a German uber-hatch.

The A250 falls into the typical trap of feeling too competent and therefore less involving, while the AMG, for all its additional grip and track-honed high-speed cornering prowess, puts the driver at the centre of proceedings. The two really have to be driven back-to-back to fully appreciate the differences.

We’d go as far as to say that the sacrifices – takeaway coffee, nights out, that kind of thing – required to cost-justify step up from an A250 to an A45 are worth it. The AMG is more invigorating than a triple espresso and petrol, even the 98 RON Premium Unleaded preferred by this beast, is much cheaper than beer.

Taking a step back into the real world, the A250’s retuned ride quality is a serious achievement but desperately needed. Previously, you could have felt the chalk dust on a billiard table and bad roads were pretty unbearable.

Now, the ride remains firm but much more controlled thanks to the adaptive dampers, which are clearly quality items as excellent damping can be the saviour of a stiff ride – which is most certainly the case with the facelifted A250 Sport.

Exploring suburbia the ride feels almost supple and at motorway it feels settled and comfortable in the Autobahn-optimised German car tradition.

The slightly wooly turn-in that makes the A250 feel aloof while reducing driver confidence is completely absent in the A45, without the latter feeling nervous on fast, straight roads.

AMG-like drilled brakes fitted to the A250 deliver excellent pedal feel and performance, but again the real-deal AMG provides eyeball-popping deceleration that outdoes even its gut-burying acceleration.

The A45 does have a slightly jigglier, slightly racecar-like quality about its ride but again, adaptive dampers are your best friend.

But we are still reeling from how superior it is dynamically to its little brother. Better get saving.

Safety and servicing

In April 2013 the A-Class achieved a five-star ANCAP crash-test score, with 35.8 points out of a maximum 37.

Complimenting usual Mercedes-Benz alphabet soup of electronic safety and stability aids, the A-Class comes with a reversing camera, nine airbags, semi-autonomous braking and blind-spot monitoring as standard.

Under Mercedes-Benz capped-price servicing, which lasts up to three years or 75,000 kilometres, maintenance intervals are 12 months or 25,000 kilometres, with the first visit costing $396 and the subsequent two $792 apiece. The warranty lasts three years with unlimited kilometres.

For the record, A45 AMG maintenance requires even fewer visits to the barista or the bartender, with the first service $576 and the next two an eye-watering $1152. Intervals are also shorter, with 20,000km between (but still 12 months).

Verdict

Visually, the A-Class update is mild and was accompanied by price increases.

While the A250 copped one of the steepest rises in light of its adoption of AWD, it is a meaningful benefit and the new suspension settings plus upgraded infotainment are worthwhile.

Those shopping for a Golf GTI – especially the Performance or 40 Years special editions – might be swayed by the Benz badge and AWD traction in order to hand over a bit more cash, but are likely to be disappointed by the A250’s cabin space and, crucially, quality. We think Mercedes missed a big opportunity in that department.

We enjoyed the extra glimmers of AMG-ness in the A250 Sport’s all-wheel-drive setup – especially the smile-every-time way it fires out of corners – and it would be dynamically less disappointing in isolation had we not driven it back-to-back with the A45.

The A45 is an absolute weapon, and a born extrovert that absolutely justifies its price increase over the A250.

But were it our money and we wanted a quick, dynamic German hatch with all-wheel-drive for around $55,000, we’d take a serious look at a Golf R instead of the A250. And even if we scrimped and saved the extra to drop 80 grand on an A45, we’d expect a cabin that doesn’t rattle and creak.

Rivals

Volkswagen Golf R automatic from $55,240 plus on-road costs
A bit of a benchmark in the super-hot hatch market that makes the A250 look slow, flimsily constructed and poor value for money.

Audi S3 Sportback from $61,100 plus on-road costs
Calling it a Golf R wrapped in a sharp suit does the S3 a disservice but considering our A250 sport was full of options, there is scope for cross-shopping here. The classy and solid S3 interior makes the A-Class cabin look like it was designed and made by Fisher Price.

BMW 125i from $48,900 plus on-road costs
Comparatively value pricing, not quite as quick and similarly naff inside.

Rear-drive layout promises more than it delivers.

Alfa Romeo QV automatic from $42,000 plus on-road costs
Design is ageing well, the rest not so much. Cracking little engine though.

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