ALTHOUGH there was a fairly racy 190PS A200 Turbo model, not to mention the twin-engined A38 AMG specials presented to F1 drivers David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen, the old A-Class was never any great shakes to drive. The latest car is cut fromvery different cloth.
The petrol engines range between 1.6 and 2.0 litre capacities and generate between 122bhp in the A180 and 156bhp in the A200 through to 211bhp in the A250.
Common to all is the combination of direct injection and exhaust gas turbocharging, a more advanced combustion process and an efficient lean-burn system.
The diesel engines also feature sophisticated injection technology and turbocharging. The A180 CDI offers an output of 109bhp and amaximumtorque of up to 250Nm, while the A200 CDI has a maximum output of 136bhp and torque that rises to 300Nm. The engines can be combined either with the new six-speed manual transmission or, as an option, with the 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Underpinning the baby Benz is the suspension system found beneath the B-class, featuring MacPherson struts up front and a four-link design at the back. The quicker A250 model runs on a specially tuned front suspension that gets 180inch alloy wheels with the optional AMG sport styling package.
The steering is an electro-mechanical system that has been tuned to offer improved feel and response when cornering.
One of themost interesting aspects of the latest A-Class is the fact that the more powerful versions are set to be offered with four-wheel drive transmission and Mercedes hasn’t been coy about the fact that it is willing to work with its power partner AMG to develop an A25 AMG 4Maticmodel that will go toe to toe with the Audi RS3 and BMW M135i.With 350PS to call upon, it looks quite a weapon.
Design and build
The A-Class has abandoned the “one-box” shape of its predecessor for a more conventional twobox hatchback design, but it’s packed with interesting styling features. The eye is drawn to the upsweeping feature lines on the car’s flanks which gives shape and tension to the profile.
Even the entry-level models have a stance and attitude that looks sporting, and the upper specification cars look seriously purposeful. There’s decent amount of space inside although the focus has clearly been on improving perceived quality and offering a sportier feel.
All trim elements have been given an electroplated finish, resulting in realmetal surfaces with a “cool touch” effect. The instrument panel is divided into a wing profile-type upper section and an solid lower section.
Perhaps the most interesting design touch is what looks like an iPad sitting on the upper part of the centre console but which is in fact an integrated touch-screen system. It’ll sync seamlessly with an iPhone and expect Android connectivity to follow in due course.
The instrument cluster comprises two large round instruments, each of them with a small round instrument set within it.When at rest, the dial needles stand at 6 o’clock.
The pointer inlays are generally white, although with the sportier design and equipment lines they are finished in red. The 3-spoke steering wheel comes with twelve function buttons and an electroplated bezel. It all feels beautifully built, in stark contrast to the first A-Class.
Market and model
Prices sit in the £19,000 to £25,000 bracket and there’s a choice of four main trim levels - standard, SE, Sport and ‘AMG Sport’ - with wider availability of the more potent engines as you progress up the ownership ladder.
Whichever A-Class variant you choose - 1.6 or 2.0-litre petrol or the 1.8-litre diesel - all models come the basic equipment features you’d expect, which in the case of the standard trim level runs to an Audio 20 CD/radio with 5.8’ colour display.
It’s a set-up that’sMP3,WMA and AAC-compatible and has a useful aux-in socket, plus a USB port within the centre armrest. There’s also Bluetooth and BeckerMap Pilot pre-wiring.
As they progress up the range, customers can choose between various suspension settings, among themthe optional sports suspension with Direct-Steer system. The A-Class differentiates itself in this sector by being the only vehicle in its class to feature as standard a radar-based collision warning system.
Working with adaptive Brake Assist, which lowers the risk of rear-end collisions, the Collision Prevention Assist system gives a visual and acoustic warning to alert a distracted driver to identified obstacles, and prepares Brake Assist for themost precise braking response possible.
This is initiated as soon as the driver steps firmly on the brake pedal. It’s all very clever but like the best technology, doesn’t impose itself until it’s actually needed.
The Pre-Safe preventive occupant protection systemis now available for the first time in the AClass.
This first appeared in the S-Class luxury saloon back in 2002 and it’s taken a decade to filter down to the entry-level car.
This suite of technological features comprises reversible belt tensioning, the closing of side windows and sliding sunroof and adjustment of the fully electric front passenger seat. Other features fitted as standard include Attention Assist, which monitors the duration and style of your driving and makes recommendations when you may well be driving in a fatigued state, Brake Hold function and Hill Start Assist.
Options include Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Speed Limit Assist, Active Parking Assist and a reversing camera. It’s a small car. How much assistance do you need?
Cost of ownership
All mainstream A-Class models carry ‘BLueEFFICIENCY’ badging, meaning that they come equipped with all the brand’s latest eco-tweaks.
As a result, returns are frugal, with the A180CDI variant managing 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and putting out just 98g/km of CO2. The A200 CDImanages 65.7mpg and 114g/km.
The A-Class wasn’t a bad performer when it came to retained values, with more mature buyers snapping up clean, low-mileage cars. This model is going to be a very different proposition, one thatMercedes will need to be careful about.
The amount of options available for this model could push prices very high and damage residuals, but I’d still be prepared to bet that it’ll better an Audi A3 after three years.
A lot of work has been devoted to offering competitive economy and emissions figures, despite the sportier bias. All engines in the new A Class feature the ECO start/stop function as standard.
What’s more, the engines can be combined either with either a six-speed manual transmission or, as an option, with a 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission, which will prove the more fuel efficient option.
For more information visit the Drayton's Mercedes Benz website.