Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - A-class - range
Styling, refinement, transmission, handling, safety, efficiency, scorching AMG A45 performance
Room for improvement
Ride still a tad firm, some road noise, tight rear space, limited cargo capacity, cabin fixtures still not up to class best
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20 Jan 2016
ONE of the biggest success stories of recent times has been one of Mercedes-Benz’s smallest models, the A-Class hatch.
Not the quirky and innovative original from 1998, but the sportier, swoopier, third-gen version that unashamedly flew in the face of its predecessors’ function-over-form design, to stunning sales effect.
That this strikingly low-slung premium hatch was lumbered with a hard ride and off-brand cabin trim quality did not seem to scare punters away at all – in fact, some variants such as the surprisingly saucy A250 Sport had buyers waiting many months to take delivery. Clearly, style and swagger are the name of the game in the premium luxury hatch space.
So it’s heartening to learn that Mercedes at least listens to us road testers, since the two main issues with the outgoing W176 – suspension comfort and interior materials – have come in for re-evaluation. It’s also telling that the facelift is perhaps one of the most invisible we’ve ever experienced, though the so-called ‘diamond-cut’ grille and LED headlights do add a bit more class to an already good-looking package. It’s no secret that people bought this Benz on design alone.
The great news is that the fitment of adaptive dampers, as part of a ‘Dynamic Select’ system that also changes the steering weight, engine response, transmission algorithm, and air-con output according to Comfort, Sport, or Eco requirements (and with a handy mix-‘n-match ‘Individual’ setting to tailor to personal preferences) transforms the experience.
In the past, without any adaptive damper tech, this-gen A-Class appeared to be hell-bent on amplifying every bump it encountered, transferring the shock and noise relentlessly into the cabin for all occupants to endure. Now, in Comfort mode at least, the suspension seems to soak much of it up, for a far more pleasant and relaxing travelling experience. Indeed, the ride isn’t that bad in Sport mode either, at least, until the roads begin to deteriorate.
We drove the mid-spec A200 front-driver and A250 Sport 4Matic, both featuring 18-inch wheels (the base A180 FWD comes standard with 17s), and found absorption levels adequate, except over really large ridges certainly, considering how sporty these cars purport to be, the ride is simply no longer an issue. However, over a few varying surfaces we encountered through rural Victoria, a fair amount of tyre drone did undermine the quality effect Mercedes is so obviously striving for.
Frankly, we reckon the mods lift the A-Class considerably, for the rest of the mechanical package seems right up there with the segment best, especially in terms of the performance (sweet and effortless in the A200 slingshot-quick in the A250 Sport 4Matic and almost manically ballistic in the AMG A45 4Matic), and handling (light and agile in the A200, planted and determined yet super-involving in the others). Nice work, Stuttgart.
On the other hand, the cabin upgrades like improved plastics and better front seat cushions – while appreciated – do not go far enough for something with the Mercedes three-pointed star sitting squarely in the grille, with squeaky dash trim and the odd rattle somewhat evident in a couple of the examples we drove.
Additionally, there’s still the tight rear-seat legroom, limited headroom, and pitifully small boot to contend with – something that no amount of fettling will fix for this series. That said, the larger (8.0-inch) central screen now features appreciably upgraded connectivity, and that’s probably going to be more relevant to the vast majority of A-Class buyers. And, anyway, if they want more space, there’s always the larger B-Class or C-Class models on offer.
So the A-Class’ Achilles Heel has finally been addressed the previous hard ride made it a bittersweet experience, but now, there’s enough suspension suppleness for drivers and passengers to savour the performance, efficiency, dynamics, and safety on offer.
In fact, the ball is now in the other court in the 2016 W176 Series II facelift, Audi, BMW, and VW have a fiercely competitive foe that has finally found its form. Whether they appreciate it or not, buyers will have a palpably better A-Class experience this time around.
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