The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has sure come a long way. Even though it wasn’t available in North America in the 1990s, the A-Class was a huge seller in Europe.
Perfect for narrow European cobblestone streets, the first-generation vehicle sold over a million units despite its infamous elk-avoidance test issues.
Fast forward to present day and the all-new Mk4 A-Class. The baby Benz is now so posh that the front half of the car looks like it was borrowed from the up-market CLS-Class.
Why the need for a hatch?
You may be wondering why the A-Class is even coming to Canada when we have the CLA-Class. Firstly, the CLA has been a tremendous global success in its first iteration and therefore keeps its place in the line-up as a sportier and prettier vehicle, albeit sacrificing some practicality for style.
The A-Class may be new to the Western Hemisphere, but this latest iteration shares its platform, engine, and transmission with the all-new 2020 CLA-Class.
Canadians, as it turns out, like our small hatchbacks and wagons. Just look to the success of the Nissan Micra in Canada or the Volkswagen Golf.
Regardless of whether some of the reasoning is partly due to our European heritage, Mercedes-Benz Canada saw enough of a sales potential to justify a business case for bringing over the A-Class as a five-door hatchback, something that our American neighbours will have to do without.
What is it?
This is pretty much an all-new platform (dubbed MFA2), stronger, lighter, and 4.72 inches longer than the previous generation A-Class that we never got in Canada.
As mentioned, the styling of Merc’s new entry-level model draws heavily on the look of the recently unveiled CLS-Class, most notably at the front.
Both cars share what has been dubbed a “predator face”, with an AMG-inspired grille and angular headlights that sweep back aggressively into the front fenders, giving it a distinctly more aggressive stance.
The A250 isn’t really aimed at being a VW Golf GTI but instead more of a practical upmarket hatchback aimed to set standards for poshness and comfort, both of which it does so quite convincingly.
Its sharp exterior looks and E-Class levels of technology impress, as does the cabin ambience.
While the Audi A3 e-tron hybrid hatchback may give you slightly better rear passenger space, its base price is much higher than the baby Benz’s $35,990, nor is it available with all-wheel-drive. The latter is available for a reasonable $2,000 extra on the A250.
There is a reasonable amount of space in the A-Class hatch for four average-sized adults with 370 litres of space behind the rear seats. Fold the second-row seats down for an impressive 1,210 litres of total space.
How does it drive?
With 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, 0-100 km/hr runs are completed in a sprightly 6.2 seconds. Peak torque is easily accessible throughout much of the rev band from a low 1,800-400 rpms.
Fuel economy is pretty good too. Officially rated at 9.4L/100 kms in the city and 6.8L/100 kms on the highway, I averaged around 9L/100 kms during my time with the A250 hatch in mostly city driving.
The seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox is smooth and attentive most of the time, but occasionally gets the gears wrong at lower speeds such as when crawling through traffic.
While this was more an exception rather than the rule, the VW group still reigns supreme in when it comes to dual-clutches. At least paddle-pulls are responded to snappily, a good thing too as there is no manual box coming to this model.
Most of car’s shortcomings are easily forgiven though, as the optionally available adaptive dampers add a welcome sharpness in bends while maintaining reasonable suppleness in urban settings.
But the A250 hatch clearly sits in the middle of the road as far as dynamics. It’s certainly sure-footed and a comfy daily driver with neat and tidy manners, but the steering responsiveness and the car’s behavior has been tuned to be more anodyne than dynamic.
It looks like you’ve got to spring for the upcoming A35 AMG if you’re looking for a truly proper hot Benz hatchback.
The newly developed 4Matic all-wheel drive system features electro-mechanical operation instead of the electro-hydraulic set-up used on the previous gen A-Class / CLA-Class. The system now provides a fully variable apportioning of engine’s power between the front and rear axles for improved traction.
The slick high-tech cabin design makes the A250’s rivals look positively clunky. This category has got to be A-Class’s stand-out feature as it is where Mercedes has concentrated much of its efforts.
Yes, the previous-generation CLA-Class was criticized for its cost-cutting. Despite having an even lower base price than the CLA, the new A-Class works off Mercedes’ Glass Cockpit concept from the higher-end models and condenses the experience into a smaller package.
Standard fare across the A-Class range is Mercedes’ MBUX system; MBUX is short for Mercedes-Benz User Experience. In my A250 hatch test vehicle, the interface consisted of twin 10.3 inch screens presented seamlessly as a massive single screen.
Not only is it very pretty to look at, it also feels unlike any other car in a sensible class like this. Because the centre console is pushed away from the front passengers, the overall effect is one of a high-end lounge rather than anything traditionally automotive. More on that later.
At night, a 64-colour ambient lighting system adds both theatrics and practicality. No doubt it will impress those who ride along with you and makes the A250 feel a whole lot more expensive than it is.
General material quality is high throughout, but there are some cheap plastic parts such as the speaker grilles on the A-pillars. It is also annoying that among the flimsiest and cheapest-feeling parts are the two you often use, the left and right column stalks which operate the wipers, turn signal indicators, and transmission gear selection.
Mercedes has carved out a niche for making some of the most desirable interiors in the business. If a cutting edge look is your thing, the A250 doesn’t disappoint. In top tech spec, the A-Class has a WiFi hotspot and is fitted with a live traffic navigation system that has augmented reality. More on this later.
The twin 10.3 inch screens feature high-end looking graphics and have snappy-responding smoothness. Brightness and contrast are on-point, and the centre display is now a touchscreen.
This is a huge improvement thanks to MBUX, as it makes navigating through the layers of menus much easier, especially when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
MBUX can be configured in so many ways Mercedes actually has a demo app for customers’ iPads so they can try it out at home. There are even pre-set or customer configurable themes that tie in the ambient lighting and driver’s display setup.
Though it’s a bit intimidating upon first introduction, there is a handy set-up wizard to help. Given the younger target market for ownership of this vehicle, I suspect that they’ll no doubt quickly figure out what’s what, set it to how they like it and just crack on.
The augmented sat nav system uses a live camera feed from the high-def camera mounted ahead of the rearview mirror and displays a video of the road ahead on the centre screen.
The screen’s refresh rate is excellent and as you drive towards your destination, big animated arrows show up to guide on the right path. There are even pop-up street names that get overlaid on the video feed to help you drive you down trickier side streets.
This is gamification at its best and is hugely impressive. Perhaps it’s Just a bit of a shame the Google Maps or Waze on your phone will likely always know a better route, making the car’s system a bit more of a show-off piece at times.
As with other late model Benzs, both the driver’s digital screen and the centre screen can be operated via the left and right steering wheel mounted touchpads respectively. You truly never have to take your hands off the wheel for most common tasks.
Another highlight of the MBUX connectivity system is an advanced optional speech recognition system designed to work along similar lines to Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa voice service.
Best when connected to the cloud, it permits users to provide spoken commands through a “Hey Mercedes” voice function that has been developed to recognize conversational language rather than specifically worded commands.
You can ask a wide variety of commands or questions such as, “What is the weather going to be like tomorrow”, or “Lower passenger temperature to 18 degrees Celcius”. These are no doubt the first baby steps that auto manufacturers are taking towards fully autonomous vehicles and integration into our homes.
The A-Class sets new standards for infotainment technology and interior quality in this class. Despite its junior status in the Benz line-up, it still feels and drives like a grown-up Mercedes-Benz vehicle, even if it’s not the most thrilling to drive.
Practicality and roominess are just great, and the A250 hatch will reward its target audience sufficiently when they find roads worth making the effort for.
If you fancy a likeable new hatch which has a distinguished name badge, high-brow tech, and an easy yet satisfying drive all year round, the 2020 A250 4Matic hatchback may just do it for you.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.