Posted Aug 21st 2012 11:57AM
You are looking at what is likely the most important Mercedes-Benz passenger car since the old 190 turned into the C-Class "Baby Benz" back in 1993. And the United States and Canada won't get it, at least not in this hatchback configuration we have just tested extensively in Slovenia.
The big message coming from Mercedes, however, is that the new A-Class is categorically not to be referred to as a baby anything. (We wish them good luck in enforcing this mandate.) The attitude is aggressive and "Attack Mode" in nature, clearly showing how tired Mercedes is of being known as the less exciting, more mild mannered German brand.
The thing is, that reputation is well earned and the brand has embraced it for quite some time with real success. But now it's time to bust out of the current normal and cater to the kids with expendable cash in pocket.
Since 1997, the world has lived through two generations of A-Class, one of the most utterly bland four-wheeled semi-premium small cars ever formulated. And since the 190/C-Class went all upmarket in the early '00s, Mercedes has had no true competitor – at least not a very cool one – in a premium small car segment anywhere on Earth where it sells cars. And, boy, have they needed it.
Related Gallery2012 Mercedes A-Class - First Drive
This new A-Class compact car, known internally as W176, is so far beyond those previous two generations that the stunned effect of its first impression almost has us forgetting they ever happened. And Mercedes really likes this sentiment, probably because it's something they surely think but could never say.
Stylish hatchbacks and compacts are breeding like plankton these days, but we've been convinced of the conquering power of the W176 right from our first viewing of it on the show stand at the Geneva Motor Show this past March. That show version was an A 250 Sport with AMG-caressed chassis, wheels and dynamics, and we tested this trim here in Slovania on a circuit laid out at an airfield. Most of our time, however, was spent in the higher volume A 250 with AMG package treatment (the red one seen in our pictures), admittedly more of a cosmetic affair than the zestier Sport.
The stunned effect of its first impression almost
has us forgetting the first two ever happened.
As is the norm, Mercedes' current plans in North America for the A-Class are being kept hidden. Leading intelligence suggests we'll get a four-door trunked version in 2014 called the CLA based on the Concept Style Coupe shown this past April at the Beijing Motor Show. In any case, why would intelligent Mercedes-Benz not bring us something cool based on the new A-Class and leave all the small premium car profits in the U.S. and Canada to Mini, Volkswagen, Audi, and soon the Japanese? Competing to win is in their blood.
Compared to a current Audi A3 five-door, the new A-Class hatch is exactly the same length at 168.9 inches, has a 4.8-inch longer wheelbase, is an inch wider and has a roof that is four tenths of an inch higher off the ground. Cargo capacity in the A3 ranges from 19.5 to 39.0 cubic feet, while the A-Class rates between 12.1 and 40.1 cu ft.
Horsepower for the A 250 is 208 at 5,500 rpm and
torque 258 pound-feet from 1,200 up to 4,000 rpm.
The parallels between the Audi A3 and the Mercedes stumble a bit when we turn to the engine on which we concentrated most of our time, the updated 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder previously reserved for the Mercedes B-Class. Horsepower for the A 250 is 208 at 5,500 rpm and torque is rated at 258 pound-feet from 1,200 up to 4,000 rpm, while the 2.0-litre TFSI in the A3 reads 197 hp from 5,100 to 6,000 revs and 207 lb-ft of torque from 1,700 to 5,000 revs. As these impressive numbers hint, this upgraded 2.0-litre from Mercedes was a great mill to play with for our two days in former northern Yugoslavia.
This can get confusing, so read closely. The Jupiter Red model we are featuring is an A 250 with the AMG Sport Line package that includes the sport suspension, while the sturdier Cirrus white car on the track test is the A 250 Sport with chassis tuned by AMG, plus new throttle and transmission mapping. Whereas the red car was pushable through the extremely dynamic remote mountain two-lanes, it is not thoroughly engineered to put up with such treatment. The latter (white) is definitely geared better for hot hatch credibility and can do nearly all the things we wanted the A 250 AMG Sport Line car to do.
Acceleration to 100 km/h is an estimated 6.6 seconds.
All general performance numbers are identical between the two cars here, even matching acceleration to 100 km/h in an estimated 6.6 seconds. The A 250 Sport gets an AMG-specific lowered performance suspension, an AMG-created front axle, higher threshold ESP settings, snappier shifts from the seven-speed automated dual-clutch gearbox and perforated brake discs all around for greater initial brake response. Then there's the hearty sound of its sport-tuned exhaust.
Despite the expected looser feel in all those tight turns on public roads, however, the A 250 Sport (the red one) more than held its own, handling much like the competing Audi A3 sans Quattro thanks to the extra torque that helped it out of curves. The AMG Sport Line sport suspension settings are nicely balanced from the factory, even during aggressive weight shifts, and by themselves, they erase any driving memories we had of the timid A-Class models of yore. The direct steer system also works overtime in bringing this trim of A-Class up to date with competitors, and the package's 18-inch wheels and Goodyear Eagle F1 tires – 225/40 R18 92W – support dynamic driving sufficiently, though though the A 250 Sport's wider 19-inch rubber did it all noticeably better.
No matter which A-Class family of cars come to North America in the future, the all-new six-speed manual gearbox is not in the plans for us.
No matter which A-Class family of cars come to North America in the future, the all-new six-speed manual gearbox is not in the plans for us. This is a Mercedes-in-North-America thing, and it's really too bad. We diced around in a couple lower trim cars and changed gears with this unit ad infinitum, and never once did we feel an imprecise shift. The throw of the lever is just right. It's a particular pity since the seven-speed automated dual-clutch can get clunky and slow at times, and the manual mode has a tendency to be overridden frequently by full-auto mode if you're not paying attention closely enough.
Elsewhere inside our A 250 with AMG treatment, there are the silver sport dials with fluorescent red needles, supportive sport seats wrapped in synthetic leather with cling fabric inserts, and the carbon-fiber look veneer on the dashboard. The comfort and support provided for both front and rear passengers, plus the substantial acoustic isolation of the cabin, help make the A-Class passenger cell feel as fine as the top trim A3 and much better than BMW's overly kitsch Mini lineup. Due to the much longer wheelbase and heightened roof, rear passengers also benefit from an impressive increase in knee and headroom. This is also why the basic cargo room with all seatbacks in place suffers somewhat, but one must choose one's priorities in a compact design like this. Only perhaps the new Volvo V40 hatch comes close to matching this passenger roominess.
Only perhaps the new Volvo V40 hatch comes close
to matching this passenger roominess.
Standard on all A-Class cars at launch is Collision Prevention Assist, a system the operates via sensors and cameras to issue visual and audio signals when an object ahead is picked up in your path while driving speeds between 30 and 250 km/h (20 and 155 mph). If the object is deemed stationary as you continue forward at 70 km/h (about 45 mph) or less, the signals issued are even more emphatic to get your attention. If you're really close to the object and above 15 km/h (about 10 mph), your braking can be increased by the optional adaptive brake boost assist. We tested all of this on another part of the airport tarmac and it works according to plan.
In one more feature to reflect the intentions of the new A-Class, the optional COMAND Online onboard system hooks up your smartphone, iPod, etc. to the car's on-dash screen. It's essentially the Mercedes version of what everyone else is doing, and it's full-featured, intuitive, and you can tie in to a whole series of apps that enhance your loving relationship with your hip new Mercedes.
The base pricing for us would probably start at around $35,000 Canadian.
Were the A 250 to come to North America at the time of its planned October European launch, the base pricing in Canada would probably start at around $35,000, not only to compete squarely with the 2.0 TFSI Audi A3 ($34,100 base TFSI FWD), but also to reflect the added go and more ample standard equipment.
If the chief goal were to lower the average age and broaden the field of A-Class buyer, and Mercedes buyer in general, then this A-Class is destined for success. In the meantime, Mercedes has also finally given us the small car they should have done back in the late 1990s, and they've done it well.
Now for that A 45 AMG, please.
Image Credit: Copyright 2012 Matt Davis / AOL
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