With the comfort, class and versatility of the new A-Class, German giants Mercedes-Benz are raising the bar for hatchbacks, as Team Y discovers.
Remember the scruffy old, tall hatchback that rolled over every time you threw it into a sharp corner at speed? Well, that’s the Mercedes-Benz A-Class; albeit, from the late 1990s – a period when hatchbacks were considered no more than a family wagon at a budget.
Today, however, things are different – they’re very, very different.
Now in its fourth generation, the A-Class seems to have taken a complete and radical turn away from its predecessors – and by golly, it shines on the road. Simply put: if the third-gen A-Class was considered a successful product for Mercedes-Benz when revealed in 2013, this time around, it’s a complete revelation.
And that it shows from the moment you glance upon the car. Pictures don’t do the car any justice whatsoever – it must be seen in person to be admired.
Starting from the pointy and angular headlamps to the low-slung grille and air intakes that hog much of the front fascia to the dainty profile of the car, Mercedes designers really have done justice to the car this time around.
No crease is placed by mistake: there are slits that flank the sides of the front bumper to help in channelling air through to aid in the overall stability while driving, and perhaps even to cool the front brakes during hard cornering.
Meanwhile, in true Mercedes tradition, the B- and C-Pillars are thick and short, while the roofline angles into the flares of the rear wheel to produce an aggressive stance. That said, the wheelbase grows by a whole 1.2-inches (3cms) than the outgoing model for some added real estate inside the cabin, and it rides lower and wider than any A-Class we’ve ever driven before.
The rear, on the other hand, is completely redesigned, too. Gone are the bulbous oval tail lamps, and in place are a pair of wedge-shaped LED lamps. It’s a tad generic – but it still fits well with the posterior, which is rounded off with two faux chrome-tipped exhaust cutouts.
Overall, we’d like to call the design daring and sophisticated.
But, the exterior has nothing on what goes on inside the cockpit – it’s almost as if the designers came up with a competition to see who could design the flashiest elements for the new car.
Trust us when we say this: Mercedes would have got rid of their steering wheel and pedals if they could have. Really, nothing about the A-Class’ interior is plain Jane. Taking up much of the dashboard is the massive digital instrument cluster and infotainment unit – both of which sit at 10.25-inches each (!)
It’s the easiest and the smoothest system we’ve ever tested in a car, with a performance edging out even the best of BMW, Audi, and even systems that are regularly found in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The hatchback can owe its tech prowess to the new MBUX system that comes preloaded – which in its true form brings in a touchscreen infotainment unit, and our favourite feature, the interactive voice assistant.
The latter is still in its primitive form; though, it can do anything from changing your audio sources to even opening the sunroof. It’s quite adept at recognising voices, but it’s limited in functionality at the moment in the GCC.
Moving on, the seats and dashboard are swathed in leatherette and faux-alcantara, with soft-touch materials making up most of the areas that you’ll normally touch.
Our A250 variant also came packing the interior lighting pack, which makes for a very luxe cabin at night. You can change the lighting inside, and mix and match depending on your taste. The lights run all around the interior; even around the jet-engine styled a/c vents.
Space is marginally upped for 2018, but there’s only enough space for four full-sized adults. And even then, anyone taller than 176cm will need to sit up front with the seats pushed back. As expected, headroom is on the lower side, and taller passengers will find their heads brushing up against the (graciously) soft roof lining.
Boot space is pegged at 370-litres with the seats up, which is respectable in its class. It can carry two large suitcases without any niggles.
These, however, are minor niggles in an otherwise stupendous car.
As we’d anticipated before its launch in Oman, the A250 is powered by a trusty little 2.0-litre forcefully-induced motor pumping out 224hp and an estimated 350Nms of torque. The unit is further mated to a no-nonsense seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that then channels power to the rubber upfront.
The powertrain combo makes for a 0-100kph sprint time of about six seconds, which is slightly faster than the variant it replaces. But, numbers only tell you half the story.
Where the A250 won our hearts is on the twisty road, raking in much applause for striking just the right balance between comfort, performance, and handling. The hatchback rides low; almost as low as a sports car like the Jaguar F-Type or the Ford Mustang – but rides more smoothly than a similarly specced French or Japanese hatchback.
While the A250 competes with neither, it does hold its own in its segment.
It’s possibly more spirited than its competitors – even those more powerful – from Europe.
Power is put down efficiently by the clever traction control nanny, with just a hint of torque-steer kicking in when you floor the throttle.
The rest is taken care by the clever electric steering rack, which we feel is one of the best systems we’ve ever tested in a German vehicle of late. The steering response is fantastic – the ratios are quick and short at low speeds while tightening up just a bit as you go faster.
Still, there are drive modes to play with if you’re looking to change it up a bit.
But, none of that would have made sense if it weren’t for the beautifully-tuned chassis that comes alive when you attack corners. Liftoff oversteer will be a common occurrence on twisty roads if you’re pushing down hard, but it’s easy to tame, thanks to the Tarmac-hugging nature of the car.
Understeer is rare.
Moreover, the ESP system should dial down any loss of grip from the front tyres. As anticipated, the brakes are sublime and offer sufficient stopping power when required. The pedal offers great feedback and the pressure points are evenly distributed – but bear in mind that Mercedes’ safety system will regularly cut in to vary the brake force if it foresees a crash.
There was a time when Mercedes-Benz eschewed any attempt at creating a hot-hatchback – and it took them nearly three decades to acknowledge that it was time for the brand to forge into the much-acclaimed territory. But with the third-gen A-Class, the Stuttgart manufactures slammed the ball into the far corner of the nets, proving all of us skeptics wrong.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve outdone themselves yet again with their latest creation.
But, they’re far from over: Mercedes-Benz will soon be revealing their Affalterbach-fettled A35 AMG and A45 AMG track-ready variants that should – at the very least – pump out 306hp and 400hp, respectively.
We’re bound to ask: do the other hatchbacks even stand a chance? We don’t think so.
• Engine: 2.0-litre ‘turbocharged’ in-line four-cylinder
• Transmission: Seven-speed ‘DCT’ automatic
• Power: 224hp
• Torque: 350Nms
• 10.25-inch instrument cluster and infotainment screens
• Pre-collision braking system
• Active Parking Assist
• Traction and stability controls
• Blind-spot monitoring system
• LED headlamps
• 18-inch alloys
• Cruise control
• Push-button start
• USB-C ports
• MBUX system w/ personal voice assistant