The new A-Class has grown in size and roominess, and offers more technology and greater performance, too. But is it the premium hatchback to buy?
THE all-new A-Class is a more tempting proposition than its predecessor.
It offers better performance, more advanced technology and more safety features than before.
But only eagle-eyed buyers may be able tell it apart from the older model.
Given the success of the preceding model, Mercedes didn’t do anything radical to the new one’s design.
That said, the latest hatchback has slightly sharper lines and more angled headlights.
Its front end is now reminiscent of the handsome CLS model, and still retains the “bling” or diamond-look grille.
Turbocharged 1.3-litre pumps out 161hp and 250Nm, and delivers a decent century sprint time of 8 seconds.
Despite looking similar to its predecessor, the A-Class has actually grown bigger. It is 120mm longer and its wheelbase has been stretched by 30mm to improve interior space.
Mercedes engineers have improved the car’s aerodynamics, too.
The drag coefficient is now 0.25 instead of 0.26.
If you thought the new A-Class has underwhelming looks, you’ll change your mind after getting behind the wheel.
New design elements include illuminated air-con vents (first seen on the new CLS), and a 64-colour ambient lighting system. You’ll definitely be able to match the cabin’s mood to yours.
Although luxurious, some materials in the cabin felt a bit cheap.
Advanced cockpit has a nice layout but is a mixed bag in terms of materials and switchgear quality.
I expected the column stalks (especially the gearshift stalk) and air-con controls to feel less plasticky and more robust.
Anyway, the real highlight of the cabin is the carmaker’s dazzling new MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) system.
MBUX consists of a pair of 10.25-inch high-resolution displays.
One screen takes the place of the analogue instrument cluster, while the other serves as the interface for the infotainment system.
THE A-CLASS DOES A SWELL JOB OF COSSETING OCCUPANTS.
Equipped with AI (artificial intelligence), MBUX features a virtual personal assistant, which is activated by saying: “Hey Mercedes!”
For instance, if you say, “Hey Mercedes, it’s too warm”, the system will respond by lowering the air-con temperature settings.
If you programme your home or office address into the system, you can also say “Hey Mercedes, show me the way home.”
Getting the system to adapt to me will take longer than my three-day drive.
I had to say “Hey Mercedes, show me the nearest restaurants” three times before the system showed me a list of establishments.
But when I said, “Hey Mercedes, show me Italian restaurants”, MBUX didn’t understand me. I have a feeling that these other functions have to be programmed into the system.
And the system will need to be constantly updated, too, before it can process these kinds of requests.
I’ve always felt that the previous A-Class tried to be too sporty – even if it wasn’t.
The good news is that the new car doesn’t suffer from this hangup.
The A-Class we tested was the A200 Progressive variant, which has a turbocharged 1.3-litre 4-cylinder motor that delivers 163hp and 250Nm. This is just right for local driving conditions.
Better still, the A200’s power delivery to the front wheels via its 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox is more linear than before.
Moving off from a standstill is seamless, which makes pottering about in traffic easier.
Acceleration is decent, with the A200 clocking a respectable century sprint time of 8 seconds – quick enough to see off most family saloons.
The A-Class’ gearbox, however, could do with better responsiveness when shifting from P to R, or from D to R and vice-versa.
There seems to be a bit of lag with the gearbox. Even when I was at a complete stop, shifting from D to R often required a second or third try before the correct gear was engaged.
If it’s a software bug, Mercedes needs to squash it, and soon.
The new A200 does a swell job of cosseting its occupants. While the previous A-Class tried to feel sporty by delivering an overly-firm ride, the latest A200 is decidedly pliant.
Better insulation and a stiffer body are responsible for this, along with the reduced road and wind noise.
Handling is tidy as well. The A200 doesn’t mind being chucked around corners, with the electric power steering responding quickly to inputs.
Both the A200 and A180 have torsion beam suspensions, but this doesn’t seem to affect agility. Currently, only the A250 has rear multi-link suspension.
What the A200 does need is a better-sounding engine note when you’re using the manual override.
Over the three days, I couldn’t decide if the boomy soundtrack was annoying or acceptably sporty. In the end I left the drive mode in Comfort.
The A200 deserves an A. It improves upon its predecessor’s shortcomings by offering more space, equipment, comfort and performance.
Its only downsides are its inconsistent switchgear quality, “sporty” engine note and learning curve for the MBUX.
That said, if you’re in the market for a premium hatchback, the A200 deserves serious consideration.
PHOTOS TAN MENG CHOON
ART DIRECTION MICHAEL CHIAN