WHAT IS IT?
This is the fourth-generation of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback, which has now arrived in Australia a little more than three months after its international launch. At the moment, the A200 is all local buyers can get their hands on from the range, but more variants will fatten the line-up later this year and into 2019.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
The modern-day baby Benz is the German brand’s most affordable offering, but that hasn’t stopped Stuttgart from throwing its most advanced technology at it. This is our first chance to try it in Oz, not to mention investigate the A200’s all-new engine and practical design developments. Better get to it, then…
Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Lexus CT, Infiniti Q30, Volvo V40, Volkswagen Golf
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The A200 is a strong initial showing for Merc’s fourth-gen hatchback range. It’s a good package with the tools to retain existing owners looking to update and lure new customers to the brand, not least of which is its gorgeous, premium interior and cutting edge user interface. It has showroom appeal that more expensive cars can’t match, let alone immediate rivals. For enthusiastic drivers, however, it leaves the door open for more potent variants to really knock our socks off.
PLUS: Interior glamour and technology; gearbox performance; functional improvements
MINUS: Loud cabin; hard, flat seats; dash squeaks in vehicles tested
THE WHEELS REVIEW
AUSTRALIA, there’s a new A-Class in town. For now, just one – the A200 – and it brings sizzling showroom allure in a glamorous, high-tech cabin that makes the rest of the premium compact segment look wilted and old fashioned.
Its interior experience is dominated by an ultra-sharp widescreen display panel that replaces the traditional instrument cluster and central screen setup as the vessel for Merc’s ground-breaking MBUX interface. A raised centre console places a new touchpad controller closer to the driver’s fingertips, but MBUX can also be operated with voice commands in a more natural way than anything before it. Simply call out ‘Hey Mercedes’ followed by an instruction, such as ‘close the sunblind’ or ‘change to previous station’ and the system complies.
The slickness of the A-Class’s versatile and user-friendly digital side will alone win over customers, but there’s more to this fourth-gen makeover than just electrickery. The body is 16mm wider and significantly longer; 120mm overall, with 30mm added to its wheelbase. A slight 7mm bump to the roofline above the rear doors sounds insignificant, but reshaped windows make a marked difference to outward vision for both rear-seat passengers and the driver. Back door and boot apertures are also bigger, making it easier to get people and things in to and out of the rear seats and cargo area.
There’s a maturity to this generation of hatch that was missing in its youthful but flawed predecessor. The debutant A200 shapes up as a sensible, connected tool for urban singles and couples, with the image and savvy to make it all that a lot of buyers will desire. That is to say, the A200’s driving performance could be largely academic for many interested parties, provided it does what it’s told and doesn’t dramatically drop the ball. And on those fronts, it delivers.
The engine is a 1.3-litre four-cylinder co-developed with Renault, though built by and exclusive to Mercedes-Benz for the time being. It produces 120kW and 250Nm, which feels surprisingly sufficient when paired to the snappy gearing of its excellent Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The A200 has decent off the line nip and feels brisker in initial acceleration than its 8.0sec to 100km/h might suggest. It can sound a little thrashy when really strung out, but for the most part the efforts Benz has made toward improving engine refinement have worked. It’s also more efficient than the old 1.6L, with claimed economy of 5.7L/100km.
In the suburban domain that will be the A200’s primary proving ground it does nothing to offend. The steering is fairly fluid, albeit without any particular feeling of connectedness. The overall impression is less sporty and perhaps a bit more grown-up than the outgoing car. Three suspension setups include two that ride on a torsion beam rear-end, which has been introduced to save weight, space and cost. The base car, at $47,200, has regular Comfort springs, while Lowered Comfort coils are bundled into an AMG Line exterior package ($1990) and drop ride height by 15mm. The passive damper tune does a good job of keeping body movement under control, though there’s some fussiness to the ride on patchy bitumen.
A third configuration brings adaptive dampers and an independent rear end as part of a $3190 AMG Exclusive option pack, which also adds two-tone seats and dual-zone climate control. Its Comfort and Sport damper settings give the A200 more bandwidth, and the desirable rear suspension layout assists the front-end with a little more turn-in eagerness. There’s just enough about the A200 for keen drivers to enjoy, but the door is firmly wedged open for the upcoming 4Matic variants, especially the AMG A35 and A45, to really thrill us.
What hampers some of the A200’s long distance potential are hard, flat seats and loud tyre roar on country roads at speed, though there is less wind noise than before. Also of concern were dashboard rattles in two vehicles driven at the local launch, though it’s unknown whether those early cars had been taken apart and reassembled prior for training purposes.
Come October the 165kW/350Nm 2.0-litre A250 will also be here, at which point both it and the A200 will be available with S-Class levels of driver assistance technology as seen overseas. Following that is an entry-level A180 in early 2019, around the same time as an MBUX upgrade for Australia that will draw in information from online. The A-Class rollout is a multi-part play by Mercedes that will continue to up the ante and turn the heat on every premium compact competitor. The A200 already has a lot going for it, and it’s just getting started.
Model: Mercedes-Benz A200
Engine: 1332cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 120kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 250Nm @ 1620rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h: 8.0sec (claimed)
Economy: 5.7L/100km (EU)
On sale: Now
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