Mercedes has facelifted its A-Class, responding to critics of its ride and interior finish. Has the premium hatchback improved?
WHAT IS IT?
The 2016 facelift for the Mercedes-Benz A176 hatchback, which was the third Merc to wear the A-Class moniker and the first of these to successfully challenge the Audi A3 – by eschewing its predecessors’ uniquely progressive if somewhat dumpy packaging for something a whole lot sportier and spunkier.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The third-gen A-Class has always been a striking and stirring small car to drive fast on smooth roads, but an unforgiving ride and rattly interior bits really undermined what could have been a premium C-segment superstar. Now Mercedes has attended to these, so we’re keen to see whether the front-drive Mercedes-Benz A200 and A250 Sport 4Matic finally feel comfy on our harsh roads.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Finally we can wholeheartedly recommend the premium small car that, until now, had wowed us with its effortless performance and pretty styling but also left us wondering how anyone would be willing to put up with an agitated ride, squeaky plastics, poor rear-seat packaging and a tiny boot. Well, thanks to adaptive dampers and less cruddy plastics, two out of the four issues have been more-or-less addressed (though things still aren’t stellar). If you’re after a posh hatch with sparkling handling and strong performance, and don’t need to carry more than two adults, you might prefer the Three Pointed Star to the Audi A3 or BMW 1 Series.
PLUS: Styling, performance, dynamics, efficiency, safety, improved ride, great seats
MINUS: Cabin squeaks still present, abundant tyre noise, rear packaging issues remain
THE WHEELS REVIEW
SOMETIMES they listen!
After 17 years and three generations of posterior-pummelling Mercedes A-Classes, the 2016 facelift (visually limited to a fresh grille, bumpers, and tail-lights) finally rides like a Benz ought to.
When released three years ago, Stuttgart’s reborn Audi A3-rival came tantalisingly close to setting segment benchmarks dynamically… until the first bump it crashed over shattered any illusion of “engineered-like-no-other-car” superiority. “Ouch!” we cried.
Ironically, relief comes from another sort of smarts. Standard-fitment adaptive damper tech – as part of what the company calls its Dynamic Select system – brings a new Comfort mode for a palpably cushier ride.
To be sure, over a sizeable stretch of ragged rural Victorian roads, we oscillated between that and Sport in the two models we sampled at the local launch – the spirited $42,800 A200 front-driver, wearing Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 235/40ZR18s, and a $53,500 A250 Sport 4Matic AWD powerhouse, on Bridgestone Turanza 225/40R18s. And the results are as convincing as Donald Trump’s comb-over isn’t. Comfort mode works.
Aiding their prodigious progress is an even sweeter-shifting dual-clutch auto than we remembered. Top work, Merc.
Additionally, the extra tautness and body control that Sport mode brings enhances this A-Class’s already athletic dynamics, so that when a soft ride isn’t strictly de rigueur, this thing can rip through corners with involving agility and grip.
In baking temperatures, this tester preferred the 60kg lighter 1.6 A200 over its 2.0 AWD A250 stablemate, thanks to the former’s wigglier rear-end handling, offering a sort of passive rear-steer which made it a hoot stringing together high-speed corners. Granted, wet surfaces would likely elicit an opposite opinion.
We do however think less of the significant road noise intrusion – especially over coarse bitumen. And though the steering is ideally weighted, more feedback would complement the Merc’s crisp handling no end, since the extra mass in Sport feels somewhat artificial.
Making adaptive dampers standard has raised prices by between $1000 and $2300 depending on variant, with the base 90kW/200Nm A180 now starting from $37,200. But the kleiner Benz claws back kudos with more supportive front seats, a larger touchscreen, and less tacky trim (more on-brand but squeaks still escape), while Apple CarPlay headlines a multimedia upgrade. The 100kW/300Nm A200d diesel now costs $43,300.
Lastly, minor output rises (5kW and 15kW/25Nm apiece for the 160kW/350Nm A250 and 280kW/475Nm Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG respectively) and improved driver-assist braking round out what is now a far fiercer A3 foe. Rear-seat room remains tight, but no longer is this Benz a class of hard knocks.
Model: Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport 4Matic
Engine: 1991cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 160kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 350Nm @ 1200-4000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch
Fuel economy: 6.1L/100km
On sale: Now