A Class-Leading Act

Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Everyone wants a bigger slice of pie but the question is: how can we get it? For many luxury brands, the answer is quite straightforward. Simply offer more affordable products so that more consumers may be able to buy them. The A-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s solution to this problem.

Though the A-Class is one of the brand’s most affordable models, it never really feels that way. Nobody wants to be reminded that they bought the entry-level model and the A-Class, thanks to its myriad of gizmos, manages to pull off the rare trick of feeling like a more expensive product.

The latest A-Class is Mercedes’ fourth generation - the first was introduced over twenty years ago. Over the past two decades, the A-Class has evolved, growing bigger, faster, and more refined with each iteration. The latest model is a handsome car. Looks, of course, is subjective but I think if you ask ten people at random, at least half of them are going to say that the A-Class is a looker. The narrowly angled headlights along with the large grille and purposeful-looking front intakes give the new A-Class a modern and sporty look. The AMG Line model that I tested takes things up a notch with larger wheels, a chrome pin diamond grille, and lowered suspension.

There are big changes to the interior. Say goodbye to old-school analog dials because the instrument panel is entirely digital. In place of analog dials is a single 10.25-inch high-resolution display that is sharp, crisp, and highly customizable. For instance, if you are traveling to somewhere unfamiliar and you need a clearer view of the map, you can do away with the standard tachometer and speedometer displays and bring up the navigation map to full-screen.

The infotainment display is similarly large. It’s also a 10.25-inch large digital display and it is powered by Mercedes-Benz’s latest MBUX multimedia system. Incidentally, the A-Class is the first Mercedes-Benz to feature MBUX. This new system was designed to be intuitive to use so that it doesn’t distract the driver. To do that, drivers have a lot of flexibility as MBUX can be controlled in a few ways: through the touchscreen enabled center display, the touchpad on the center console, or the touch buttons on the steering wheel. Honestly, the interface can seem daunting at first but anyone with any experience using a modern smartphone should be able to get the hang of it in a day or two.

There’s a fourth way of controlling MBUX and that’s using your voice. Voice recognition can be activated anytime by uttering, “Hey Mercedes.” When you do, the car intelligently lowers the air-conditioning so that it can pick up your voice more clearly. And you can use natural language to control it. For example, if you are feeling chilly and want the temperature of the air-conditioning to be raised, you could simply say, “I’m too cold.” Like most voice assistants, I had mixed results with this. Sometimes it worked perfectly and at some other times my voice commands won’t register or it won’t understand what I was saying.

The other highlight of the interior is customizable lighting. If you love RBG lighting effects, you’ll love the A-Class. The A-Class might not have the usual 16.8 million colors that you get on your gaming keyboard but it still has 64 colors that drivers can choose from and that’s a lot for a car. There are 10 different lighting zones, so it is entirely possible to get the interior of the A-Class to look like an opulent hipster lounge. Admittedly, customizable interior lights are arguably the most superfluous thing on a car but it does make driving at night more entertaining. The A-Class is also the first car that I have driven to come with USB-C ports.

At launch, the A-Class comes with two engine help it achieve such figures, it features cylinder shut-off (a feature more commonly found on pricier cars) so that can turn off  two of its four cylinders to reduce fuel consumption when under light loads.

This all sounds impressive on paper, but results are less stunning in the real world. The compact 1.3-liter doesn’t feel that powerful and lacks the refinement of Mercedes’ larger displacement engines. It isn’t as frugal as Mercedes claims as well. Over the weekend, I didn’t get near the claimed 5.6l per 100km fuel consumption flgure and a quick look at the trip computer showed that the particular car I was driving only managed 9.5l per 100km over the 2,176km it has done. Still, this is more a problem of all small turbocharged engines in general rather than a specific drawback of the A200. If a powerful and responsive powertrain is a priority for you, you might want to consider the A250 and its larger 2-liter powerplant.

Performance might not be the A200’s strong suit but at least it rides well for its class. The overall ride quality is classic Mercedes, which is to say that it is welljudged and the dampers are well-weighted. In short, it is comfortable. Even on the AMG Line’s larger and very yummy-looking 18-inch AMG 5-spoke wheels and lowered suspension, it doesn’t get unnerved or ruffled even over the most pockmarked roads.

There’s no getting around the fact that the A-Class is one of the priciest cars in its segment. But for the money, you get one of the most handsome compact hatchbacks, a high level of cabin trim, the high-tech MBUX user interface, and the unimpeachable brand cachet of Mercedes-Benz. The only downside is its uninspiring 1.3-liter engine. But that’s a problem easily solved by opting for the more powerful (and more expensive) A250 model instead. While money can’t solve all the problems in the world, it can certainly solve this one.

My Reading Room
The narrowly angled headlights and front intakes cut a fierce figure.
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The dashboard is dominated by two large high-resolution digital displays.
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My Reading Room
Aren’t these the prettiest air-con vents you have ever seen?
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A high-tech compact hatchback that carries the Mercedes-Benz name proud.
My Reading Room
The rear bench folds to increase boot space.
My Reading Room