In a badge-conscious market, we investigate whether the current flagship A-Class has the substance to challenge the hot-hatch establishment...
Evolving from a midsize MPV-like vehicle into a hatchback, the previous-generation W176 Mercedes-Benz A-Class was tasked with changing the profile of the typical A-Class buyer. Aimed at younger motorists and those who had never considered a Benz before, this racy generation of the A was designed with a healthy dose of aesthetic character while offering dynamic ability enthusiasts appreciated. The result? The giant-slaying A45 AMG hyper-hatch and a closely fought comparative test in September 2013 where the A250 Sport was pitted against the class-leading Golf GTI to prove its mettle as a contender in the hot-hatch arena. Milder versions, however, were less enticing.
Five years later, the new W177 A-Class has improved on its predecessor’s shortcomings by offering more refinement and tighter build quality, as we found with our earlier A200 road test. This new sportier A250 is the range-topping baby Benz (until the A35 and A45 arrive, that is) and occupies a unique space in a competitive segment (there’s no longer an equivalent BMW 125i, while Audi also doesn’t compete at this R600k price point).
Built into the base price, LED headlamps, electrically folding side mirrors, AMG-Line body kit, lowered comfort suspension and AMG-branded 18-inch wheels add a strapping yet sophisticated aesthetic to the already handsome hatch. These stylish, understated additions allow the A250 to fly under the radar amid brightly coloured rivals of bold yet divisive design. Overlook the diminutive “A250” badge on the back and there is little to hint at the performance on offer. Boasting impressive standard kit, as with other premium German brands, the options list can rapidly elevate the price, however. This particular test unit was fitted with R162 522 worth of extra toys. For the interior, ambient lighting, AMG-Line mats and two-tone seats, an additional touch-pad control unit and extended “Hey Mercedes” MBUX functions are added over and above the A200.
Another difference – despite their confusing badging – is a 2,0-litre engine under the A250’s bonnet in place of the A200’s 1,3-litre mill. The four-cylinder turbocharged unit produces a strong 165 kW at 5 500 r/min, 10 kW up from before, and the same 350 N.m available from 1 800 r/min. With power delivered to the front wheels via a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the new A250 is exactly 0,1 seconds quicker to 100 km/h than the previous version tested by CAR, recording a time of 6,71 seconds in 38-degree heat. It’s also quieter at higher revs than the A200’s raucous new powertrain.
Underneath the chic bodywork, a multilink rear suspension setup replaces the standard A200’s torsion-beam arrangement. Our test unit was fitted with the optional R44 000 engineering package which adds adaptive dampers, keyless entry and larger brake discs. This suspension affords a layer of suppleness to the ride in normal driving conditions. What’s more, body roll through corners is excellently controlled even in the default comfort setting; with sport mode activated, it firms up the suspension a tad too far and should be kept for smoother stretches of tarmac.
The run-flat Bridgestone Turanza T005 rubber audibly notifies the driver when their limits are being approached in the corners. Yet, when asked to deal with putting the 165 kW down in a full-bore start, they grip well, catapulting the A250 ahead with modest amounts of wheelspin even with the dynamic traction control turned off. The A250 feels more akin to a mature, sophisticated hatchback, and it’s around town where its smooth, cosseting nature is most appreciated. It also returned a very competitive 7,8L /100 km on our 100 km fuel route.
It happens to make an excellent tourer, too, and gone are the previous A-Class’ poor noise, vibration and harshness characteristics. The new A makes a passable impression of a C-Class at the national limit. It’s not without dynamic flaws, though. Predictable and manageable understeer has been engineered into the chassis for tight corners and the lack of an electronic or mechanical differential means acceleration towards the exit of a bend results in a chirping inside tyre. The steering meanwhile, is light and precise but totally devoid of feel.
This latest road test of the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class has reinforced our belief the vehicle has taken a substantial leap forward. At just under R600 000, the A250 offers comparatively good value versus the A200, adding expensive extra specification and performance for less than an additional R100 000 outlay. Considering its pedigree and substantial maintenance plan, it doesn’t look pricey against its more mainstream rivals, either.
But where does it fit into the market? It’s too laidback to be a real GTI/Mégane RS hot-hatch competitor, and has no competition from the other premium German brands. Perhaps it’ll offer a worthwhile alternative to those considering a crossover at this price point. Whoever the typical buyer of an A250 may be, they’ll get a Mercedes-Benz that’s finally adopted those qualities which have made the brand’s larger cars so desirable for decades.
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Mercedes-Benz A-Class Specs here