FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE
AUSTRALIA, there’s a new A-Class in town. For now, just one – the A200 – that brings sizzling showroom allure in a glamorous, high tech cabin and makes the rest of the premium compact segment look weary and wilted.
Its interior experience is dominated by an ultra-sharp widescreen display that’s the vessel for Merc’s ground-breaking MBUX interface. A new touchpad controller sits on a raised centre console, though MBUX can also be operated with voice commands in a more natural way than anything before it. Simply say ‘Hey Mercedes’ followed by an instruction, such as ‘close the sunblind’ or ‘change to previous station’ and the system complies.
The slickness and versatility of the A-Class’s user-friendly digital side will alone win over customers, but there’s more to this fourth-gen car than just electrickery. The body is 16mm wider and 120mm longer, with 30mm added to its wheelbase. A slight bump to the roofline and reshaped rear windows make a marked difference to outward vision for rear-seat passengers and the driver. Back door and boot apertures are also bigger, making it easier to get people and things in and out.
There’s a maturity to this fourth-gen hatch that was missing in its youthful but flawed predecessor. The A200 shapes up as a sensible, connected tool for urban singles and couples, with the image and savvy to make it all that a lot of buyers will desire. That is to say, the A200’s driving performance could be largely academic provided it doesn’t dramatically drop the ball. Which it doesn’t.
The engine is a 1.3-litre fourcylinder co-developed with Renault. It produces 120kW and 250Nm, which is more than sufficient when paired to the snappy gearing of its excellent Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The A200 has decent off the line zip and relatively brisk acceleration. It can sound a little thrashy when really rung out, but for the most part the efforts Benz has made toward improving engine refinement have helped. It’s also 0.4L more efficient than the old 1.6L, with claimed economy of 5.7L/100km.
Widescreen display is the cabin centrepiece, made up of two separate panels. Central one is Merc’s first ever touchscreen
Roofline boost of 7mm and bigger rear doors markedly improve visibility and access. Longer wheelbase adds rear seat room
A-Class boot is 29L bigger, but more significant is the wider hatch opening, which makes it easier to load and unload
Three suspension setups are offered for A200, including two with a torsion beam rear-end introduced to save weight, space and cost. The base car has Comfort springs, while Lowered coils shave 15mm off the ride height in an AMG Line exterior package ($1990). Their passive damper tune does a good job of controlling body movement, though there’s some fussiness on patchy bitumen. Adaptive dampers and an independent rear end are part of a $3190 AMG Exclusive option pack. It gives the A200 more bandwidth, and the desirable rear suspension layout assists the front-end with a little more turn-in eagerness.
Torquey 2.0-litre has a 70Nm advantage. Independent rear is standard, and you can have quattro for less than an A200 with IRS. Cabin slick, but not on Merc’s level.
Last of the rear-drive hatches, and more appealing for it. Excellent eight-speeder, strong grunt and solid dynamics, but interior falls way short of A200’s sophistication.
In the suburban domain that will be the A200’s primary proving ground it does nothing to offend. The steering is fairly fluid, albeit without particular connectedness. The overall impression is less sporty and a bit more grown-up than the outgoing car. There’s just enough for keen drivers to enjoy, but the door is firmly wedged open for the upcoming variants, especially the AMG A35 and A45, to really thrill us.
What hampers some of the A200’s long distance potential are hard, flat seats and loud tyre roar on fast country roads, though there is less wind noise than before. Also of concern were dashboard rattles in two vehicles driven at the local launch, though it’s unknown whether those early cars had been tinkered with prior for training purposes.
Come October the 165kW and 350Nm 2.0-litre A250 will also be here, at which point both it and the A200 will be available with S-Class levels of driver assistance tech, as seen overseas. Following that an entry-level A180 lands in early 2019, around the time an MBUX upgrade for Australia will draw in information from online. The A-Class rollout is a multipart play by Mercedes that will continue to up the ante. The A200 already has a lot going for it, and it’s just getting started.