Now entering its third year on the market, Mercedes-Benz has given its popular A-Class range a new lease on life thanks to some new equipment, refreshed body-styling and minor interior improvements.
Prices are up across the board, but all cars gain LED headlamps, blind-spot monitoring, keyless ignition, a drive mode selector and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration as standard.
There’s also more power for the A200 petrol, A250 Sport and the fire-spitting Mercedes-AMG A45, along with a range of mechanical tweaks - the most significant being the A250’s transition from FWD to AWD.
Is the extra gear worth the price rise? From the driver’s seat the overall impression is that nothing much has changed, but it’s only after a few hours behind the wheel that the benefits become apparent.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $37,200 (A180) to $77,900 (A45), plus on-roads
- 90kW/200Nm 1.6 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
- 115kW/250Nm 1.6 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
- 100kW/300Nm 2.1 turbo diesel 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
- 160kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
- 280kW/475Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
Benz’s decision to raise the price on all of its A-Class models sees the cost of entry jump to $37,200 - still a competitive pricetag in the small premium segment, but it now costs more than equivalent Audi A3 models.
That may be a handicap given the A3 is currently leading the sales race in the “Small Car Above $40k” segment, but spec-for spec - especially at the lower end of the range - the Mercedes has a fatter equipment list than the Audi.
- Standard equipment: Cloth/leather upholstery (microfibre/leather from A250 up), power windows, dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, air conditioning (dual-zone climate control in A45), cruise control, blind spot monitoring, parking sensors, reversing camera, push-button starter.
- Infotainment: 8-inch colour infotainment display with satellite navigation (Garmin Map Pilot, COMAND Online for A45), with AM/FM/DAB/CD/USB audio and six speakers standard (12 speakers and Harman Kardon system in A45). Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, plus Apple CarPlay phone mirroring.
- Cargo volume: 341 litres with rear seats up.
The front seats now provide more under-thigh support, and all models come standard with satellite navigation and an 8-inch colour infotainment display, with Apple CarPlay connectivity.
There’s a new steering wheel (leather-wrapped in all variants) and a push-button starter as standard as well, but, those changes aside, the A-Class’ interior is quite familiar territory.
And that means the complaints are familiar too. Material quality is generally good, but now that the W205 C-Class sits next to it on the showroom floor, it’s obvious that the A-Class’ interior design is no longer the freshest in the Benz stable.
It doesn’t have the premium look and feel of its bigger brother, and while material quality is generally high there are a few too many plastic surfaces around the centre console.
Comfort is good though. The front seats are manually adjustable in all models bar the A45 (optionally powered at extra cost), but provide good support and adjustability, while the steering column adjusts for tilt and reach over a wide arc.
Rear seat legroom isn’t huge, but the seats themselves are comfortable. Headroom can be a bit tight on cars equipped with the panoramic glass sunroof (standard on A250 Sport)
The boot isn’t especially capacious either. Seats-up there’s just 341 litres of cargo space, slightly less than a VW Golf.
It’s the equipment list that redeems the A-Class. Sat nav is standard on the A 180 but a cost option on the entry-level A3 1.4 TFSI, while the A’s 8-inch screen dwarfs the A3 1.4 TFSI’s 5.7-incher.
Add to that the A-Class’ standard LED headlamps, blind-spot monitoring, reversing camera and keyless entry, and the value equation between the two German rivals is roughly similar - if not tipped in the A-Class’ favour.
The only notable omission from the A-Class’ spec sheet is dual-zone climate control, which only becomes standard on the A45.
ON THE ROAD
90kW/200Nm 1.6 turbo petrol 4cyl: A180
115kW/250Nm 1.6 turbo petrol 4cyl: A200
100kW/300Nm 2.1 turbo diesel 4cyl: A200d
160kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl: A250
280kW/475Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl: A45
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD (A250 and A45 AWD).
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: ventilated disc
- Steering type: Electrically assisted
The base-model A180 and diesel A200d were absent at the local launch, but we got plenty of seat time in the A200, A250 Sport and A45.
We’d surmise the A180 and A200 drive the same as they always did, given outputs and suspension tunes remain unchanged - though they both now benefit from Benz’s 'Dynamic Select' drive mode switch, which unlocks sportier or more economical engine and transmission maps.
The A200 also gets the Dynamic Select button on its centre stack, but its engine is unchanged. Outputs are still 115kW and 250Nm, and performance is best described as slightly-better-than-adequate.
The seven-speed twin-clutch automatic still occasionally fumbles during low speed crawls, but on the move it doesn’t really put a foot wrong.
The comfort-tuned suspension handles a wide variety of roads with ease, ironing out lumps and bumps with little fuss.
It manages to feel taut without being firm. Its standard 18-inch alloys also provided excellent compliance, though if you’re after an even softer ride, the 17-inch rolling stock of the A180 may provide the cushier experience.
The A200 is swift enough, but no fireball, and needs to be rowed along up steep inclines. Its Bridgestone rubber also favours low noise and ride comfort over cornering finesse, it can push wide if carrying a bucket of speed.
But if you need to get somewhere in a hurry, there’s always the A250 Sport.
Unlike the A200, it’s dramatically different for 2016. Not only does it get a 5kW power boost for its 2.0 litre turbo four-pot, lifting power to 160kW (peak torque stays at 350Nm), but it’s sprouted a rear differential and adopted 4Matic AWD.
Those changes have seen the price jump by $2500 to $53,500.
Having double the number of driven-wheels might add weight, but the traction advantage it confers gives the A250 the ability to better put power down, especially when exiting tight corners.
It doesn’t feel as lively in a straight line as the old car did despite the extra power, but it’s still damn quick. And it’s not as fast as the VW Golf R that competes with it on price, but, as a rival to the $61,100 Audi S3 Sportback, it offers about 8/10ths the speed for nearly $8000 less.
There are some debits, however. The A250 Sport we drove was on optional 19-inch alloys rather than the standard 18's and the ride was sharp on particularly bumpy country backroads - sharper still with Dynamic Select switched to Sport.
The A250 comes standard with electronically adjustable dampers and in 'comfort mode' on roads with long undulations, it’s liveable. But if your commute includes choppy surfaces, be prepared for a jiggly ride.
The Mercedes-AMG A45 that sits at the top of the A-Class hierarchy also has a jiggly ride, but given its high-performance credentials that’s much easier to forgive.
It’s relentlessly firm, yes, but this is a machine that will sprint to 100km/h in a scant 4.2 seconds thanks to an engine upgrade that sees a whopping 280kW and 475Nm erupt from its turbo 2.0 litre.
That’s a 15kW increase in power and a 25Nm lift in peak torque, and the 0-100km/h time is 0.4 seconds faster than before. It’s certainly quick enough to snatch back the hot-hatch crown from the Audi RS3 Sportback, which debuted last year with 270kW and 465Nm.
And the power bump has been accompanied by the availability of an optional locking mechanical front differential, which Mercedes-AMG says helps improve front-end traction.
Does it? We don’t know. The car we drove wasn’t equipped with it, but on a steep, twisting ascent, pinning the accelerator just before the apex of a corner still saw the A45 leap forward with no hint of inside wheelspin and barely any understeer.
We know it’s a cliche, but it well and truly handles as if it’s on rails. Is the differential necessary? Probably only if you plan on putting in some serious hours at your local race track.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.8 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Traction control, stability control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, blind spot monitoring, active bonnet, auto emergency braking, nine airbags (dual front, front and rear side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The A-Class’ key rival is Audi's A3 range, but other competitors can be found in the BMW 1 Series, Volvo V40 and to a lesser extent, the Lexus CT 200h.
The 1 Series and A3 beat the Benz on price at the bottom end, but the Volvo and Lexus cost more. Audi is also the only one with a true competitor to the A45 performance flagship.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Though the A250 Sport and A45 get the “Most Improved” ribbon, the more sober variants in the A-Class range are now also packaged with improved buying value.
The increased equipment levels, and the improved infotainment hardware and software will likely be the most appreciated improvement for the 2016 model year.
Blind-spot monitoring, a collision detection system and autonomous emergency braking as standard across the range is also a plus.
Couple all that with pricing that manages to undercut many of its rivals, and the updated A-Class has plenty to offer Benz customers who are seeking something small.