Mercedes-Benz A-Class sedan

Fourth-gen compact finally puts the boot in

ASH WESTERMAN

PERHAPS it’s a reflection of the human condition, rather than an issue specific to the Chinese, but as wealth and the standard of living have increased in the world’s most populous country, so has status anxiety. For the burgeoning upper-middle class, premium brands rule, and make it a sedan, please – a boot brings a level of cachet those shoppingtrolley hatches just can’t match.

Other countries aren’t immune – us included – all of which helped shape the business case for Mercedes-Benz to break with tradition and produce the fourth generation of its premium compact as both hatch and sedan.

It’s easy to see the appeal when viewed in the metal. The booted A-Class has a youthful pertness that’s lacking in the slightly dour C-Class. The overhangs are tightly drawn, and there’s a rightness about its size and proportions that makes you wonder if you actually could do without the added practicality of the hatch.

In reality, the hatch’s advantage amounts to a removable parcel shelf and the extra load height that allows, because otherwise, the sedan doesn’t give much away in pure capacity. The claimed figure is 420 litres (obviously a stack more with the rear seats folded), accessed via a 950mm-wide opening.

Likewise, rear-seat packaging will be fine for most young families. I needed to make a concerted effort to duck my head when folding my six-foot frame in behind a driver’s seat set for my position, but once in, I was snug but not cramped.

As we detailed in our first local drive of the A200 hatch, (Wheels September, ) three suspension set-ups are offered, and this will likely be replicated for the sedan. Our drive was in an all-wheel drive (4Matic) A220 with an independent rear end, so not representative of Aussie spec. Our A200 sedan will come with a torsion-beam rear end (and passive dampers) unless customers opt for an AMG Exclusive pack (circa-$3200) that includes IRS with adaptive dampers.

We’re keen to see how the variations work on Aussie roads, as the passive-damper IRS set-up tended to be a bit edgy and reactive on the US roads we drove, with this broader demeanour exacerbated by road noise from the (optional) Pirelli P Zero 225/40R19s.

On the upside, there’s a level of body control and front-end incisiveness that will keep keen drivers involved, even if the steering is not especially feel-rich.

But wait for potential buyers to get an eyeful of the interior glitz, with those vast twin screens, turbine vents and mood lighting. Stand well back and watch junior sedan seduction in full force.

ASH WESTERMAN

Row with the flow

What starts as a trickle will become quite a stream next year, when A-Class really comes on strong. The front-drive A200 sedan will be later joined by an entry-level A180, along with an up-spec A250 4Matic. For those chasing more performance, the third quarter of 2019 will see two AMG variants: the A35 and A45, the latter tipped to have in excess of 300kW. Finally, the line-up will be rounded out by an A200 plug-in hybrid with a 50km battery range.