Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: June 27, 2019
North America has always been devoid of automotive delicacies. We pout as we watch our overseas neighbours enjoy their performance wagons and frisky kei cars, but the time has finally come for Mercedes’ smallest hatchback to hit our shores. This is the A-Class, available in both a four-door hatchback and sedan, and if you couldn’t tell by the looks, it aims to be the youthful and sporty alternative in the premium compact segment. Loaded an updated powertrain and avant-garde features not found in its competitors, the A-Class appears to be poised for success on this side of the pond.
Sharing a target market with the CLA and GLA, distinguishing between the crowded “A-Series” lot may be daunting for anyone new to the lingo. Mercedes actually discovered that there is a niche market for all three, and have tried their best to keep them visually and dynamically distinct. As such, the A-Class resembles the larger CLS more than it does the CLA, with a lower and wider stance, and a bit more chic appeal. In hatchback form, it commands a surprising amount of road presence considering its small stature and generic rear end, but inside is where Mercedes takes the cake.
The A-Class is spacious and airy with a liberal use of metallic and non-plastic materials, easily convincing buyers that this is a first-class lounge. It reminds me of a MINI Cooper with playful styling and similarly high-quality components. Yes, plastic still graces parts of the center console, column-mounted gear stalk, and door sill, but the overall finish is beyond reproach. The steering wheel is wrapped in the same expensive leather as the E-Class, the textured volume scroll and toggles are ripped straight from the S-Class, and what seems like a football yard of ambient lighting stretches the entire width of the dashboard and cocoons around the door panels, accentuating the width and curvature of the cabin and making it appear wider than it really is. The rear accommodations aren’t too shabby either for a hatchback. I can sit behind my six-foot self with a mild amount of comfort, enough to suppress complaints on short distance trips. It’s less of a penalty box than the Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series at least, and the rear windows have the ability to retract all the way down, a commonly overlooked feature until you’re stuck in the back gasping for fresh air.
The A-Class utilizes the new MBUX infotainment system with a standard 7-inch media display and 7-inch instrument cluster, both embedded within a continuous glass display. Opt for the Premium Package ($2,950) and that upgrades to dual 10.25-inch screens instead. Whichever screen you do choose, the size of the glass encasing remains the same, so it’s obvious to your passengers with the smaller and squarer 7-inch that you skimped out. I would highly recommend the larger screen - it’s quite spectacular to behold, especially for anyone who hasn’t been in a modern Mercedes, and really gives users that cinematic widescreen, IMAX-like experience.
MBUX is paired with an Apple-like trackpad instead of the outgoing rotary dial and archaic number buttons. Users can scroll, slide, pinch, and even scribble handwritten characters, much like the inputs that command your smartphone. And while the rotary dial is our gold standard for interface control, this new trackpad is intuitive enough to use on the fly. The learning curve is small and the menus are highly configurable. It’s similar to the Lexus unit that also uses a trackpad but the MBUX is less complicated, the screens are not overloaded with text, and the input sensitivity level is more fluid and consistent.
If the trackpad is not to your liking, you can alternatively input your commands directly via the touchscreen, haptic touch buttons on each side of the steering wheel, or the new “Hey Mercedes” voice command feature that acts much like your Google Home or Android Alexa. You can verbally instruct the car to do your bidding, whether it’s turning on the massaging seats or adjusting the cabin temperature. The result was finicky, though it has software that learns and memorizes your voice and inputs, so maybe it was acclimated to the journalist’s voice who drive the car before me. Nevertheless, this feature is definitely the first of its kind in the automotive sector, but don’t expect it to be as diverse, quick, or as multifaceted as the systems you find at home.
The A-Class impresses with a gamut of standard features, including a panoramic glass sunroof, LED head- and taillights, heated front seats and steering wheel, keyless start, and a power adjustable driver’s seat with memory. That said, the starting price does start slightly higher than its rivals: $35,990 for the front-wheel drive hatchback, and $37,990 for the 4MATIC. Mercedes says the FWD variant will be axed in Canada for 2020, and the A 220 Sedan that comes out later this year will cost just $1,000 less.
That’s compared to the Audi A3 ($33,400 - $45,600), MINI Cooper S 5-Door ($28,690 - $33,840), and Volkswagen Golf GTI ($30,845 - $37,545). While not utilizing Porsche-levels of add-ons, the A-Class can still be optioned quite heavily and our specific tester draped in Jupiter Red rings up just under $50,000 before freight and taxes. At this price point, the A-Class interior is easily the most futuristic and progressive, but I would refrain from calling it value-oriented. There’s a little spritzy hatch called the Golf GTI that offers a decidedly more exciting drive for less coin.
Compared to the outgoing CLA and GLA though, the new A 250 drives like a dream. The newly developed 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four pushes out 221 hp and 258 lb-ft, but it’s the way it glides up the powerband friction-free that reminds me of the GTI. Both have a snappy low-end punch, followed by a sweet exhaust note at higher RPMs, but the A 250 engine does emit a noisier inherent clatter during idle. There’s but a whiff of turbo lag and a meaty range of maximum torque, enough for the A 250 4MATIC to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 6.2 seconds. In comparison, the A 220 Sedan uses the same engine but detuned to only push 188 hp and 221 lb-ft, and runs from 0-100 km/h a full second slower than the hatch.
Where the outgoing 7-speed dual clutch used to shudder around at low speeds and in between shifts, the one in the A-Class is much cleaner, fluid, and better tuned. It’s nearly as good as Volkswagen’s own DSG. Possibly the only demerit to the A 250 hatchback is the firm ride. The suspension is quite stiff and when the road gets rough, it exhibits less composure than its softer sprung competitors. Even the Honda Civic Si Coupe offers a better balance between body control and ride comfort. The tradeoff with the A-Class is its sprightliness and athleticism around corners. The front nose is eager to dig in and rotate, and it generally enjoys being tossed around. There is less top-heavy lean than the GLA 250 and it feels more rigid than the CLA as well. Verve and vigour sprouts from the chassis no matter the driving mode, and if this is any indication of what AMG has in store for the A-Class, my gut tells me that the Golf R and Civic Type R will have something to worry about.
Fresh off the boat, the new A-Class is a delectable entry-level hatchback with enough chic appeal, technology, and athleticism to draw new customers to the brand. While not as composed as the less costly Volkswagen Golf GTI, its dazzling interior atmosphere, characterful powertrain, and handsome styling should be enough for buyers to give this foreign hatchback a warm welcome. It hasn’t rewritten the rulebook on the compact premium segment, but it’s an A+ start. May more find their way across the open seas.
Model: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A 250 4MATIC Hatchback
Paint Type: Jupiter Red
Base Price: $37,990
Price as Tested: $48,490
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,419 / 1,796 / 1,440
Curb weight (kg): TBD (1,455 kg without 4MATIC all-wheel drive)
Engine: 2.0-litre inline-four
Horsepower: 221 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 9.9 / 7.0 / 8.6
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.2