2013 MERCEDES-BENZ A-CLASS REVIEW
Vehicle style: Small Prestige Performance Hatch
Power/torque: 155kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbo four-cylinder
Fuel consumption listed: 6.6 l/100km | tested: 8.5 l/100km
But now there’s a new A-Class, and until the hard-core A 45 AMG arrives in August this year, the A 250 Sport is the hottest of the lot.
The new A has shed the previous model's short and upright body for something lower, wider and far more shapely. In A 250 Sport guise, it’s a genuine looker.
Viewed from the front or rear, the A 250 Sport has a wide track and a narrow turret, with the wheels pushed right to the edge of the car’s footprint.
There’s unique front and rear bumpers, twin tailpipes, red accents, red brake calipers, a lower suspension and 18-inch lightweight AMG alloy wheels.
It looks like it should go fast. And it does. Mercedes-Benz reckons the A 250’s sportier appeal will make it one of the biggest sellers in the new A-Class range, and with around 50 percent of pre-orders going that way, it looks like they’re on the money.
And why wouldn’t they be? At a retail price of $49,900, the A 250 Sport costs about as much as a specced-up VW Golf GTI. In terms of badge-cred-per-dollar, the A 250 easily trumps its compatriot.
Mercedes invited us to sample the A 250 in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. The back roads here are tight, sinuous and bumpy, and a proper test of engine, brakes and suspension.
Before this week, we didn’t think Benz could make a proper hot hatch. We were wrong.
Interior touches that are unique to the A 250 Sport include red accents around the air vents and floor mats, a panoramic sliding glass sunroof, carbonfibre-ish trim on the dash, microfibre trim on the door cards, red stitching on the deeply-sculpted sports seats, a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel and red seat belts.
It certainly looks sporty inside, but we failed to warm to the 14.7cm LCD display of the Audio 20 infotainment system. It looks like an iPad Mini sprouted out of the dashboard, and the screen itself is easily affected by sun glare.
The rest of the cabin is far more pleasing. The front seats are grippy, soft-touch surfaces are abundant and the key contact points - the Nappa leather wrapped steering wheel, those microfibre door cards - are sumptuously trimmed.
Outward vision is generally good and rear vision is augmented by a reversing camera, however the thick A-pillars can impede vision through long sweeping corners.
Front seat comfort is acceptable, but the firm cushioning can be an annoyance on long stints behind the wheel. They’re shaped nicely though, and their deep bolsters do a good job of holding both driver and front passenger in place during spirited cornering.
The back seat isn’t the best. There’s a shortage of under-thigh support, and the C-pillar sits close to the head. Headroom is in short supply thanks to the panoramic sunroof, and while leg room is good it isn’t exceptional either.
The outboard seats have good bolstering though, so they do hold your backseaters in place quite well. Still, unless they’re a child or a small adult, we wouldn’t want to keep them back there for too long.
ON THE ROAD
The A 250 is powered by a direct injected, turbocharged 2.0 litre petrol inline-four, producing 155kW of power and 350Nm of torque.
It’s a ripper of an engine and, thanks to the deletion of the centre silencer, sounds rorty. Peak torque arrives early, and there’s loads of pulling power below 2500rpm.
The real party begins though when you engage Sport mode and wind the tachometer past 4000rpm. An overboost function delivers a 10kW bump in peak power for 30 seconds at a time, making the A 250 Sport a 165kW machine.
Acceleration can be surprisingly ferocious, and in Sport mode the throttle response is razor-sharp. There’s very little turbo lag, and power delivery is more linear than some other turbo four-pots of recent experience.
The A 250 Sport comes standard with a seven-speed twin-clutch automated manual, dubbed 7G-DCT by Mercedes-Benz. There’s no manual option in Australia, but with the 7G-DCT, there’s arguably no need for one.
Gearshifts are smooth and take-off from standstill is on par with the latest VW range of DSG gearboxes. When in Sport mode, the 7G-DCT rips through the gears with tremendous speed.
We found though that it can sometimes be caught out with the wrong gear pre-engaged, but the result is just a slightly longer gearshift.
In manual mode, it’s a delight. With the wheel-mounted paddles, you can race through the ratios, and, on downshifts (in Sport mode), with a perfectly matched throttle-blip.
According to Mercedes, the A 250 Sport will hit 100km/h from standstill in just 6.6 seconds, which is pretty brisk for a hot hatch.
(It also returns an average fuel consumption of 6.6 l/100km - we can visualise the marketing campaign already.)
The A 250 Sport is equipped with a unique suspension tune, which is not only lower than the rest of the A-Class range, but has unique spring and damper settings, a thicker front anti-roll bar and three degrees of camber on the front suspension.
On the road, this suspension is incredible. Maybe not quite as eye-widening grippy as a Megane RS, but it comes close.
Turn-in is crisp and mid-corner grip is absolutely outstanding for a front-wheel drive car.
In Sport mode the stability control program changes to allow more wheel slip, and the result is that you can get back on the throttle virtually at the apex of the corner.
There’s little body roll, and grip under braking is rock-solid thanks to the sticky Continental tyres.
There’s a downside to all this performance though. Ride comfort on less-than-perfect surfaces is pretty poor, and the ultra-firm suspension jiggles and fidgets over even the tiniest of undulations.
It feels hyper-sporty, but we’re not sure whether we’d be able to live with it during the daily grind.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The old A-Class was a little unloved here in Australia, but we have no doubt that the 2013 A-Class will enjoy greater fortunes.
In particular the A 250 Sport, which promises to turn the premium hot hatch segment on its head.
Here is a car that retails for (barely) less than $50,000, yet offers an outstanding drive experience, looks amazing, has plenty of tech, and carries the three-pointed star.
If the choice was between an A 250 Sport or a Golf GTI with a sunroof, sat-nav, bi-xenon headlamps, metallic paint and a reversing camera ($50,490 all up), we’d pick the former.
The $47,140 Renault Megane RS 265 Trophy is perhaps the best hot-hatch around, but to be honest we’d probably still shell out the extra for the A 250. Two more doors and a Benz badge on the front is well worth it, even though the Megane has 30kW more power.
After our first taste of the A 250 Sport, we’re hankering for more. Watch out for our full review over the next couple of months.
- 2013 A 180 1.6 petrol - $35,600
- 2013 A 200 1.6 petrol - $40,900
- 2013 A 200 CDI 1.8 diesel - $40,900
- 2013 A 250 2.0 litre petrol - $49,900