The Mercedes-Benz A-Class’ strongest traits have always been its good looks and premium badge, two things that seemed to make up for the premium hatchback's shortcomings. Can the facelift version improve on the formula? Let's find out
We like: Remains stylish, improved build quality, more technology available
We don’t like: Slightly smaller than competition, the ride is still choppy (without adaptive suspension)
Also consider: BMW 1 Series, Audi A3, VW Golf
The urbanite’s choice
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is the smallest model in the Stuttgart manufacturer's product lineup. It’s also a very important model as it attracts a younger generation of buyers to the brand, some of whom will eventually buy up the range. This facelifted A-Class faces a revitalised BMW 1 Series as well as a relatively new Audi A3 and Volvo V40 for premium honours. It’s also not too much of a stretch to see how buyers might consider a VW Golf as an option too.
More of the same
In developing the facelifted A-Class, Mercedes-Benz changed very little about its appearance. Why? Customer feedback suggested that most buyers chose the A-Class because of its good looks and therefore, the new model features only minor updates to the front and rear lights (where LEDs have been installed) and the diamond-pattern grille, which consists of no fewer than 302 glittering elements, is standard.
The engine we have on test is the 2.1-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel. It’s quite a well-proven unit and has just been replaced by a new 2.0-litre version that made its debut in the E-Class we drove in Portugal. Mercedes-Benz was unable to tell us when, or even if, the new engine will make it into the A-Class, but for now, the 2.1-litre turbodiesel produces 130 kW and 350 Nm and is mated with a 7-speed dual-clutch (automatic) transmission.
How does it fare in…
In this segment, a luxurious cabin ambience and premium touches are must-haves. Mercedes-Benz has improved the interior quality for this model and its made the A-Class feel more at home in the Mercedes line-up. The new instrument cluster (replete with aluminium bezels) and a few additional metallic finishes on the fascia add a sense of luxury. As far as making its passengers feel special, the A-Class' beautifully designed cabin features more stylish touches than what its rivals offer. It's at least as good as the Audi A3's. This A220d has been fitted with some extras, like an 8-inch touchscreen.
It’s good to see Mercedes’ high-end tech starting to trickle down into the A-Class, especially in terms of safety features. Automatic emergency braking is available (it first warns the driver of a possible accident and then, if the driver doesn’t respond, applies the brakes by itself), as is the Parktronic system (complemented by a 180-degree reverse camera), as well as adaptive cruise control, which is an extremely useful feature on freeway journeys.
Ride and handling
The Achilles heel of the previous A-Class was its ride quality. It rode very choppily over rough surfaces and the suspension setup was too unyielding, especially on Sport models. In the facelift model Benz has given buyers the option to spec an R18 000 adaptive suspension upgrade. This is said to give the suspension a more balanced and comfortable ride, which the average driver will appreciate. Unfortunately, our model wasn’t fitted with the adaptive suspension and regrettably the suspension remains hard on anything but a manicured surface. It could be forgiven if the ride offered up supreme handling characteristics and pin-point accuracy with steering inputs, but alas it's no better than either the BMW 1 Series or A3 in those departments.
Engine and gearbox
The A220d's 2.1-litre turbodiesel sounds quite gruff compared to its competition's powerplants but, to its credit, provides ample torque from low in the rev range and has plenty left in reserve for when you need to execute overtaking manoeuvres. The seven-speed automatic transmission shifts much more smoothly up the 'box than on the way down, where it can snatch at ratios sometimes. This means the odd clunk or jerky downshift can occasionally occur.
The claimed average fuel consumption of the A220d is 4.2 L/100 km and that puts it in the same range as its competition. Realistically it’s capable of attaining 6.0 L/100km under normal, regular use. The diesel isn’t the sporty choice in the A-Class range, but it does the job of saving pennies at the pumps.
Mercedes-Benz has enhanced the design and improved the cabin quality and technology levels of the stylish A-Class. In terms of offering a more competitive premium hatchback, it's a case of mission accomplished. However, without the adaptive suspension, you’re in for a hard ride and the noisy turbodiesel (especially when the engine's cold) is a bit unbecoming of an upmarket model. Having said that, some buyers may not be perturbed by the A-Class' tight cabin space (or small luggage area) and revel in the 2.1-litre's torque reserves. As a vehicle that sells on image, first and foremost, it's a winner.
The A220d is set slightly above the competition but still comes in under the R500k mark. It retails for R492 300 with a 2-year/unlimited km warranty and 6-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.