Some three and a half years ago, Mercedes ditched its hugely practical “original”A-Class, a vehicle much-loved by older members of the fair sex, and presented a startled world with a completely new take that put style before practicality. Was it a move too far?
In South Africa at least, the answer is that the new interpretation has been well-received but owing primarily to its space limitations, it’s a rarity on the rest of the African continent.
Given the relative freshness of the “new” model, it may come as a surprise that a re-worked model range is now entering M-B dealer showrooms, a reflection if ever there was one, of how much shorter model life cycles have become.
That range consists of the A200d and A220d, the A200 and A250 Sport and the bullyboy AMG A45 4MATIC. Note that the wheel has come full circle with the diesel models thankfully returning to a simple “d” suffix.
You could be forgiven for struggling to spot the external differences of the refreshed model, but these are primarily centred around a re-profiled front bumper, and tweaked grille trim up front, while down the back, re-shaped lamps are joined by re-configured lower bumper trim which incorporates dual tailpipes.
Let’s just say the A-Class retains its sporty and clearly identifiable silhouette with a bit of cosmetic massaging providing some fresh touches, one of which is glaringly obvious in the form of a garish bright metallic paint known as Elbaite Green Metallic which I suspect will halve resale value on the spot!
Inside, there’s a smarter feel to the cabin thanks to the use of upgraded materials and revised colours, not to mention a new steering wheel design, but be aware that here and there, some hard plastics are still on view which telegraph, relatively –speaking, that this is the entry level model rangein the huge Merc line-up.
I think I detected a change in the graphics of the tubular design instrument cluster too and I definitely noted that the cars we drove sported the optional 8-inch infotainment screen which still sits rather awkwardly as a free-standing unit.
Overall, the feel is more premium than before but don’t get the idea that the A-Class is now plush. What the new models do offer though, is alternative finishes dubbed Style, Urban or Exclusive. Hats off to M-B for offering such alternatives in place of a take or it leave it approach which once prevailed.
On the launch day, I drove three models, namely the A220d, the AMG A45 and the A250 Sport, all on the road and on Killarney race track. The 2.1 litre diesel motor in the 220d had struck me in the past as being a little gruff under load but in this latest application, complete with an extra 5kW to take it to 130kW, it did its work with greater refinement and for the most part, even at idle, disguised its diesel origins extremely well. In fact, it got round Killarney with a surprising turn of speed too.
The 155kW offered by the A250 may seem a little mean these days but this engine is tuned to deliver good mid-range pull and an effortless feel, something it achieved to my complete satisfaction on the track and on the motorway. If you don’t demand much action above 5 000 rpm, you’ll like the 250 just as you’ll like the way in which the 7-speed DCT transmission – also on the A220d – feels smoother and more certain of itself than in early applications.
M-B have made much of the standard fitment of Dynamic Select in most of the new models (please go to www.mercedes-benzsa.co.za for full details of all equipment and model options).This system provides four driving modes, namely Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual for engine, transmission and steering. Should the chassis be equipped with optional adaptive damping, the ride can be adjusted too.
Having said that, if the A-Class has a chink in its new armour, it can be found in the ride which is OK on decent surfaces but which becomes choppy and vertically-disturbed on undulating surfaces or when traversing lateral ridges. An underlying firmness is wholly acceptable in the AMG A45 but I’m of the view that owners would appreciate a little more pliancy in the lower-powered models.
Talk of the AMG A45 and doff your cap to the world’s most powerful production 2.0 litre which produces a truly stunning 280kW (up by 20kW) and a torque peak of 475Nm. The outright grunt is exceptional as a 0-100 time of just 4.2s tells you, but this motor isn’t all about top end. It offers surprising shove and tractability from fairly low revs and in conjunction with lower gear ratios and an infinitely more positive shift from the 7-speed DCT gearbox, it provides a truly exhilarating drive and an exhaust burble to die for.
Sure, on the bumpier mountain roads we traversed, the ride – despite considerable adjustability -is always on the firm side but with it comes excellent control and uncanny resistance to body roll, something that was very evident when lapping Killarney at decidedly high speeds.
Indeed, the grip and steering responsiveness of the AMG were a joy to experience under heavy cornering loads. I have no doubt the sophisticated AWD system played a key role here as the lesser models, under duress on the track, felt a little squirrely under heavy braking while the rear end felt as though it might want to let go (but never did) in the face of ridiculously high cornering speeds.
It’s fair enough to unleash an AMG A45 4MATIC on the track but for M-B to do the same with more mundane 220 and 250 models showed a massive level of confidence in the all-round ability of the A-Class. Happily, there wasn’t a single off-track excursion by any pen-pusher to my knowledge which speaks volumes for the cars and, maybe, the journos too!!
It goes without saying that the revised A-Class is thoroughly well kitted out with active and passive safety aids and like most cars from the Fatherland, it’s also offered with a host of optional extras that can be sussed out on the aforementioned web page.
Just keep your mind focused though, on the fact that M-B themselves unashamedly admit that the A-Class puts style before practicality. That tells you rear space is rather tight and luggage space is about par for the class. All this represents a complete turnaround from the original A-Class concept but I rather like the more adventurous approach from the world’s oldest car manufacturer which has achieved conquest sales of no less than 65%!
The latest changes may indeed be hard to spot in isolation, but for the most part, they make the A-Class an even more appealing form of transport for those who enjoy their motoring without a posse of passengers on the back seat. As for the AMG A45 4MATIC, it’s more ballistic still, but its virtues come at a price.
*Please note that all comments regarding model range and specifications apply to the South African market. Zimoco are the official representatives of the Mercedes-Benz brand in Zimbabwe and should be approached for market-specific information on the new A-Class range.
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