No matter its imperfections, the last generation A-Class will be remembered as the hatch that banished the three-pointed star’s stodgy image and stoked the interest of the ‘trendy’ crowd, turning many into converts. Along with other compact class offshoots and on-point messaging, the A-Class made Mercedes-Benz cool, even if its original 1990s’ version was anything but.
Remember the moose?
Mercedes would rather you not remember anything about that 1997 episode. The concept of the A-Class then (which carried through to a second generation), while quirky and ingeniously packaged, never had a sporty (wish)bone in its lanky body. For the last generation model (W176), Mercedes-Benz developed a conventional hatchback from scratch and made it stylish and dynamic, it had powerful engines and a firm-riding suspension to convey sportiness. Trouble is, they made the ride too hard.
So, let’s address the elephant in the room; does the new A-Class ride properly now? Our A250 test unit, spec-ed for Malaysia with ‘Comfort’ suspension (don’t let those names conjure up visions of a pillowy ride) and adorned with 18-inch AMG alloys, no longer fidgets over every sharp edge on the road nor shakes its occupants when it encounters a shallow pothole. I wouldn’t quite call it supple, but this is a marked improvement.
The A250 still doesn’t round off some of the nasty stuff encountered on our roads as well as say…a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but coexistence with the car no longer involve dodging manhole covers on a daily basis. What is worth taking note of is that the A250 is now shod with normal as opposed to run-flat tyres as found in the A200, maybe that helped too.
More than just the ride
When Steve Jobs showed off the first iPhone back in 2007, the LCD size measured 3.5-inch, a few years later, Samsung unveiled its first Note series that had a 5.3-inch OLED screen and we all thought that was bonkers. Today, flagship smartphones have displays well over six inches and we are entering the realm of communication devices with foldable screens.
The new A-Class, particularly its interior, reflects the time that we live in, and as much as I enjoy an analogue pointer dancing on a circular rev counter, I can’t deny that the Merc’s wide-screen cockpit display is nice to look at, highly customisable and carries a tonne of info, just like the smartphone you’re probably reading this story on. But unlike some other manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz have retained physical controls where applicable, but improved on the build quality (bar a few slightly wobbly AC toggles) and usability of the new A-Class over the last one.
Much attention has been centred on the MBUX voice assistant that’s supposed to help you do more things through spoken commands (so you can concentrate on driving), but like many pioneering technologies, there are hits and misses, so this comes off as gimmicky rather than genuinely useful, for now. That said, Siri and Google Assistant were far from the finished item on day one, we are pretty sure that Mercedes can only improve on this. Besides, there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity to fall back on, though you’ll need a hard-to-source Type-C to Type-C USB cable.
More than just showboating
In what is a recurring theme in the auto industry, the A-Class has grown in just about every dimension; it’s wider, lengthier, taller and has a longer wheelbase (by 30mm), but the new A-Class also looks more confident and less like it’s trying to impress. Some might find the aesthetics more muted this time around, but this cleaner, leaner direction with fewer creases is a slow burner and fares better with time. Its best angle is perhaps looking straight at the CLS-inspired ‘shark’ snout grille cut-out, but more importantly, it is not something you would confuse with the old one.
With the A35 and A45 AMGs to come, it’s easy to dismiss the A250 as a pretender. But if you’re lucky enough to be behind of the wheel of a A250, you’d know that it lacks nothing in the way of performance. The 224hp and 350Nm turbo four-pot and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission combo lays down power exceedingly well with minimal lag, supported by fast, crisp up-shifts; 100km/h from idle arrives in just 6.2 seconds, and it does feel as quick as the numbers indicate. And while there isn’t much subjective sensation through the steering, its light, delicate response and strong brakes are conducive for a hard thrash on your favourite roads.
Growing up Baby Benz
Hard to imagine that when Mercedes-Benz launched the original A-Class back in 1997, it was supposed to be a pioneering eco car with technologically advanced ‘sandwich’ construction nobody could tell. It took some soul-searching years later for Mercedes to realise that success with the A-Class lies in it being mainstream. Ironically, technology has returned as a core selling point of the fourth generation A-Class, only that it is now out to complement and bedazzle customers in a way that the original concept never quite managed…64 ambient colours, who would have thought.
Mercedes-Benz A250 (AMG Line)
Price: RM263,888 Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged, FWD Output: 224hp / 350Nm Transmission: 7-speed DCT Performance: 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds; top speed 250km/h Wheels/tyres: 225/45 R18 Safety: 7 airbags, Electronic Stability Control Warranty: 4-year/unlimited mileage