Mercedes A-Class A200 CDI Review: first drive

 

The unloved old A-Class left Mercedes’ sales figures floundering in the compact segment. Speaking with Mercedes Käse-Chef, Dr Dieter Zetsche, he told itsgotwheels that in their quest to become the most dynamic premium brand in the world: ‘The new A-Class represents an important Mercedes milestone. We anticipate big growth in this sector and you can expect further models in due course.’

Clearly predicting a riot of sales in the sector, this milestone should also be their cornerstone for the range. The all-new model sits 160mm lower, 409mm longer and 16mm wider and shares the B-Class front-wheel drive platform. Mercedes expects this new hatchback A-Class incarnation will increase their share of the small hatch pie.

Together with the usual suspects from Audi and BMW, others are looking for a slice of this pie. The all new Volvo V40 has recently drawn its orthopaedic chair to the table with impressive results as we reported from the recent international launch: http://www.itsgotwheels.com/2012-volvo-v40-d2-review-first-drive/

 

 

The new A-Class certainly fits the mould as part of that family yet distinctly offers a punch-above-weight look at the front as exterior design guru Mark Fetherston’s work looks set to appeal to the younger audience Mercedes is targeting. It tiptoes on the edge of feral and the urbane that should invoke rear view mirror gulps from other road users as they auto-decant from the fast lane.

Buyers won’t have to swallow too hard though when it comes to pricing. The six-speed manual A180 BlueEfficiency is the first Silver Arrow out of the quiver. The petrol-fuelled 1595cc with 122bhp 6-speed manual with 129 g/km CO2 emissions hits the price target at £18,945 and, as with all models, has ECO start/stop as standard.

Joining the base trim level are an additional four others: SE, Sport, AMG, and Engineered by AMG. The ‘proper’ AMG version is scheduled for early 2013.

 

 

Our test of the A200 CDI BlueEfficiency in Sport trim on some billiard-table smooth tarmac with the optional seven speed double-clutch transmission complete with paddle-shifters was our first taster. Taking the diesel middle-ground between the A180 and A220, the 1796cc engine sounded a little rowdy off the line but after achieving 0-62mph in 9.3seconds, it settles in nicely when up to temperature. Offering 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 114g/km CO2, it’s on the money for economy and emissions. The flappy paddle gearbox asks a £1450 premium over the £23,270 six-speed manual alternative and tops out at 130mph.

While the paddles are more than adequate for everyday purposes and a probable must-have convenience for city dwellers, carousers may find the computer changes up a little sooner than is ideal. When we indulged in some spirited revelling, we felt distinctly up the creek with a paddle and were more at home with the control offered by the manual. The ‘he-shoots-he-scores’ precision of the manual lifted the drive and gave us the sense of a more engaging and purposeful package.

Mercedes may have hit the back of the net with the manual transmission and power-train combo, but the own goal they are keen to avoid with this A-Class is its handling, as proven by that infamous elk test of 1998.

Squirting through undulating Slovenian curves we found the A-Class has poise and precision. The chassis felt more than capable and the feedback through the steering bests the Audi A3 and Volvo V40 but can’t quite take the coveted gold from BMW. However, we will reserve final judgement once back on the battered bitumen of Blighty.

 

 

On the inside, Mercedes has acquitted itself admirably with a well laid out dash and interior. Comfortable seats and a good driving position up front are not quite mirrored by space in the rear that feels a little claustrophobic for adults. The rear pillars intrude both for passengers and the driver’s blind spot observations.

This may be a trade off for the de-rigour looks for the class, but with a host of safety features generally only available in the more premium models, you can put your savings from the automatic gearbox option toward blind spot, lane keeping and speed limit assists. Pre-Safe and Distronic Pro are also more premium spec safety options now available in the A-Class. Radar-based Collision Prevention Assist and Attention Assist are standard across the range.

Great looks, a dynamic drive, economy and attractive entry pricing will appeal to the younger audience Mercedes is hunting for with the new A-Class. Not content with getting the basics right, Mercedes is set to smoke out additional couth youths with a baffling array of iPhone connectivity from the optional Drive Kit Plus and a special Mercedes-Benz app that facilitates sending pre-determined messages, selection of music tracks and access to social media through the in-vehicle display. All this while controlling it with impunity from the control in front of the centre arm rest.

The previous A-Class may have been loved less and less, but in the premium, small hatch sector the new silhouette for Mercedes is the modern way.

Words: Martin Justice

Not to your taste? Read the 2013 Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC here: http://www.itsgotwheels.com/2013-honda-civic-1-6-i-dtec-review-first-drive/

 

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