AMONG UPPER-END HOT-HATCHES, THE MERCEDES-BENZ A250 SPORT HAS ALWAYS BEEN A GOOD BUY. But with an improved Audi S3 on the scene, and Volkswagen's Golf R also throwing its muscle around, Benz's small road-warrior has been feeling the heat.
And the result is not just a mild improvement on the old car; the new A250 Sport is, in effect, a baby Mercedes-AMG A45. No longer a bum-dragger, the A250 has all-wheel-drive traction and a fancy new suspension to match.
The rest of the changes are mild by comparison - it gets a small boost in performance - but when it comes to the parts that matter, the new 2016 A250 Sport is a very different animal to the car that came before it.
Vehicle Style: Prestige small hot hatch
Price: $53,500 (plus on-roads), $60,980 as-tested
Engine/trans: 160kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.7 l/100km | tested: 9.9 l/100km
The A-Class range got its first substantial update earlier this year, with new body bits, suspension enhancements and a pricing and features adjustment, but there was far more in store for the A250 Sport.
Originally launched in 2013 as a front-drive hot hatch (and priced similarly to up-spec versions of the Volkswagen Golf GTI), the A250 Sport - then - came with 155kW of power, 350Nm of torque and had conventional fixed-rate dampers.
Now it has adaptive suspension and all-wheel-drive. Power is up by 5kW to 160kW, while torque remains the same. The outside may be familiar, but what lies beneath the metal is very, very different.
- Standard equipment: Keyless entry and ignition, dusk-sensing LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, speed limiter, sports seats, leather/microfibre upholstery, sports steering wheel, AMG sports bodykit, panoramic sunroof, air conditioning
- Infotainment: 8-inch colour display with rotary dial controller, AM/FM/CD/USB audio, bluetooth phone and audio integration, Garmin Map Pilot satellite navigation
- Options fitted: Motorsport Edition Package, COMAND Online package with upgraded satellite navigation, DAB+ tuner and Harman Kardon 12-speaker premium audio.
- Cargo volume: 341 litres minimum expandable via 60:40 split fold rear seat
Though the greasy bits are substantially different, the A250’s interior is, broadly speaking, pretty familiar stuff.
However, the Motorsport Edition we’re testing here scores unique part-leather, part-microfibre upholstery with a distinctive stripe motif in Petronas green (a nod to Petronas’ sponsorship of Benz’s F1 team), heated and power-adjustable front seats, more green accents on the air vents and seat belts and green contrast stitching on the seats and dash.
Dual-zone climate control also becomes standard with the Motorsport Edition, though we question why it’s not already standard on a $53,500 car. In case you were wondering, the Motorsport Edition package adds $4490 over a base A250 Sport
We also question why the A250 only comes standard with Benz’s low-end Garmin Map Pilot sat-nav software, rather than the more full-featured (and less aftermarket-looking) COMAND Online infotainment system that brings better navigation graphics, live traffic data and digital radio, among other features.
Our tester came with COMAND, but at the expense of $2990. You’re looking at a $60k car here, as-tested - putting the A250 Sport in competition with the faster and more powerful Audi S3 Sportback.
Couple that with the A-Class’ compact interior dimensions and claustrophobic rear seat, and Benz’s baby hot hatch doesn’t quite look so value-packed anymore. Do your best to stay away from the options list.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 160kW/350Nm 2.0 turbocharged petrol inline four
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive.
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Ventilated perforated discs, sliding calipers
- Steering type: Electrically assisted
The old front-drive A250 was a fairly rapid thing, but would often struggle to put its power down cleanly in tight corners. But now, thanks to the addition of 4Matic AWD hardware, the A250 feels brisker and more glued-down,
Despite being heavier by 60kg, the A250 Sport now hits 100km/h in just 6.3 seconds, 0.3 seconds faster than its FWD-only predecessor.
But while it's certainly quick, engine response can feel a bit doughy in the car’s default Comfort drive mode. This mode takes the 'attack' out of the pedal, with a soft feel to the throttle in the first couple of inches of travel.
It sharpens up considerably in Sport mode, and the 2.0 litre turbo also feels a lot more alert.
With peak torque available from 1200rpm all the way to 4000rpm, there’s plenty of low-end shove. Work it harder and you’ll discover it doesn’t give up the ghost at high revs either - no matter where you are on the tachometer, there’s lots of motive force to play with.
The twin-clutch gearbox still has its issues though, mainly with low-speed engagement such as when moving away from standstill. It can feel indecisive at times, and less than smooth. Once in motion though, gearshifts are crisp and rapid.
But it’s in traction where the A250 feels most transformed. There’s a new launch-control feature to help get you off the mark faster, and the A250 no longer feels like its front wheels are overwhelmed with torque when trying to hustle it along a winding road.
The previous model would flay its inside front tyre as the traction control rushed to contain the wheelspin, but the new 4Matic-equipped A250 Sport just directs torque to the back axle, hunkers down and grips.
It definitely handles its power better, but it also rides better too. Electronically adjustable dampers are new for 2016, and with three modes (Normal, Comfort and Sport) they’re able to adapt to almost any occasion.
Most importantly, the new dampers dial out the fussy brittle ride that was one of the main criticisms of the FWD A250 Sport. In Comfort mode they’re superb, even on the big 19-inch alloys of the Motorsport Edition.
Lumpy highways no longer rattle your kidneys, and though it’s still on the firm side of the suspension spectrum (it’s a performance car, after all), it’s not at all jarring.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.8 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist are all standard on the A-Class.
The A-Class is also notable for its impressive airbag count - nine in total - which includes rear seat side airbags as well as full-length curtain airbags, dual front and front side airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.
Blind spot monitoring is also standard, along with parking sensors and a reversing camera.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
If you look at what else is on the market at a similar price point and configuration, you’ll discover plenty of all-wheel-drive turbo four-pots aimed at keen drivers. Subaru’s WRX STI is right there as is the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (though it’s on the verge of retirement), plus the Volkswagen Golf R.
However the car we tested, as-specced, had a retail price north of $60k, which puts it up against the Audi S3. At that price, it loses to the more spacious, better-finished, more powerful and faster S3.
The BMW M135i lurks in the low-$60k bracket too, and delivers RWD thrills with a deliciously grunty turbo six-cylinder. If you’re throwing a few options at an A250 Sport, you may as well consider the other Germans as well.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The A250 Sport has improved massively. It’s more than just a mid-cycle facelift - the 4Matic badge on its hatch will remind you of that.
But, for performance, is it a line-ball rival to cars like the Volkswagen Golf R or the upcoming Ford Focus RS, both of which occupy a similar price bracket as the A250 Sport? Not really. The performance is good, but not quite at the same level as those cars.
However, if you’re locked onto the Benz brand and are looking for a less-hardcore alternative to the (substantially more expensive) Mercedes-AMG A45, then look no further. The A250 Sport fits the bill.