CAPE TOWN – We get behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan to see just how stable it is as a first rung on the brand's sedan ownership ladder.

A-Classy start

While it has a product portfolio with a breadth few manufacturers can match, Mercedes is adamant in covering every conceivable base to ensure potential buyers don’t slip through the net. Here, the A-Class Sedan serves as a stylish bridge between the compact A/B-Class compact hatchbacks and the C-Class divide; netting those for whom the C-Class holds great appeal, but falls just out of their means. At R533 400, the entry-level A200 Sedan sits almost R80 000 south of the C180 and is just over R100 000 cheaper than the equivalent-engined C200.

It looks the part...

The design ethos behind Mercedes-Benz's sedan offerings has begun to take on a bit of a "cookie cutter" formula, with the familial resemblance between the C-, E- and S-Class beginning to bleed into one another. Fortunately, the A-Class Sedan’s "predator nose" front lends it some distinction and the profile, with its notchback-esque boot and swept-back roofline, borrows cues from both its sedan siblings and the svelte CLA.

With an overall length of 4 549 mm and 1 446 mm between the mirrors, the A-Class Sedan is 317 mm shorter and just a hair wider than the C-Class. While its 2 729 mm wheelbase is 111 mm shorter than the C’s, rear legroom is still respectable for a car in this bracket, as is the headroom, which stands at a reasonably lofty 944 mm. The boot, although possessed of a slightly narrow aperture, is deep and serves up a claimed 400 litres of luggage space.

It (largely) feels the part

The A sedan’s dash, with its eyeball air vents and broad trim swathe looping behind the digital instrument binnacle and MBUX display – a standard fitment on the sedan – is a bold and sporty design that looks especially theatrical with the optional 64-colour ambient lighting pack illuminating the seams. Material quality is largely of a high standard, but the odd bit of thin, fingerprint-prone shiny plastic does appear here and there.

Finding a comfy stance behind the wheel is a cinch and my rather low preferred driving position was easily attained. My only observation was that the spacing between the pedals is quite narrow, so those possessed of broad trotters (size 11s in my case) may find the arrangement a bit cramped.

The aforementioned MBUX system looks crisp and is feature-rich, while the haptic touchpad interface feels suitably upmarket both in its materials and execution. The only gripe is its overly sensitive voice command system that eavesdrops on conversations, eagerly looking for any opportunity to spring to life when something vaguely resembling the "Hey Mercedes" activation command is uttered.

It’s a pleasure to pilot...

The sedan’s MacPherson front/torsion beam rear suspension can be had in two flavours, as standard. The comfort setup, with softer springs and more gradual dampers is the default, while a 15 mm lower and more firmly sprung spinoff can also be specified. The unit we drove sported the latter and it’s a reasonably balanced arrangement. Larger road scars do see some damper rebound filter into the cabin, but on the majority of road surfaces it feels fluid and composed. The steering is light but responsive enough to make tackling bends a mildly entertaining exercise and body control under brisk directional changes, while eliciting some lateral roll, is supple.

The A200’s 1,3-litre inline-four turbopetrol is a pleasant enough little unit that’s mechanically refined, only giving in to a little raspiness when really pushed. The outputs of 120 kW and 250 N.m are enough to make it feel reasonably lively and the powertrain gels nicely with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

In all, it’s a balanced-feeling car to pilot but unless you’re especially inclined to tackle twisty roads, the standard comfort suspension is probably the one to go with.

It borrows bells and whistles from its biggest brother

While it may sit towards the bottom of the Mercedes model range pile, the sedan can be specced with a number of driver assistance technologies that have filtered down from the S-Class. Active Distance Assist Distronic (giving route-based dynamic assistance), Active Brake Assist and semi-autonomous lane-keeping assistance systems are all fed by an advanced camera/laser-managed sensor array. You’re obviously going to pay for the privilege of such features, but it’s impressive to see them offered at this point of the range.

It’s reasonably kitted out

Along with the standard five-year/100 000 km maintenance plan, the sedan comes fairly well equipped. The likes of the MBUX infotainment system (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with extended audio and telephony functionality), auto lights and wipers, and 17-inch alloys are among the standard niceties. There’s plenty of scope for sportier customisation options but, as with pretty much any German luxury car, getting trigger happy with the options could see the price edge into C-Class territory with ease.

Summary

The A-Class Sedan is a stylish and fairly engaging stop gap between hatch and compact executive sedan that should snare aspirational buyers who’ve been previously hamstrung by the space limitations of the hatchback. It has a couple of rough edges to smooth out, but as a balanced means of dipping your toes into the Mercedes sedan pool it’s certainly a promising start.



FAST FACTS

Model: Mercedes-Benz A200 Sedan 7G-tronic 
Price: R533 400 
Engine: 1,3-litre turbopetrol 
Power: 120 kW at 5 500 r/min 
Torque: 250 N.m at 1 620 r/min
0-100 km/h: 8,1 seconds 
Top Speed: 230 km/h 
Fuel Consumption: 5,2 L/100 km 
CO2: 124 g/km 
Transmission: Seven-speed auto 
Maintenance Plan: 5-year/100 000 km