The local launch of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class saw me get behind the wheel of the current apex model in the range, the A250 Sport. The aesthetics are certainly striking, but is there enough substance to match that style?
It’s bold, very bold. The pin-effect grille first seen on the 2011 A-Class design concept dominated the frontal aspect of the example we piloted on the local launch. Factor in strong shoulder and swage lines, a lower, more curved profile, complex projector-style headlamps with LED eyelids and a rear with narrow, almost visor-like, glazing and ovoid brakelamps and you have that is arguably the most striking design in its segment.
This model’s standard AMG sports package throws in 18-inch alloys, lowered suspension and a more purposeful body kit with larger front air dams, dual exhaust ports, a model-specific grille, extended side skirts and red elements on lower lips of the front and rear valances, brake callipers and headlamp-lens surrounds.
The sports seats are form-fitting and offer a pleasingly low-slung driving position in a dark and cossetting interior. As with the exterior treatment, there is a scattering of red highlights adorning such items as the seatbelts, trim stitching and the surrounds of those prominent eyeball air vents.
What’s under the bonnet?
Until the arrival of the 265 kW A45 AMG later this year, the A250 Sport is the quickest vehicle in the A-Class range. This model draws its 155 kW and 350 N.m from a turbocharged 2,0-litre petrol engine with direct fuel injection. Coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission sending drive to the front wheels, Mercedes claims a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 6,6 seconds and a top speed of 240 km/h.
These figures compare favourably with those of that much-vaunted all-rounder in the C-segment hot-hatch bracket, the Volkswagen Golf 6 GTI DSG (0-100 km/h in 7,06 seconds, as tested by CAR, and an identical top whack). The A250’s power delivery is linear and devoid of turbo lag, as is the muted grumble and odd bit of induction noise that comprises its soundtrack when pressing on.
Ride and handling
Dynamic verve was something you’d never associate with the previous-generation A-Class, and in this respect the new car is a quantum leap. This model’s no-cost-optional fitment sports suspension is on the slightly firm side and regular road corrugations on our coastal route did make the going choppy at times, but in most road conditions it’s pliant enough and it reins in lateral roll under hard cornering with aplomb.
The electric power steering was also a pleasant surprise. Far from the light, often vague action that these setups possess, the A250’s tiller is satisfyingly weighty and precise. Moreover, it is actually quite communicative, something you really appreciate in a powerful front-wheel-drive hatch when pressing on. Not that it’s easy to unsettle the car. Breaking traction requires some doing given the impressive amount of front-end grip on offer.
The A250 makes use of a dual-clutch transmission and, as with many Mercedes powertrains, the additional grunt this model serves up compared with its lesser siblings works better with the new ‘box. Where lower-powered models sometimes see the seven-speed unit getting bamboozled on a trailing throttle or sudden, hard acceleration, its application in the A250 is effective. The manual downshifts are swift enough to enjoyably exploit when the going gets twisty.
What do you get for the money?
Among the standard features across the A-Class range are collision-prevention assist, attention assist, front/curtain/knee airbags, air-conditioning, 6-disc CD changer audio system and a six-year/1o0 000 km maintenance plan. Among the cost options is blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, electrically adjustable sports seats, cruise control, high-beam assist and the aforementioned AMG styling kit and sports suspension.
At R392 606, the A250 represents a fair chunk of change. Some will, however, argue that the premium is justified by the car’s strikingly looks and sought-after label.
Where some of the lesser models perhaps lack a greater sense of occasion and overall sheen when it comes to drivetrain characteristics, the A250 capably remedies such shortcomings. It’s a fairly powerful, dynamically engaging model but there is something slightly amiss. I’m not sure if it’s a symptom of the A45’s looming approach, but you do sometimes get the feeling that Mercedes has held the A250 back slightly – it could easily have dealt with another 20-30 kW and still wouldn’t come anywhere near treading on its AMG cousin’s toes. Broadly speaking, it’s an impressive but not class-leading addition to the C-segment hot-hatch stable.
Model: Mercedes-Benz A250 BlueEfficiency Sport
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol
Power: 155 kW at 5 500 r/min
Torque: 350 N.m at 1 200-4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 6,6 seconds
Fuel consumption: 6,4 L/100 km
CO2: 148 g/km
Top speed: 240 km/h
Price: R392 606
Maintenance plan: 6 years/100 000 km
Service intervals: determined by on-board computer
All manufacturer’s claimed figures