Mercedes-Benz A-Class (2016) First Drive

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The Three-Pointed Star's premium compact hatchback has been a success in South Africa, but there's always room for improvement. Here's what's new for 2016 

The reinvented Mercedes-Benz A-Class that arrived back in 2012 has reaped huge rewards for the Stuttgart-based brand. Mercedes-Benz's intention was to attract young, up-and-coming buyers into its cars and give them something aesthetically desirable with youthful packaging. Job done. So what has the firm done to the facelifted model to improve it and entice even more buyers? Not all that much. More of the same is what the customers want, but there are some small tweaks that we had a chance to evaluate during the launch in Cape Town.

Small tweaks?

An arresting design is what attracts customers to the A-Class, Mercedes-Benz says, so it has mildly nipped its premium compact hatchback's styling and added new front and rear light clusters (full LEDs at the back). The bumpers are wider, making the car look lower and the engines have been fettled with ever so slightly. Take a look at the images below to see how delicate the styling changes are.

The local range

In South Africa, there are two turbodiesel and three turbopetrol A-Class models. The turbodiesels start with the A 200 d that gets a 100 kW motor with 300 Nm of torque. The A 220 d is the most efficient engine (4.1 L/100km) and gets more power with 130 kW and 350 Nm of torque. In terms of power, economy and driveability, the latter is the better choice because it feels like a more appropriate fit for a premium Benz product, than the less powerful A 200 d.

The turbopetrol models begin with the entry-level A 200 that has a 1.6-litre four cylinder motor that produces 115 kW and 250 Nm. The middle-of-the-range model is the A 250 Sport, which uses a 2.0-litre turbo producing 155 kW and 350 Nm. This model seems, or can be best described as, an A-Class with "an upmarket Golf GTI" look and feel and, considering the tremendous success of Volkswagen's award-winning hot hatch, that's anything but a bad trait.  

The mind-meltingly rapid Mercedes-AMG A45 sits atop the range with its 4Matic all-wheel drive system and gut-wrenching power. It still utilises a 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor, but peak power has been increased to 280 kW (up 15 kW) and torque to 475 Nm (up 25 Nm). The firm claims it’s the most powerful 2.0-litre production engine in the world.

The entry-level turbodiesel and turbopetrol models are available with either six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch transmission. The rest of the range is only available with the latter.

Has it improved?

In terms of styling the new A-Class is very similar to its predecessor, but still looks very attractive on the road, especialy in its new metallic Elbaite Green colour. The interior has had a few alterations: the facia switchgear and chrome trim finishes have been upgraded, the instrument binnacle has been redesigned, the Command screen is larger (up to 8-inches at the highest spec) and the front seat cushions can be extended. There are more safety options to choose from with much of the systems trickling down from the S-Class and C-Class.

The ride comfort in the older model was always a bit of an issue, especially with larger rim sizes on our bumpier roads. Europe’s well-maintained roads flattered the A-Class’ ride, but on the launch route the A-Class' ride was still overly firm on less-than-perfect roads, especially when equipped with Sport suspension. Buyers should strongly consider forking out an additional R18 000 for the adaptive damping option, which should improve the ride/handling imbalance. Unfortunately, none of the cars on the launch were equipped with the system.

Motorsport edition

There is a Motorsport pack available for all models except the A45 that celebrates the Formula 1 team’s double world championship feat. Merc has added some Petronas green trim around the skirts of the car and around the rims. Inside there is more of the same colour striped down the seats and around the trim finishing. The whole look is finished off with the Night Package that includes a dark window tint.

A-Class ranking

The A-Class' weak point has always been the ride and we're yet to find out if the introduction of adaptive damping has improved the comfort over rough surfaces. The interior update has added an extra touch of class that matches up with its German counterparts. Style wise, it is right at the top of the segment and will likely continue to pull new customers to the brand.

Pricing

Prices have gone up a bit, but that is to be expected with the Rand’s decline since October 2015.

A-Class A 200 d                  R419 200 (Auto + R18 000)

A-Class A 220 d                  R460 100

A-Class A 200                     R389 200

A-Class A 250                     R491 500

AMG A45 4Matic                 R683 600

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