Is the Mercedes-Benz A 250 Sport a throwback to the glory days or simply a hatch with hubris? Either way, it’s a treat for Y’s Alvin Thomas.
It’s hard to imagine that a car that was once known to hop on two wheels at the sight of a corner, has grown into what is arguably one of the hottest hot-hatchbacks to grace the automotive industry. But I guess that’s what being a veteran carmaker does to you: it gives you a chance to redeem yourself.
If you’re wondering what I am talking about, check out the A-Class’ moose test from 1997 on YouTube. Of course, it’s really not fair highlighting the bygone days – especially when I have the keys to the latest incarnation of the car. After all, there are two decades of separation between the two cars, and secondly, the A-Class holds on to nothing (and by nothing, I mean absolutely nothing) from its predecessors.
As a matter of fact, the only thing even closely reminiscent of the cars of old is its “A-Class” nameplate.
The newcomer – which (admittedly) isn’t a newcomer anymore (since it was released in 2013) – brought a host of new elements to the table. For starters, it quickly came to be known as one of the best-looking sports hatchbacks that money can buy – thereby treading on the Volkswagen Golf GTi and Ford Focus ST territory – while still managing to impress a wide range of motorists with its luxury tenor.
For 2017, however, the A-Class introduces a few changes to the exterior design that are designed to keep you away if you’re over the age of 40. This is definitely a car designed for millennials.
Don’t believe me? For starters, the A-Class is only available in the A 250 Sport trim and A45 AMG trim for now. The A 250 Sport trim that we have today comes complete with an aggressive front fascia, featuring a rather large ornamental “diamond-encrusted” radiator grille, flared sporty bumpers with red lip accents and a generous 46cm set of alloys that hide a set of painted red brake calipers.
Move around to the side and you’re greeted with a vivacious bodyline that discreetly slopes upwards to meet the rear tail lamps. Meanwhile, the chiselled rear bumper encloses the chrome-tipped dual exhaust pipes.
The only real exterior differences between the 2013 and the 2017 variants are in the head and tail lamps – and only if you look real close.
Some changes, however, are more apparent on the inside. For starters, the steering wheel has been completely redesigned to keep in tone with Mercedes’ newer products (the C-, E- and S-Class), and there’s a new, larger screen that sits on the centre console.
The console remains the same, and has Mercedes’ trademark circular air conditioner vents, with red rings encompassing the circumference. There are also numerous buttons for the audio controls – which may or may not be useful – depending on who uses it.
The dashboard itself is finished in a carbon-fibre-esque soft-touch plastic. There’s also plenty of soft-touch spots around the doors, but the centre console is finished in hard plastic.
The A 250 Sport also comes with fairly comfortable sports bucket seats, which also provide excellent lumbar and thigh support during spirited driving, enveloping you within the seats as opposed to having you dance around from one corner to the other. Mind you: they’re not as uncomfortable or restrictive as, say, the Recaro seats you can find in certain cars.
Space up front is excellent, while there’s adequate room in the back for two passengers. Leg room is amiss if the driver is over 182cm tall and must have his or her seats all the way back. However, the sports seats make it a bit claustrophobic for rear-seat passengers because the rear windows are narrow and, more often than not, they’ll find themselves staring at the one-piece bucket seats in the front.
The A 250 Sport comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder pot-banger that’s good for a whole 211hp and a doughty 350Nm of torque (although I hear that the 2017 variant will be coming with 218hp). The powertrain is further coupled to Mercedes’ seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The power is put down to the front wheels with much efficacy, spinning tyres only when the turbocharger spools up completely. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find much torque-steer (the phenomenon of a car pulling itself violently to one side during fast acceleration), during launch. In retrospect, the Ford Focus ST hauls itself to the left upon hard acceleration.
The A 250 Sport doesn’t feel mind-bogglingly quick, thanks to a rather silent cabin. But it is always best to keep an eye on the speedometer because the car is undoubtedly swift. The car takes off from a standstill smoothly, and will (reportedly) hit the 100kph mark in 6.6 seconds. However, I was only able to hit 100kph in about 7.5 seconds, thanks to the midday heat.
The high-pressure turbocharger takes a while to spool up – kicking in only after 2,500rpm – thus causing a falling in the sense of acceleration. It is smoother if you keep the car in automatic mode, but if you were to take control of the paddle shifters yourself, be prepared to keep the revolutions in the torque band to eke the most out of the engine.
As with most turbocharged cars, you can work around this by keeping the revolutions high, and the gears low, for that quick boost.
The gearshifts are noticeable and can get clunky at low speeds. But the shifts are lightning quick (especially upshifts).
Now let’s move on to the most impressive part of the A 250 Sport: the handling. The hatchback is incredibly easy to manoeuvre around tight corners and sharp bends thanks to its responsive steering.
The steering wheel itself is chunky and easy to grip, and you can alter the level of resistance from the steering depending on the modes (Sport, Normal, Eco and Individual). The former firms up the suspension, electrifies the gear shifts and improves throttle response.
In Sport mode, the car devours corners. Body roll is contained very well, but wind noise does creep in above 100kph.
The chassis is composed and stiff, which results in the car going on tripod-mode (fourth wheel lifts-off from the road during fast cornering), thus inducing liftoff oversteer (drifting due to the car’s fourth wheel not contacting the road). I quickly saw myself taking corners at higher speeds than I normally would. I didn’t even need to switch off stability control to have fun in the car.
However, when I did eventually switch off the electronic nannies, I noticed that the car wasn’t particularly unsettled, maintaining its posture just like it did with all the safety systems switched on.
The brakes of the A 250 Sport are excellent. They’re extremely strong and have almost unnatural amounts of stopping power. The brake force is linear, though, and I found myself braking late and taking corners faster than I should.
At the end of the day, the A 250 Sport manages to sit atop the segment of hot-hatchbacks alongside its other rivals from Germany. It’s fairly quick, extremely sporty to drive and above all, very composed in corners.
So am I impressed? Well, yes and no. Don’t get me wrong: the A 250 Sport is an utterly brilliant hot-hatchback. But, I happen to know that Mercedes-Benz has an even hotter 381hp A45 AMG in the showroom. And that’s the one I really want.