Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned. When Mercedes-Benz launched the W168 A-Class back in the late 90s, one of their intentions was to lower the median age of their buyers. They thought by creating a revolutionary compact car would draw the younger crowd towards the brand, so they prepared a hearty ‘sandwich’ – a sandwich platform, that is.
It was an engineering feat – the ingenious platform allowed the engine to be mounted partially underneath the front occupants’ feet, which in return gives the small Merc a spacious interior. But it turns out that the tall mini-MPV profile and the high driving position favoured senior buyers more than the hip and trendy youngsters.
So after two generations, the sandwich was cut and a new plan was hatched, to which the third generation A-Class – a much better and sleeker looking hatch – was conceived. Debuted in 2012, the W176 A-Class rides on a simpler but more flexible MFA platform which also underpins four other compact models in the Merc’s stable, ranging from a hatchback to a crossover. In this way, Mercedes-Benz is able to broaden its appeal to a wider range of customers in a more cost-effective way.
|Name||Mercedes-Benz A 250 Sport|
|Engine||1,991cc; turbocharged inline-four|
|Transmission||7G-DCT, 7-speed dual-clutch|
|Max Power||211 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Max Torque||350 Nm @ 1,200 – 4,000 rpm|
|Price (OTR without insurance)||RM238,888|
Three years after the debut, Mercedes gave the A-Class a mild update with a tweaked software and a very subtle styling refresh. For the Malaysian market, you can choose from three non-AMG variants of the facelifted A-Class. RM196k will net you the A 180 powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-banger, and if you top up another RM10k for the A 200 you’ll get 34 hp and 50 Nm more from the same engine and a more fetching AMG Line kit. But this writer is testing neither of the two, because yours truly was given the keys to the range-topping A 250 Sport powered by a bigger 2.0-litre inline-four turbo, costing just below RM240k. Sounds interesting, though I’m still not so sure about the colour on this test unit.
This Oriental Brown hue might not be to everyone’s tastes, although I kind of like it under bright sunlight, much like MINI’s Iced Chocolate Metallic that got me craving for some sort of chocolatey beverage. Anyway, the A-Class’ transition from a pseudo mini-MPV format to a sleeker two-box hatchback body style is very much welcomed, but to this writer’s eyes the latest A-Class is not quite as graceful as the booted sibling, the CLA.
A couple of things that got under my skin is the lower character line on the flanks that rises abruptly towards the rear lights, and the overall side profile. The lines are much smoother on the CLA, and unlike that 4-door Coupe, the A-Class doesn’t have a tail to balance out the long front overhang, thus creating a rather awkward proportion when viewed from the side.
Did the recent facelift address those niggles? No, Mercedes-Benz just threw in new bumpers, new LED High Performance headlamps with Adaptive High Beam Assist, and a redesigned LED pattern in the tail lights. Old man’s gripes aside, the A-Class does have what the younger demographic is looking for. ‘Sport’ is the word of the day, and the A 250 is not shy to admit that with a chrome emblem that literally says that on its front fenders.
It doesn’t end there, obviously. The A 250 Sport is fitted with AMG Line bumpers like on the A 200, but on the A 250 they’re garnished with mean red slashes to go with the red brake calipers. The whole sporty package sits 15 mm lower to the ground courtesy of the sports suspension, and filling up the wheel arches is a set of five spoke 18-inch rims wrapped in 235/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 3 rubbers.
The sporty theme continues on the inside. The red highlights pop out in an otherwise sombre all-black interior, a far cry from the more classy almond beige interior we’ve seen in the CLA before. Build quality is solid although there are some hits and misses in terms of the materials used. The combination of leather and alcantara upholstery is just lovely, but the faux carbon on the dash somewhat degrade the cabin ambiance.
For the facelifted model, the buttons on the center head unit have been redesigned – not that you’d notice them anyway, but one of them is called ‘Dynamic Select‘ and it lets you cycle through four driving modes available: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual. The driver gets a new steering wheel and a redesigned instrument cluster, while the 8-inch screen in the middle of the dashboard is an inch bigger than before.
Whereas there’s no issue regarding space in the front two seats, the space in the back is cocooning to say the least. Head room is rather limited and elbow room is very tight when three adults occupy the rear bench, but that’s pretty much expected from a compact hatch in this category. Two adults will do just fine in the back although my colleague did point out the that rear passengers should take note on the sharp lower edge of the front seat that might come into contact against their lower shins.
For all that, the A-Class is not short of practical features. In the center console alone there’s a couple of lidded storage, two cup holders, and a cubby hole under the arm rest. In the back, the rear seat’s backrest have a load-through door in the middle and they split 60/40 and fold flat to extend the boot space. The boot will take 341 litres of cargo with additional storage space under the boot floor, although the narrow hatch opening slightly hampers its usability when it comes to loading and unloading bigger items.
The M270 turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder has been around since the debut of the third-gen A-Class, and in the facelifted A 250 Sport it was supposed to get a few extra horses. Unfortunately due to our local fuel quality, the output figures remain the same as the pre-facelifted A 250. Regardless, 211 hp and 350 Nm is already a healthy figure, but a few more wouldn’t hurt, right?
Even so, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission assigned to deliver the torque to the front wheels has been updated, cutting the 0 to 100 km/h sprint time by 0.2 seconds to 6.4 seconds. The top speed remains at 240 km/h, while the fuel consumption is slightly better than before, at 6.2 litres per 100 km.
Forget about the lofty driving position of the old A-Class, the new one sits you closer to the tarmac, reminding you about its transformation from a mundane mom’s ride into a proper driver’s car. I think it does the trick, but the trade-off is that the view out is not particularly generous, especially with the shallow windows and the thick C-pillars round the back.
But don’t let that be a deterrent for you, as the W176 A-Class is still an easy car to drive in the city. And if you worry that the limited rear view will make it a harder car to park, there’s a reverse camera to guide you and also Park Assist for a hands-free parking manouvre. With the Dynamic Select in Comfort mode, the A 250 steers easily with a light but precise rack, and the throttle response is leisurely but progressive. The dual-clutch ‘box is not as quick as its rivals but it doesn’t jerk as bad at crawling speed, making it much more manageable in stop-and-go traffic. And then there’s the ride…
The A 250’s ride reminded me of another MFA-underpinned Merc I’ve driven before, the CLA 200, which is to say that it’s less than pleasant most of the time. Although strangely, the sports suspension setup in the A 250 feels a touch more forgiving than the standard suspension fitted on the CLA 200. It seems to have a more lax attitude towards broken surfaces, but bigger potholes will still send nasty jolts up the cabin.
The firm suspension setup may keep the A 250 reassuringly planted during a high speed cruise, but sadly we live in a country where smooth roads are as scarce as hen’s teeth, and for that reason a relaxed cruise in this compact hatch is hard to come by. The cabin insulation too is not as per usual Merc’s typically high standards. Constant tyre hum and other external noise will accompany you on every journey, so you better get your playlist sorted before setting off to override the outside hubbub.
However, the A 250 is a very capable car in the backroads. It seemed unperturbed when rushed through serpentine roads, showcasing its impressive body control and serious pace, although the turbo four needs a little bit of working to get past its laggy state at the south of 1,500 rpm. For a livelier throttle, switch the Dynamic Select to Sport and you should be able to get the most out of the engine, but as mentioned, the dual-clutch transmission is not always quick, and it sometimes ignores your input when you want to manually downshift.
There’s a good deal of grip that made me wonder, why would the A-Class require an all-wheel drive system, although turn-in isn’t particularly sharp and in Sport mode the steering can feel a tad artificial every now and then. Personally I’d preset my own Individual mode by pairing the Sport setting of the powertrain with the steering in Comfort setting, which helps to make the car feel more agile around tight corners. Still, it’s not something I would call as an entertaining drive.
At the end of the day if you’re planning to do an economy run in the A 250 you will need to be a very tolerant driver to try to match the claimed fuel consumption by activating the Eco mode via the Dynamic Select. And if you are, you definitely can better my average of 8.6 litres per 100 km.
IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?
For those who have always wanted a sporting hatchback from Mercedes, your prayers have been answered. Just don’t expect the A-Class to glide through rough roads without shaking your internals, and you’ll have a competent handler on twisty roads. If you’re just going for the looks then the A 180 (RM43k cheaper) should suffice, and if you require more space there’s the B-Class, the CLA, or the GLA to consider. On a separate note, the bigger, rear-wheel drive (but less powerful) C 180 Avantgarde is actually not that far off the scale when it comes to pricing – it’s just RM10k more than the A 250 Sport.
BMW Malaysia doesn’t sell the 1 Series with a 2.0-litre engine anymore, and Audi only sells their A3 in sedan guise, leaving only the Volkswagen Golf GTI as the A 250 Sport’s closest sparring partner. Both possess near identical performance figures, but each car has its own advantages.
Even though I personally don’t quite like how the A-Class looks, we could agree that the Golf is no match for the striking A-Class. On the other hand, the Golf yields a more spacious interior beneath its modest looks, and it also rides with more pliancy over the A-Class. But perhaps the biggest pull of the GTI is its price, which undercuts the Benz by at least RM12k.
|Mercedes-Benz A 250 Sport||Volkswagen Golf GTI|
|Type||inline-4, DOHC, turbocharged||inline-4, DOHC, turbocharged|
|Type||Electronic Power Steering||Electronic Power Steering|
|Transmission||7-speed dual-clutch||6-speed dual-clutch|
|Front||MacPherson Strut||MacPherson Strut|
|Front||Ventilated & Perforated Disc||Ventilated Disc|
|Rear||Solid Disc||Solid Disc|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|Tyre||235/40 R18||225/40 R18|
|Wheels||18-inch Alloy||18-inch Alloy|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT|
|Max Kerb Weight||kg||1,455 kg||1,370 kg|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||Litres||341 litres||380 litres|
|Tank Capacity||Litres||50 litres||50 litres|
|Consumption||litres per 100km||6.2 litres||6.4 litres|
|0 to 100 km/h||sec||6.4||6.5|
WOULD I BUY IT?
By diverting its focus and injecting some “sportiness” into the baby Benz, Mercedes have cited that their strategy worked brilliantly, and they now have more young people driving the A-Class compared to the previous two generations. Although I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who thinks that it could have been a better car. It has what it takes to be a fun car, except that the whole package didn’t quite work together as harmoniously as I would have liked. I’ll give this A 250 Sport a pass, but if i have to choose one from all the MFA Benzes, I’d pick the CLA anytime. At least it looks good enough to make me forgive its firm ride.
Matthew’s take: If there’s one thing the W176 A-Class proved is that looks sell, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The entire Compact Range (A, CLA, GLA Class) has turned into a go-to choice for the young and successful, whose previous choices some five years ago were the Volkswagen Golf, Audi A1 and BMW 1-Series. The A-Class has plenty of grunt for just about any kind of driving, but the rigid ride (regardless of variant) gives me no real reason to put my money down on one. But if I must choose, it’ll be the A45, no less.
VIDEO – Mercedes-AMG A45 vs Volkswagen Golf R (Mk7)