MERCEDES-BENZ A-CLASS REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Small performance hatchback
Price: $49,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 155kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp twin-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.6 l/100km | tested: 8.9 l/100km
So you want a hot hatch, but something a little more special. Something equal parts performance and premium, in a practical size and at a price that’s not at all objectionable.
Mercedes-Benz has exactly what you’re after. It’s the A 250 Sport, and it’s no wonder that they can’t import enough of them. Not even hotcakes have ever been this popular.
We took one for a week-long spin, and discovered that though there are a few things to complain about, this is one heck of a hot-hatch.
Quality: The design is cool and we really dig those gimball air-vents. But remember that the A-Class is the entry model to the Mercedes-Benz range; material quality and finishes are thus a little short of other vehicles wearing the three-pointed star.
There’s more hard plastic on the lower console and dash than in the premium 'classes', and the infotainment display looks like an afterthought.
Then again, the red contrast elements around the air-vents and the red seatbelts add a touch of colour to the dark cabin, and the A 250’s interior generally got positive comments from any who sat in it.
Dinamica microfibre cloth-inserts in the doors look and feel good, and the artificial leather/Dinamica seat upholstery also has a premium feel.
Though it’s a small car, the A 250 feels roomy enough. Controls fall easily to hand, there’s a wide range of adjustment to the seat and steering column and headroom is plentiful.
The dark headliner and high beltline can make the A 250 feel a touch claustrophic inside, but even in the back there’s a decent amount of space - particularly when compared to the lower-roofed partner to the A-Class, the CLA.
Rear air-vents are also standard, and though legroom isn’t huge there’s still enough room for a couple of adults to be comfortable in a cosy kind of way.
Equipment: There are areas where the equipment list is generous - a panoramic sunroof and bi-xenon headlamps are standard, for example - and other areas where it isn’t.
Satellite navigation isn’t standard-fit for the A 250 Sport, and neither are powered front seats. There’s climate control, but it’s single-zone only.
On the plus side, you do get power folding wing-mirrors, a reversing camera, cruise control, privacy glass, a trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps and Bluetooth audio/telephony integration.
There’s enough equipment there to satisfy most, but given the A 250 Sport is only one rung beneath the A 45 AMG in the A-Class hierarchy, we expected a few more toys.
Our tester was equipped with the optional Becker Map Pilot navigation, but we found its interface frustrating, while its aftermarket lo-fi graphics looked very much out of place in a Mercedes.
Storage: The A 250 Sport has a boot capacity of 341 litres, which puts it around the middle of the pack in terms of small hatches. The rear seats have a 60:40 split to enable the carriage of larger/longer cargo.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The A 250 Sport’s 2.0 litre inline-four uses direct injection, turbocharging and intercooling to pump out a respectable 155kW and 350Nm. Floor the throttle, and the overboost feature unlocks a further 10kW of power.
Turbo lag is negligible, and once the drive mode is moved out of 'Comfort' and into 'Sport', throttle response is sharp.
Midrange torque is fantastic: you don’t need to reach into the upper part of the rev range for the A 250 to feel fast.
The seven-speed twin-clutch auto gearbox is also sharp, though sometimes it takes a brief pause when executing a manual gear change (there’s no manual transmission option).
Both the engine and gearbox combined make for a pretty feisty package. Though all of its power is channeled to the front wheels, the A 250 Sport does a good job of maintaining traction.
Not bad, considering there’s no limited-slip differential.
Mash the throttle from a standstill, and the A 250 Sport launches to 100km/h in a handy 6.6 seconds.
Refinement: The A 250 gets its own exhaust system, which simultaneously reduces power-robbing backpressure and imparts a sporty note to the tailpipe. It’s not obnoxiously loud though, even if you’re standing directly behind the car.
The low-profile tyres do generate a bit more noise at speed, but again it’s not something that compromises comfort.
Ride and Handling: The springs, dampers and front swaybar settings are unique to the A 250 Sport. Spend some time at the wheel and the firm-ish ride indicate that there's a greater emphasis on handling performance than ride comfort.
The A 250 consequently feels restless over less-than-smooth roads, though bigger bumps do get absorbed rather well.
When shown a set of curves though, all is forgiven. The A 250 tracks into corners with agility and precision, and it’s hard to shake off a chosen line. Grip is admirable even when under power, and with little understeer.
Braking: No qualms here. The A 250’s all-disc brakes feature cross-drilled rotors for better cooling and fade resistance, and the pedal is reassuringly firm and responsive.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 35.8 out of 37 possible points
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are standard on the A 250 Sport, while passengers are protected by three-point seatbelts and nine airbags (dual, front, side for front and rear, full-length curtain, driver’s knee).
An active bonnet also helps protect pedestrians by popping the rear of the bonnet up to cushion their fall.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited kilometres
Service costs: Service intervals are set for every 25,000km or 12 months, however Mercedes-Benz does not currently offer fixed-price servicing. Consult your local dealership for maintenance costs.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Volkswagen Golf GTI DSG ($43,990) - More generously equipped and far more comfortable thanks to the standard-fit electronically adjustable suspension, the Golf GTI is the benchmark hot-hatch for good reason.
Power and torque aren’t class-leading, but the GTI puts its power down with finesse and outstanding composure.
Performance is similar to the A 250, but ride comfort, equipment levels and a lower retail price give the VW the edge. Then again, VW isn’t exactly a premium brand, is it? (see Golf reviews)
BMW 125i automatic ($47,500) - The BMW 125i is entirely unique as the only RWD hot hatch on the market today. Chassis dynamics are, as you may guess, pretty darn enjoyable in the BMW.
The 125i’s 160kW/310Nm 2.0 litre turbo engine is down on power and torque compared to the Benz though, and the BMW’s rear seat is a good deal more cramped.
But, it’s a couple of tenths faster to 100km/h, and the availability of a manual transmission makes the 125i the enthusiast’s choice. (see 1 Series reviews)
Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro ($45,500) - An ultra-slick seven-speed automatic and the added security of all-wheel drive serve the A3 1.8 TFSI quattro well, as does its segment-leading interior.
Yet, with only 132kW of power and 250Nm of torque, it’s not in the same league as those mentioned above. It’s still reasonably brisk, but this is more luxury car than hot hatch. (see A3 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The equipment inventory is a bit bare and the ride quality isn’t as cosseting as other Benzes, but the A 250 Sport is without doubt a car for keen drivers.
For handling, style and enjoyment at the wheel - if not for a stingy feature list - Mercedes has hit the mark with this car.
As an entrypoint to fast-Benz ownership, the A 250 Sport is exactly the car you'd expect it to be: well-built, brick-like solidity, and a dynamic drive.
No, it’s not the best hot-hatch around, but the blend of performance and prestige it offers is hard to resist.
Now, if only sat-nav were standard...