The new Mercedes-Benz
A-Class, to be launched on the UK market next month, is quite a departure from the model it replaces. The sandwich-floored A-class, gained many loyal followers since its launch in 1997 – some of them on the basis of the current model’s tall, high-seating configuration.
With something of the MPV style, the current A-Class proved popular with many families. It also appealed to many older drivers and passengers, who found it easier to get in and out. You can imagine the agonising decisions that had to be made at the product-planning meetings.
Abandoning the distinctive taller design would alienate some current buyers. But, how many more would be attracted by a more youthful, more sporting offering?
It was a shrewd move by Mercedes-Benz to offer the A250 AMG Sport for this test. More than any, this particular model makes a clear statement about the intentions to attract more youthful, sporting buyers. It looks superb from the front, especially with the diamond grille which is exclusive to the AMG Sport model. I did ponder, however, the rather more generic hatchback side and rear view.
There’s also a bright red strake at the bottom of the air intake, mirrored by a similar red strip above the twin exhausts at the back. Then there are those beefy bright red disc callipers peering out from behind the alloy wheels.
Inside the red sports theme continues with red stitching, red round the dash vents and red seat belts. There is also a carbon-fibre-style finish to the dashboard. The looks are clearly designed to quicken the pulse.
It is also a thoroughly modern cabin, with a huge sunroof giving the option of a particularly bright and airy feeling. I also reckon there is a bit more of a “tech” feel to the switchgear (as if someone has been having a close look at Audi interiors). But, traditionalists need not panic. The Mercedes-Benz custom of a single stalk for light and wipers, continues (unfortunately in my opinion), while the gear selector is a column on the right, with steering wheel paddles for manual gear selection.
The other ergonomic dislike is the handbrake being quite a stretch on the dashboard. I was glad that the test car was an automatic, even with hill-hold, hill starts in a manual car can be rather more difficult to co-ordinate.
The seven-speed dual clutch gearbox has the expected options of sport and economy, plus an M for ‘manual’ setting. In ‘sports’, the gearbox becomes almost frenetic, holding onto revs in case instant maximum power should be demanded. In this mode it also changes down a gear (accompanied by a rather pleasing auto blip on the throttle), as you slow for corners, junctions and roundabouts.
I found the driving dynamics equally good. The steering has enough weight and feel to involve the driver. The grip is excellent and the handling very satisfyingly balanced, yet the suspension avoids being too firm, providing a good compromise between comfort and tautness.
The power output of the two-litre petrol engine is a healthy 211PS. This translates into an eager 6.6 seconds for the 0-62 mph sprint and a top speed of 149 mph. The combined mpg is 45.6, but I have to admit to using the performance such that my various drives produced a real-life figure around the mid 20s. Emissions of CO2 are 145 g/km, putting the Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport into band F for UK car tax.
One area where previous A-class owners may be disappointed is rear-seat accommodation. I do tend to put the driver’s seat well back and it is therefore a pretty severe test of rear leg room to hop out and try to fit in the back. I gave up trying to get my knees in behind the seat, and nipped round to the other side of the car!
I enjoyed my time with the Mercedes-Benz A250 AMG Sport. I can certainly see it winning over the new buyers that Merecedes-Benz are clearly targeting. With prices for this model starting at £26,855 you pay considerably more than the £18,495 starting price for the A180, but this is the model that most clearly announces the new direction for the Mercedes-Benz baby.